The Effect of Apple’s Sideloading Philosophy on Developers

The Effect of Apple’s Sideloading Philosophy on Developers

Apple released strong messaging on Wednesday 23 June to explain why iOS users should only download Apple-approved apps from its App Store. This is an extension to the US District Court Case between Apple and Epic in which Apple positioned “sideloading”, the practice of installing apps from outside of its App Store as dangerous.

It is true that Apple has been the leader in privacy, making it hard for businesses and other rogue apps not to get personal information. However, connecting this message to non-Apple users seems like a bit too much. It creates a difficult dichotomy in marketing for developers: Should you promise choice or reassurance?

Smartphone as a “Pattern-Of Life” Device

Apple has cited at most one study that said, “[…] devices running on Android had 15x more infections from malware than iPhone.” Tim Cook stated in a June 16 interview that Android is home to 47 times as much malware as iOS. These numbers are quite interesting considering the size of the iOS and Android markets. Android holds 73% of the global market, while iOS has just 27%. It makes sense, as with the Mac and PC markets, that the top targets should be those with the highest market share. This brings up a problem: there are billions upon billions of Macs and PCs around the world. They don’t all have locked ecosystems.

Apple also argues that smart devices can be carried around all day so they can collect more “patterns-of-life” details than traditional computer. How does this work with iPads, which are as mobile as iPhones but also have the same functionality and Apple is positioning them as traditional laptop replacements.

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This is what it means for the mobile developer

No matter what messaging Apple uses, its tactics can have an effect on app developers. Smaller development shops might experience PTSD from the steps they took to sign an iOS application before Xcode 8. Some developers still hold their breath while submitting apps to the App Store today. Apple claims it rejected nearly a million apps in 2020. About half of those rejected were fraudulent, misleading or in violation of privacy guidelines.

You have two options as an iOS developer: Use the App Store to ship your product or not. The Store is required for smaller developers who want to monetize their work to the maximum extent possible. Let’s suppose you don’t care as much about monetization. Perhaps you have a bigger organization with different needs. What other options are available to distribute your app beyond the App Store?

  1. Use the internet.Despite the restrictions Apple has placed on web APIs you can still do lots with JavaScript on Safari. You can “install” a progressive web application by creating it. Although you will need to guide your users through adding your icon on the home screen, you can still create code that runs in Safari. Microsoft recently made this possible.Cloud streaming Xbox games. Good news for web developers: Safari 14 added biometric ID support (PublicKey.isUserVerifyingPlatformAuthenticatorAvailable), while Safari 11 added camera and microphone APIs (MediaDevices.getUserMedia). Since Safari 3 (Geolocation.getCurrentPosition), geolocation has been available.
  2. Register for the Apple Developer Enterprise Program.Your company can apply for the Apple Developer Enterprise Program if your app is intended for employees and your company has more than 100 employees. This will allow you to distribute your app directly to employees, without having to go through the App Store. Enterprise certificates were once used to distribute apps to employees outside of an organization. Apple now reserves the right to inspect apps distributed using enterprise certificates.
  3. Distribute ad-hoc.You can distribute your app to a limited number of customers who are high-value. Installation can be difficult: You’ll need the UDID for each device (upto 100) and the rights to the devices through your developer.apple.com account. Developers may point users tohttp://whatsmyudid.com/You will need to guide them through the process. If your users change their devices, you’ll need to revoke and read UDIDs as well as reissuing provisioning profiles.
  4. Send the source.Xcode allows you to create software for iOS devices with no developer account since 2015. It is difficult to tell users how to install the Xcode binaries and the Xcode command-line binaries if you want an automated install. It does however allow you to distribute your software to customers if they have a Mac running the Xcode version that you are interested in. Users have access to your source code and can make changes. To reduce the amount of code that users can modify, you can package your code into an API or library.
  5. You will need a jailbroken device.This is extreme and restricts your user base to those with the technical skills to hack your device. You also have the concern that you could use security flaws to execute arbitrary code. There may not be exploits available for all iOS devices. Your more technical users might have jailbroken your device. Jailbreaking requires a Mac and certain jailbreaks require that your phone be tethered while it boots. After jailbreaking, users can download your app from any third-party store.CydiaIt is the most common one.

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There’s a sixth option. We don’t recommend it. In an interview with Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s head for user privacy, Michael Grothaus stated it plainly: “Does sideloading interest you?” Android is your choice. This is because Android apps can run on both Android and Windows 11 desktops or laptops. It is an option that allows users to decide about security, privacy and what they want to install.

It all comes down to the use case. Sideloading is a requirement for consumer-facing apps and information-worker apps. Sideloading flexibility is useful for task worker apps where the device is provided to employees or business partners by enterprises. You have the option to prefer Android over Apple if you support franchisees or a large network of suppliers.