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Sideloading apps on iPhones: What you need to know

Apple will soon bring sideloading to iPhones and iPads in the EU, and here's what you should know.
By
January 26, 2024
Apple App Store stock photo 4
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Apple has long resisted the urge to offer sideloading on iPhones and iPads. That is, allowing users to install apps from sources other than the App Store. This has been one of the biggest differences between iOS and Android, with Google’s platform allowing app sideloading since the start.

This is changing soon, though, as Apple will offer this feature on iOS devices in Europe. Here’s what you need to know.

Who can use sideloading on iOS?

Unfortunately, Apple is only allowing sideloading in the European Union (EU) right now. This is in response to the bloc’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), which forces Apple to allow alternative app markets on iOS.

The company also claimed that it won’t allow sideloading in other markets due to security concerns. Furthermore, Apple asserted that sideloading required new processes and technologies that are “untested and may require further development.”

According to 9to5Mac, Apple will also use a variety of measures to check whether you’re in a region that supports sideloading. This includes your billing address, current location, your current region in iOS, and the device type. So it doesn’t seem to be a case of changing your account region and using a VPN.

What features will/won’t work with sideloaded iOS apps?

Apple logo purple
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Apple has issued some guidelines on its developer website regarding iOS features that will still work with sideloaded apps. For one, the company says that parental control, Screen Time, and Spotlight will still work.

However, the firm added that features related to purchases (e.g. Ask to Buy and restrictions on in-app purchases) won’t work with sideloaded apps. This makes sense in light of the fact that these features are tied to Apple’s backend.

Which third-party app stores will be available?

Only one app repository, dubbed AltStore, has publicly confirmed plans to be a third-party app store on iOS. The market currently hosts barred iOS apps such as console emulators.

There’s a major hurdle in the way of small app markets coming to iOS, though. And that’s money. Apple requires any third-party app store operator to have a letter of credit for €1 million from an A-rated financial institution such as Moody’s or Fitch.

Furthermore, Apple says that an app store operator has to pay €0.50 for each “first annual install of their marketplace app.” This is part of a so-called Core Technology Fee and could quickly add up to an exorbitant cost. If one million people download the AltStore in 2024, that means the store operator will need to pay €500,000. Not exactly chump change for a small app market.  This all suggests that only bigwigs such as Microsoft and Amazon will be able to launch iOS app stores.

Apple is also applying this Core Technology Fee to app developers who choose to host their apps on a third-party app store. That’s right, developers have to pay to not deal with Apple. The fee applies to developers who have more than a million “first annual installs.”

In any event, the iPhone maker also said that it will let users change their default app store to meet the DMA requirements. It’s unclear if features like automatic app updates will be available for apps downloaded from alternative markets.

Is it dangerous to sideload iPhone apps?

Apple App Store stock photo 2
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Sideloading apps can generally be a riskier endeavor than downloading them from a first-party app store, but this isn’t always the case. For example, the FDroid market for Android primarily hosts a small collection of open-source apps so people can verify the safety of their desired apps. Furthermore, Google Play Protect is able to scan sideloaded Android apps to mitigate security issues.

Nevertheless, Apple is also offering a so-called “notarization” feature that sees it reviewing sideloaded apps for security issues. Any app found to have malware after being installed will be barred from launching and any new installations will be blocked. Regardless of the platform, it’s best to disable sideloading if you don’t know what you’re doing.

When will sideloading be available in the EU?

The ability to sideload apps on iPhones and iPads will be available in the EU from March 2024. Devices will need to be updated to iOS 17.4, which has just received a beta release. For what it’s worth, the EU’s deadline is on March 7.