Android users have been sideloading apps for a very long time. What is sideloading? Basically, it’s the ability to install third-party applications from outside the built-in app store (such as the Google Play Store). Unfortunately, this feature poses problems as some third-party app stores may contain apps that contain malicious code. This issue has become so severe that Google has decided to temporarily lock down this feature. Users can now enable this feature in Settings > Apps > Special app access > Install unknown apps.
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However, we recommend that you do not enable this unless you are sure that the apps you want to install are 100% safe. Otherwise, you risk installing an app with malicious code that can become ransomware.
Trust me when I say you don’t want to experience that.
So when it was announced that Apple, in the face of new European Union regulations (specifically the Digital Markets Act coming into effect in 2024), was considering allowing sideloading of apps on iOS, I was shocked. The company’s policy on sideloading has been clear (and strict) since the early days of the App Store. However, 9to5mac reported on November 10 that Apple has indicated that it will move forward with introducing the feature in the next iOS 17.2.
Since 9to5mac’s report, it has been revealed that Apple has published new documents regarding managed app distribution, giving us a glimpse of what the company has in store.
The company’s plan is to limit its functionality to mobile device management (MDM) instead of allowing users to sideload apps. In other words, this is not a feature that users can enable or disable. Rather, managed app distribution allows administrators of corporate mobile devices to push apps to phones.
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According to the Managed App Distribution documentation, “The managed app distribution framework works with declarative management to provide a list of managed apps assigned to a device. Apps can sort the list of managed apps, Managed App Distribution frameworks to filter and view. For more information, see Declarative Management Integrations.
I think this is a wise choice by Apple. Sideloading apps on Android has been a huge issue with users installing apps from the Google Play Store that haven’t undergone proper security vetting. That doesn’t mean malicious software won’t find its way into Google’s app ecosystem. It happens, but it’s much less likely. The same applies to the Apple App Store. Apple’s vetting process greatly reduces the chance of malicious code getting onto your phone.
The Managed App Distribution feature allows administrators to force the installation of specific apps on users’ phones that are associated with their enterprise’s MDM platform. And if 9to5Mac is correct, this new API will give third-party apps permission to install other apps.
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Original reports suggested that Apple’s move could lead to the creation of a third-party app store, but the move was later revealed to be an MDM solution. Therefore, third-party app stores are not in the pipeline as much as companies are allowed to install their own apps (not present in Apple’s App Store) from their own MDM solutions. I think.
There is one problem with this story, however, as iPhones already allow this process through MDM solutions. Also, region locking was spotted in a new document, so Apple may be planning to allow sideloading of applications in certain regions. I could be wrong in my guess on this, but given Apple’s stance on sideloading, I’d be shocked if they allowed the creation of third-party app stores.
This new feature could be introduced as early as March 2024, and as Apple complies with the Digital Markets Act, by the time iOS 17.2 rolls out, app sideloading will bring new features to application distribution. There’s a good chance the door will open. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to say exactly what will happen with this new API. Will it be location specific, only for businesses, or open to everyone? Until iOS 17.2, we can only speculate that Apple will finally loosen the reins on distributing and installing iOS applications.