In recent months we are seeing a major attack against Apple that seeks to dismantle the structure of the App Store. Certain developers, such as Epic, Spotify or those responsible for HEY want to be able to install applications on iPhones and iPads without going through the application store and even offer their own stores. This it is far from the guarantee of security and reliability that Apple offers in its App Store, but is it crazy? Let’s talk about it in more detail.
Apple already allows apps to be installed from outside the App Store, but with asterisks
Before getting into the subject, let’s talk for a moment about the main point in favor of allowing applications to be installed from outside the App Store. Apple has been accused of monopoly for months, since, according to certain companies, the fact of having to pay a commission of 15% (or 30% if you earn more than a million dollars a year) is abuse of power and anti-competitive. I couldn’t disagree with these statements more, but this is not the subject of the article. What is clear is that allowing applications to be installed from outside the App Store would silence all these criticisms and would halt several investigations that are currently open.
All right. Let’s focus on installing apps from outside of the App Store. Apple already allows that, but only allows it in two very specific cases. If we are developers we can install, signed with our own certificate, any app, either, no approval required, we just plugged in our iPhone and installed it, nothing more. The issue is that in order to use this system we have to be developers in the Apple program and cover a fee of 99 euros per year. The other way that Apple allows the installation of certain applications is through company certificates. Something that is not intended for anything other than environments in which certain companies want to distribute their own apps for their employees.
A system that is technically already possible, but that would generate serious unforeseen events.
Returning to the first system, it is important that we bear in mind that we, with the free developer account, can also install apps, but these, instead of being able to run for a year, expire after three days. Ideal for be able to test, but not for sustained use.
The warranty that Apple offers does not exist outside the App Store
Let’s establish the hypothetical premise: Apple allows us to install any app from outside the App Store using xCode. It would be a movement that would have several repercussions. The first one is that no developer could even try to complain anymore from the App Store. The other repercussions are not nearly as interesting.
The iPhone is a very secure device. This is due, in almost equal parts, thanks to how closed the platform is and the fact that applications are not allowed to do certain things. An application that is not distributed from the App Store can bypass almost any restriction, access private APIs, modify system files, etc. It is not hard to imagine how fast these applications could cause damage to the device, we just have to think about the jailbreak and how it breaks iPhone security measures to access restricted parts of the system.
But this lack of security would extend to transactions. Would we pay a subscription to a task management app that we don’t know about at all? I wouldn’t even sign up for the trial week. Now when we buy an app we are buying it from Apple. When we pay for a subscription, it is Apple to whom we give the money. An iPhone with apps from outside the App Store would mean that in each application a direct relationship with the developer would be established: an account, a credit card, permissions that may or may not be requested, etc.
When we buy an app we buy it from Apple, with all the guarantee that this offers us. What would happen outside the App Store?
If finally, after some trial or investigation, Apple were forced to allow app installations from outside the App Store, what guarantee would we have as users? None. We may be able to install Netflix with the confidence that a company of its size offers us, but this is not available to all developers. Said more clearly, this is only available to very, very few developers.
We don’t even need to talk about the possible deceptions. How many users would fall for promises of paid services that are offered for free? This is the main form of malware entry on Macs: that the user installs something that should not be installed. In the App Store this is not an option, outside of it it is.
Less warranty, less service, less support and what do we get in return? Nothing
When something fails, we are usually quite clear about who to turn to. If the Files app does not allow us to open a PDF, we will say that Apple so and so, that the software that and that, that the Cupertino engineers something … But what about apps installed from outside the App Store? It is not unreasonable to think that a certain application can modify the behavior of the Files app or cause it to fail. Should Apple take over the support? I would say not.
We could get to a point where Apple says: if you have third-party apps, we can’t offer you technical support until you restore your phone. It is something that more or less already happens when we have a beta installed in the operating system and we go with our iPhone to an Apple Store or we call Apple Care. In Apple they know that unstable versions —the same would happen with versions that may have been modified by apps installed from outside the App Store— do not have the integrity to be able to provide support.
In the end, if for some reason Apple were forced to allow the installation of apps from outside the App Store, a major awareness campaign would be needed: install apps only from trusted developers, see the App Store. It is something that in my training I have to repeat more than once, because not complying with it can lead to important, economically important scares.
No more competition or benefits for the user. Only loss of security.
With all this, it is easy to see the risk of creating an App Store at two speeds: the apps that can be allowed to be outside and the apps that cannot exist without the store. Profits? I will give my opinion: None. The apps in the App Store that can afford to be outside have already avoided having to pay the 15% (or 30%) commission, see Netflix or Spotify, where we have to register via the web. The apps that grow and evolve thanks to the App Store would continue in it, enjoying the protection of Apple and the guarantee it offers us. And for us, the users, the result would be a loss of the most important of our security. We may not install anything outside of the App Store, but our WhatsApp contacts can do it and goodbye to encryption of conversations.
Given that certain developers, only a few, have managed to direct the government machinery to investigate application stores, it is a good time to stop and think about the ultimate consequences of certain decisions. Apple has already said on occasion that installing apps from outside the App Store would destroy the iPhone as we know it. And overall, what for? To buy Fortnite V-Bucks 15% cheaper? It remains to be seen how many developers would pass the 15% savings on to end users. We would lose a lot for nothing.