Comment: Apple should adopt, not demonize, sideloading apps

Apple has endured a lot of pressure from frustrated consumers over the years to allow third-party apps to be installed on their devices, and maybe for good reason.

A screenshot of apps loaded sideways onto an iPhone using AltStore.

In fact, Apple seems to be renewing this heated debate after the company’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, took the stage at this year’s Web Summit to articulate Apple’s position on the sideloading of apps. Fascinating and even deceptive, Federighi described the practice as “a cybercriminal’s best friend”.

Sideloading: Good or Bad?

The problem

In most cases, when a user wants an app, they open the App Store and then look for that app. The user can then proceed to download and install the app if they find it, but what if they don’t find it? This happens more often than some would admit, and not always because the app doesn’t exist, but because it doesn’t exist specifically for the iPhone due to App Store restrictions.

The App Store subjects app developers to certain guidelines and then keeps their feet on fire through a review process that gets every app to the point before it is published. These guidelines are designed to protect users from low-cost and / or potentially malicious apps by acting as a quality filter, but this trustworthy process also has significant burnbacks.

To the example, The App Store’s strict guidelines can sometimes compromise an app’s capabilities by exposing a small bubble of what Apple considers “allows”. If the app does something that Apple doesn’t allow, the company simply rejects the app or publishes the app more often and later pulls it down after someone points it out. This type of control can stifle innovation on the developer side.

There is an alternative to the App Store called sideloading. This process allows the end user to manually install an application file on their handset by bypassing the app store entirely. Users with free or paid developer accounts can easily do this with computer software such as AltServer & AltStore, Cydia Impactor, and even Apple’s own Xcode development tools. Sideloading doesn’t require jailbreaking, but it’s worth noting that jailbreaking is another way for users to install apps that normally wouldn’t get the green light from Apple’s App Store policies.

The downside to slide loading is that many of the above methods are not provided by Apple or otherwise require the end user to go through an excessive number of steps such as a limited usage period before it needs to be re-signed. For jailbreaking, the user often has to run out of date firmware with security holes and a leaner range of functions. Obviously, the user experience is far from perfect in either case.

The advantage of sideloading apps or installing them via the package manager of a jailbreak is that they are not subject to the strict guidelines or review processes of the app store. This means that these apps can offer more unconventional functionality than those that would otherwise be crippled by Apple’s guidelines, and that’s the main reason why game emulators, pasteboard apps, jailbreaking tools, and other types of apps are often sideloaded instead of over the Appstore will be installed.

Apple’s weak argument against sideloading

As Federighi’s own comments at this year’s Web Summit show, Apple has no intention of distributing sideloaded apps on its mobile platforms unless legally compelled to do so. The reason for the company, you ask? “Safety.”

While it’s true that the app store’s review process sorts a large number of low-quality, and perhaps even malicious, apps from the mix, the bottom line is that what you do with your own device should be your choice. This is an opinion that Jay Freeman (Saurik), aka the father of the jailbreak, has defended for years to ensure the legality of the jailbreak through an exception under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

When it comes to your PC, be it a Mac, a PC, or even a Linux box, you can install pretty much any software you want on it without using any application storage to accomplish these means. There are proven security mechanisms such as security software on these platforms to prevent malware and ensure user safety.

According to Federighi, sideloading is “a cybercriminal’s best friend” because it allows apps to be installed on a device without Apple review. As a result, sideloading can trick or force users into accidentally installing a malware-infected app on their device.

Federighi repeatedly criticized the competing Android operating system for its vulnerability to malware and blamed the problem with sideloading apps on the mobile platform, while arguing that Apple should not allow apps to be sideloaded on its mobile platform. He added that the “story” supported Apple’s line of reasoning without giving any specific examples.

Ironically, history shows that even malicious apps have left the supposedly “safer” app store verification process behind them in the past, while security researcher Will Strafach mention, that that with Apple’s help, apps sideloading on security research devices has been made both safe and practical.

The veiled truth of Apple’s intentions

Apple’s App Store has another downside that developers have been actively pointing out lately, and that’s the platform’s commission fees, which range from 15% to 30%, which Apple strikes before a developer ever sees any revenue from their app. Apple insists this cut goes into operating costs and wages for its app store, but it doesn’t offer developers an app store alternative to bypass these fees while they sell apps and instead back down on “security” like it does Federighi in the latest has done arguments.

Anyone who jailbreak their iPhone or iPad, or use other devices with less restrictive operating systems, will understand that security is not an issue for the responsible person. I can personally attest to this as I have been jailbreaking my iPhones for more than a decade and have been using a variety of different operating systems that allow me to download apps and programs online rather than using dedicated nanny stores provided by the OEM. No malware here.

Rather than being a security issue, it seems more likely that Apple is defending the associated increase in sales by forcing app developers to use the App Store and then charging fees for every purchase or subscription. After all, there is no alternative to the App Store that app developers can use in protest; Apple has absolute and uncontrolled control over what software can be installed on your device unless you are jailbroken, and Apple seems to be vehemently against it too.

That can not be a coincidence…

Apple is rated positively by a large portion of its user base as the company spends endless resources on expert marketing that touts “privacy” and “security” whenever the opportunity arises. Users feel safe and secure when using Apple products because these buzzwords have long since crossed their minds, but how private and secure are Apple device users really? After all, one exploit after another, teased by prominent hackers, shows that Apple’s mobile software is anything but hackproof.

Given what I just explained above, is it fair to call sideloading a cybercriminal’s best friend, or should we instead call the hackable cell phone itself a cybercriminal’s best friend? After all, it’s a convenient personal device that holds information about almost everything about you. You decide.

What Apple Users Earn

While it’s obvious that Federighi doesn’t like the idea of ​​sideloading apps on iPhones and iPads, anyone familiar with jailbreaking or using other operating systems would be quick to point out that the argument of the story is both flimsy and subjective.

If any, Users should have a choice Whether they let Apple dictate what they can and can’t install on their devices in the name of security, or a check box that says they agree to the risks of sideloading apps. The check box would be very similar to accepting other terms of service for another platform or server, and effectively relieves Apple of any obligation to provide support if you choose the more advanced and “dangerous” route.

Of course, this has not happened without legislative action, and probably never will, at least not on Federighi’s watch. If Apple executives had a say, jailbreaking would be a relic of the past and users would just mindlessly feed on Apple’s omniscient hand making sure the company controls what they can and cannot install on their devices. This would help ensure the company’s revenue growth projections become a reality.

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While there is certainly a difference between tech-savvy and not-so-tech-savvy people, Apple seems to go out of their way to put all users in the same group and make important decisions for them instead of with them. Apple has been taking this approach for as long as I can remember, but global legislation could force the company in a different direction.

Personally, I think Apple should embrace the idea of ​​sideloading apps rather than demonizing them. It would make the company’s platform more accessible to those who feel it is too restrictive in its current form.

Additionally, I find it utterly ironic that Apple does not want to be dictated by governments while, on the other hand, dictating what users can and cannot do with their devices. Maybe it’s time for Apple to get a taste of its own medicine.

Where do you stand in the app sideloading debate? Should users be able to sideload any app on their iPhone or iPad without Apple saying otherwise? Discuss your position in the comments section below.

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