TL; DR: With more than 1.5 billion iPhone users, the rules and regulations for what can and can’t go onto the ever-so-popular App Store have become stricter. Apple currently disallows emulators, virtual machines, and iPod recreations — all lost opportunities for great apps. That’s where AltStore comes in, so we sat down with Riley Testut, the founder and developer of AltStore, to talk about how it provides an alternative solution via sideloading.
Calling all ’90s kids: Do you miss old-school N64 and GameCube? Do you wish you could play your favorite retro games on your iPhone or Macbook but are disappointed by the lack of options? Well, you’re in luck because AltStore is an app store designed for sideloading.
Sideloading your favorite retro games isn’t all AltStore offers. It also provides apps not available on the mainstream App Store — like UTM, a virtual machine host for running Windows on iOS. This means you can access apps without jailbreaking your phone, which can decrease its resale value (and who wants that in a world where new iPhone models are released every year?).
It all started with Riley Testut, founder and developer of AltStore, when he created Delta, a classic video game emulator. Riley developed the app and hoped to add it to the App Store, but it was rejected because Apple doesn’t allow emulators. Having spent years developing Delta, Riley was naturally disappointed.
“I thought, ‘Is there another way I can distribute this?’” said Riley. “If people want to share their apps, AltStore makes it possible.”
Riley and his co-founder, Shane Gill, said they value Apple and its products, so their goal is to provide a platform where apps like these can exist alongside the established App Store ecosystem. And so AltStore was born.
The Answer to Apple’s App Restrictions
AltStore works as a clever workaround for Apple’s restrictions by “tricking” your iPhone into thinking the apps you’re installing are App Store-approved, opening up the opportunity to install and enjoy apps that aren’t available through the official medium.
But the birth of AltStore is thanks to Shane, the current Operations Manager.
“At the time, we were roommates, and Shane said I should make a Patreon because tons of people want to support independent creators nowadays,” Riley recalled. “I was hesitant, but Shane was convinced it was the way — and it was. I discovered I could do this full-time and no longer had to contract for other people.”
So why don’t some apps make it to the App Store?
Apple’s guidelines and requirements for app inclusion are rigorous, so some apps don’t meet the criteria. Apps that fall under categories like video game emulators, virtual machines, web browsers with independent rendering engines, and iPod recreations are prohibited.
The answer for most devs and users is sideloading. Unfortunately, sideloading isn’t the easiest process: The apps “expire” after seven days, so you must renew them every week. You also can only install three sideloading apps at a time with no more than 10 in a seven-day rolling period.
What’s Sideloading All About?
Sideloading is a way to install apps unavailable through official channels, like the iOS App Store. Knowing how to sideload is the first crucial step to using any of AltStore’s apps, but one of the most important things is to note that sideloading and jailbreaking aren’t the same.
Jailbreaking removes software restrictions the iOS imposes, modifying the device’s firmware and exploiting vulnerabilities to gain root or administrative access. Once an iPhone is jailbroken, users can download apps not approved by the official App Store. The issue: Jailbreaking voids Apple warranties and may not be compatible with software updates.
On the other hand, sideloading allows you to install apps onto your iPhone from sources that aren’t the official App Store. This means you have to download .ipa files for iOS, which AltStore lets you do (with the help of your computer). Sideloading is done without modifying the device’s operating system or firmware and is usually compatible with software updates.
But sideloading doesn’t come without its own share of issues, which is exactly what Riley and the AltStore team aim to address.
“There’s the absence of the app review process, so we’re working on a way for people to understand what an app can do to their devices,” explained Riley. “We want to analyze apps when downloaded, check what APIs are being used, and give the user more informed consent. For example, some apps could trick you into granting access to your photos without your consent.”
AltStore can give users a better understanding of these apps’ functionalities and potential impacts on their devices. But Riley says this feat is tricky because, while there’s a lot of technical information to know, they want it to remain fun without throwing a bunch of jargon at users.
In response, AltStore is planning its 2.0 release.
Introducing AltStore Version 2.0
One of the most common complaints about sideloading is its lack of security, which is why AltStore is working on releasing Version 2.0, which will provide a more comprehensive experience for users and developers. There will be better infrastructure and expanded support for different app types.
But security is the main point.
“With Version 2.0, we’re more confident it’s safe for people to use and for any developer to post their apps,” said Riley.
AltStore may not have to work through loopholes to provide a safe environment for third-party apps for much longer.
Thanks to the new European Union law, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), there’s also speculation that the US is next in line to quit limiting third-party apps. The DMA was signed into law last year and aims to remove big companies from monopolizing digital assets, hopefully leading to more consumer choices, innovation, better quality, greater competition and lower prices.
“There’s been a huge sigh of relief because at least there’s a market we can distribute Delta to,” said Riley. “I’m going to do whatever I can with AltStore, but ultimately, Delta getting into the hands of people is what will make me happy.”
Riley also hints at some fun plans that would be great to implement for AltStore’s apps.
“There’s a lot we can do, but one of the cool things we thought about was, what if you could pinch Mario from MarioKart 64 and then put him in the real world and control him with your controller?”
Now imagine that.
Given today’s evolving technological advances, there’s little doubt this won’t ever happen. But there’s only one way to find out — so download AltStore today and follow the team on Twitter to stay up-to-date on upcoming versions, new apps, and other exciting developments we’re sure are on the horizon.