For all of the advantages that Apple’s mobile operating system has over Android when it comes to security and ease of use, freedom is one area where iOS pales in comparison to its top competitor. If developers want to make apps for iPhone and iPad, they have to go through the same review process as every other developer in order to secure a spot in the App Store. Meanwhile, on Android, it’s possible to sideload apps from third-party sources without ever opening Google Play. In a recent interview with Tim Cook for her New York Times podcast Sway, Kara Swisher asked Tim Cook why Apple feels that it’s so important to have total control over the apps that users can access.
The discussion surrounding sideloading kicked off with a question about the recent kerfuffle between Apple and Epic Games, during which the developer implemented its own payment system in Fortnite to bypass Apple’s 30% cut on paid app revenue and in-app subscriptions. Fortnite was promptly removed from the App Store, but Apple did end up cutting its fee to 15% for every developer earning less than $1 million a year.
Here’s what Cook had to say when Swisher asked why a developer shouldn’t be allowed to implement their own payment system or even make their apps available through a source other than the App Store:
Well, I think somebody has to [have control of the apps]. I think somebody has to curate, right? Because users aren’t going to come there and buy things if they don’t have trust and confidence in the store. And we think our users want that.
As for why there can’t be other stores on iOS, which many developers have pleading with Apple about for years, Cook says that “if you had side loading, you would break the privacy and security model.” The CEO went on the explain that 100,000 apps are submitted for review in a given week, and 40,000 of those are rejected because they either don’t work or don’t do what they’re supposed to do. Without curation, he argues, the App Store would be a mess — though he didn’t directly address the question about developers running their own stores.
Tim Cook’s stance on App Store alternatives is pretty clear, but that hasn’t stopped enterprising developers from finding ways to get their apps to users without the App Store. Back in 2019, GBA4iOS and Delta developer Riley Testut launched the AltStore as a place to host his video game emulator apps. You can install the AltStore on your iPhone without a jailbreak, but Testut constantly has to update the store as Apple closes the loopholes that allow it to function with virtually every update. Nevertheless, the AltStore is still up and running, and continues to show how an app store run by a third party can be run safely and smartly if Apple were to give developers a chance.