Home Science & Technology Is Using a Third-Party iPhone App Store Safe?

Is Using a Third-Party iPhone App Store Safe?

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How We Got Here

The journey to this point began when the European Union launched investigations into major tech companies like Apple, Meta, and Google for potential gatekeeping practices related to their app stores and data usage. For Apple, the spotlight intensified following the high-profile removal of Fortnite from the App Store in 2020, a controversy largely stirred up by Epic Games. The EU sought to determine if Apple was unjustifiably restricting access to certain services, such as the App Store and iMessage, under the guise of “user safety and privacy.” Despite Apple’s claims, the EU was not convinced.

Although the EU did not mandate Apple to make iMessage available on other devices, it did push for Apple to allow app distribution through third-party app stores and the web, subject to certain conditions. These changes started to take shape with the introduction of DMA-forced features in iOS, particularly in the EU region. As early as iOS 17.4, EU users saw the option to sideload apps directly, bypassing the stringent requirements of the official App Store.

This shift means that developers in the EU can distribute their apps without adhering to Apple’s traditional App Store protocols, potentially keeping more profits by avoiding Apple’s commission on in-app purchases. This change is significant for indie developers, echoing Epic Games’ arguments during their legal battle with Apple. However, Epic has criticized Apple’s approach to third-party app stores, which still involve hidden fees.

Are These Third-Party App Stores Worth Checking Out?

This brings us to the central question: are these third-party app stores worth considering? While new alternate app stores continue to emerge, their current offerings are limited, and their availability is restricted to EU users. Consequently, the potential user base is significantly smaller than the global iPhone user population.

Moreover, the diversity of apps in these stores is still lacking. For example, Aptoide, a recently launched store, operates on a freemium model but only offers a limited selection of games. On the other hand, Altstore provides a broader range of apps, allowing anyone to release apps via unique URL “sources.” However, this openness can also attract malicious actors looking to exploit the platform.

Developers face a high buy-in cost to launch third-party app stores on Apple devices, often passing these costs to customers through subscription fees. Setapp Mobile, currently in beta, is one such anticipated option. However, it requires a monthly subscription, which might deter users accustomed to free downloads from the official App Store.

Future launches of third-party app stores are expected, including the highly anticipated Epic Games Store app. This app aims to distribute games and other apps, including Fortnite. However, details on its functionality and release date remain sparse.

Conclusion

In summary, the European Union’s push for more open app distribution has led to significant changes in how Apple handles app stores, at least within the EU. While this opens new opportunities for developers and potentially benefits users, the current landscape of third-party app stores is still evolving. As more stores emerge and existing ones expand their offerings, users and developers alike will need to weigh the benefits and potential risks of these new platforms.