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Apple explains why you cannot sideload apps on iOS unlike Android

India Today logo India Today 15-10-2021 Shubham Verma

If you use an Android phone and ever thought of switching to an iPhone, I am sure the thought of not being able to sideload apps must have run through you. It is normal to think about things like installing apps from outside the authorised place to bypass some restrictions. But Apple does not let you do that on an iPhone. It has even faced criticism and pressure from regulators for this, but Apple has always maintained its stance that its iPhone is secure this way. Apple has now published a new document to explain why sideloading is not allowed on iOS.

In its 31-page long document titled "Building a Trusted Ecosystem for Millions of Apps (A threat analysis of sideloading)", Apple has talked about various aspects of iOS and its closed ecosystem. "Supporting sideloading through direct downloads and third-party app stores would cripple the privacy and security protections that have made iPhone so secure, and expose users to serious security risks," Apple said to support its defensive stance against the argument that iOS should be made open like Android. Apple is citing reports from regulators from around the world to show the shortcomings of Android because of its open nature.

Apple cited a report by the European regulatory agency to argue that Android devices were found to have 15 to 47 times more malware infections than the iPhone over the past four years. This is a huge chunk of 230,000 mobile infections that emerge on a daily basis, while the monthly malware attacks stood at around 6 million, according to a report by "a large security firm on its clients' Android mobile devices."

And while Apple is citing these reports to target Android and argue against sideloading, it certainly did not forget to quote Steve Jobs who advocated for the Apple ecosystem over other operating systems. "We're trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once: provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. This is no easy task," said Steve Jobs in 2017.

In a few brief points, Apple has listed the disadvantages of sideloading on iOS. Here is the full text from Apple's document:

  • More harmful apps would reach users because it would be easier for cybercriminals to target them even if sideloading were limited to third-party app stores only.
  • Users would have less information about apps up front, and less control over apps after they download them onto their devices.
  • Some sideloading initiatives would also mandate removing protections against third-party access to proprietary hardware elements and non-public operating system functions.
  • Users could be forced to sideload an app they need for work or school.
  • Cybercriminals may trick users into sideloading apps by mimicking the appearance of the App Store, or by touting free or expanded access to services or exclusive features.

What Apple is saying makes sense, but there is a loophole in what the iPhone maker has tried to explain in its new document. As pointed out by The Register, sideloading has been referred to as both downloading apps from outside the App Store and installing apps from a third-party app store. Simply put, sideloading only means downloading an app on your phone from a source that does not use the verification or authentication method of your phone's operating system. But if you download an app from a third-party app store, it is not called sideloading. For instance, you can install apps using the Galaxy Store on Samsung phones. This is the same thing that Epic Games is fighting Apple for, in the Fortnite lawsuit.

The document from Apple seems like an attempt to gaslight users just so the pressure from regulators can be minimised. The European Union has forced Apple to allow third-party app stores and direct download of apps on its iPhones, while the US court ordered Apple, as a verdict in the Epic case, to allow third parties to give a point of communication in their app. The second court order means that Apple should allow apps such as Netflix or Spotify to give a reference to a website that would allow users to sign up and buy a subscription because these two are the things you cannot do on iOS. That is because Apple (and Google) charges a 30 per cent commission on each transaction, and apps such as Spotify have been against it.

Apple's fight against making iOS an open ecosystem seems to continue for a while, but everyone will have to settle eventually. For what it is worth, this will set a precedent in the industry.

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