Apple's App Store is simultaneously the source of a huge amount of power for the company and annoyance for anyone trying to do anything outside of downloading pre-approved apps. Businesses, for example, have long been able to host internal apps using developer accounts but, as Facebook found, Apple often works in mysterious and sudden ways.
That all could be about to change after MacRumors found (opens in new tab) an Apple Support document (opens in new tab) that details the process for companies, developers, and anyone else who applies to distributed unlisted apps using only a link.
Developers can submit a request (opens in new tab) to Apple for an unlisted app that won't appear in the App Store's search recommendations, categories, charts, and elsewhere. Unlisted apps can be accessed via the Apple Business Manager and Apple School Manager services.
Centralisation, centralisation, centralisation
Apple says unlisted apps are intended for special events, organisations, research studies, and tools for employees (eg, for sales). The apps will be available in all regions that support the App Store.
While adding unlisted apps as an option for developers is good news, especially for organisations looking for a legitimate way to distributed properly-made apps, there are a some drawbacks, as developer Steve Troughton-Smith has highlighted.
Unlisted apps sounds like it could be neat, but it looks like it has some big caveats. Also doesn’t seem like my Individual developer account is authorized to request an unlisted link. Business-only?“Note: Once your app is approved, the distribution method cannot be changed.” https://t.co/o34hB1v8VRJanuary 28, 2022
Unlisted apps must be ready for distribution, excluding beta and pre-release versions, and anything outside of these rules will be declined, according to Apple.
The company already operates TestFlight, a developer-specific service for testing iOS and iPadOS apps, and presumably the company doesn't want too much crossover between the services.
All of this perhaps play into the overarching narrative about the App Store, as presented by various competitors (opens in new tab), the EU, the UK, and some American lawmakers: Apple has too much power over what users can do on their iPhones.
While unlisted apps are intended to be useful – and they truly will be for many companies and developers – it does further highlight Apple's singular control over apps on its platforms.
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