It’s not easy to install software from outside Apple’s ecosystem if you’re an iPhone user. If you want to use an app that’s not available on the official App Store, previously your only option was to jailbreak your phone to install alternatives like Cydia. But jailbreaking can be a security risk, and Cydia has been downsizing recently and stopped allowing purchases last year.
Enter a new alternative: AltStore, an App Store alternative that doesn’t require jailbreaking. The software is open source and was released in preview form a few days ago, with a full release happening September 28. While other App Store alternatives use enterprise certificates, which Apple has been restricting recently, AltStore uses a developer feature to sideload apps.
“Since this is an actually supported installation method by Apple, it’s far less fragile than other distribution methods in the past,” developer Riley Testut explained in a blog post. “Similarly, since there’s no single enterprise certificate to revoke (because technically every user now has their own developer certificate using this process), Apple can’t simply shut it down with the press of a button like they have with some 3rd party app stores.”
AltStore will launch with two apps, Delta and Clip. Clip is a clipboard manager, but the real draw will be Delta which is a Nintendo emulator. The preview version of Delta can play NES ROM files, but the full version will support NES, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo 64 games. This is noteworthy because emulators are not allowed in the official App Store, making AltStore an easy way to get these games running on your device.
Due to the way that AltStore works, it requires certificates to be renewed once per week, but a companion piece of software called AltServer can be installed on Windows or Mac to automate this process. To install apps, you need to use AltServer to download them and send them to the phone via Wi-Fi.
It remains to be seen what actions, if any, Apple will take against AltStore. Testut says that the method he uses will be hard for Apple to shut down: “Everything I’m doing, Apple is doing themselves,” he told The Verge. “One heavy-handed approach is they [Apple] could completely shut down the whole service, but that would affect everyone doing this, including schools… even in the worst case, I think there’s still a path forward for AltStore. As long as iTunes can sync apps, AltStore can work.”
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