Apple’s iOS platform has been a walled garden for more than a decade, and only messy Jailbreak hacks could open the door to unapproved apps. iOS app developer Riley Testut has released a new App Store alternative called AltStore that could shake up the iOS ecosystem. Unlike other rogue app repositories, AltStore doesn’t require a jailbroken phone. There are some caveats, but AltStore is available for download today in preview form.
Apple has never allowed unapproved apps on the iPhone or iPad, but developers began developing jailbreak techniques to install them shortly after the first iPhone launched. Naturally, Apple works to block jailbreaks as quickly as they’re released. AltStore uses a different method to install outside apps on iDevices, one that Testut believes will be much harder for Apple to thwart.
The preview version of AltStore is available now, and it comes with Testut’s own Nintendo emulator for iOS. The emulator, called Delta, currently has support for playing NES ROM files, but it’s just a preview. The full version that launches along with the finished AltStore will support the NES, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo 64. This has a lot of people excited because Apple doesn’t allow emulators in the App Store.
AltStore gets these unapproved packages on your device using some of the features available to developers who are testing apps. Hobbyist app devs can compile test builds in Xcode and push them to the phone, but those apps expire after seven days. AltStore uses a companion desktop app (Windows or macOS) called AltServer to communicate with your mobile devices. You add your Apple ID and an app-specific password, and the server can sign apps for temporary installation.
— Riles 🤷♂️ (@rileytestut) April 30, 2019
Installing apps relies on iTunes Wi-Fi sync; AltStore sends apps over Wi-Fi to the desktop app, and AltServer syncs them to the phone. To get around the 7-day expiration, AltServer periodically refreshes the signature whenever you’re on the same Wi-Fi network with the server. So, it’s not as smooth as using the App Store to install and manage apps, but the apps from AltStore behave the same as those installed from Apple’s official channel.
Testut says this method may be impossible to block unless Apple radically alters or removes the ability for developers and schools to install temporary apps. Although, I’m sure the company has already started looking for a way to shut down AltStore. You can get the preview version of AltStore now, and the full version launches on September 28th. Enjoy it while you can.