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iOS Beta Hints That Apple Is Testing Sideloading For Apps

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Enduring stringent pressure from the European Union due to the antitrust provisions stipulated in the Digital Markets Act, Apple is arguably making strides toward permitting users to sideload apps from sources other than the App Store to foster increased competition.

Information recently unearthed in the iOS 17.2 beta version code by 9to5Mac appears to validate the tech giant’s movement toward sideloading on iOS gadgets. Sideloading essentially involves installing applications acquired from third-party platforms as opposed to sanctioned outlets such as the App Store.

As it pertains to iOS, the App Store represents the sole available distribution platform for iPad and iPhone users. Hence, Apple has historically been against sideloading since it enables the bypassing of App Store parameters and prevents Apple from controlling everything you’re allowed to do on iPhone.

Nonetheless, the European Union instituted the Digital Markets Act last year, an antitrust statute intended to prevent big tech firms from leveraging their prerogative to compromise competition. A prime mandate of this legislation is to allow users the freedom to install apps from third-party sources at their discretion. Recent revelations attest to the backend tweaks Apple has been making to iOS 17 to accommodate sideloading in Europe.

The introduction of the “Managed App Distribution” public framework in iOS 17.2 further corroborates these adjustments, hinting at heightened significance than originally perceived.

9to5Mac’s investigation of the new API indicates the existence of a system-declared extension endpoint, enabling other applications to generate similar extensions. Delving deeper, they have also discovered an unutilized entitlement that facilitates third-party apps to install supplementary apps, in effect empowering developers to establish independent app stores. This new API can manage downloads, installations, and updates of apps from unrelated sources, even verifying compatibility of an app with a specific iOS version or device—a function the App Store already performs.

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