Apple has always held a vice grip on its App Store, and from its inception, only approved apps that meet the company's set of rules have been allowed to enter. Up to this point, getting around this meant having to jailbreak your iPhone. Well, not anymore—iOS developer Riley Testut has made available an alternative app store called AltStore that does not require jailbreaking your handset.
It officially launches this Saturday, September 28, but he is offering up a preview straight away. It is compatible with even the latest versions of iOS, including iOS 13.1. Whether or not a future update breaks compatibility remains to be seen, but for now, it works. What's interesting about AltStore is how it works.
Instead of relying on enterprise certificates, AltStore leverages a lesser known developer feature that allows you to use your Apple ID to to install apps you've developed yourself with Apple's development toolkit called Xcode. You are not actually developing apps, though, and instead there is a bit of tomfoolery working behind the scenes.
"AltStore is a fully native, sandboxed iOS application that allows you to sideload apps by essentially 'tricking' your phone into thinking it’s installing apps that you made yourself, when really they can be any apps whatsoever," Testut explains.
Being a supported installation method by Apple, Testut says his scheme is far less fragile than other distribution methods. He also points out that, in theory, it should be difficult for Apple to thwart this—there is no single enterprise certificate that Apple can revoke, because with this process, every user has their own developer certificate.
The caveat is that AltStore requires you to input your Apple ID and password to communicate with Apple's developer servers. Some people might be understandably hesitant to provide that information. However, you can create a disposable Apple ID for the purpose of installing the AltStore.
"I’ve done everything I can to ensure these credentials are handled properly (i.e. it’s never sent to any 3rd party server, only sent directly to Apple for authentication, and then stored securely in the device’s keychain so nothing else can retrieve it), but since it doesn’t matter what Apple ID is provided, you are more than welcome to create throwaway accounts if desired," Testut says.
During this preview, there is just one app available—a lite version of the Delta NES emulator. Testut developed the emulator as well, paving the way for iPhone and iPad users to play classic NES games such as Super Mario Bros. Later on, a full version will add support for SNES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance.
It's hard to imagine all of this standing the test of time, as both Apple and Nintendo will likely aim to shut this project down. That is an article for another day.