Unlisted app distribution is a new App Store feature that Apple has introduced. This means that a developer can now submit an app to the App Store that can only be downloaded through a direct link — Unlisted apps aren’t searchable, App Store categories, charts, or recommendations for the general public, but they are accessible to administrators through Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager.
Unlisted applications, according to Apple, are best for “limited audiences,” such as visitors at a special event, members of an organisation, participants in a research project, or a specific set of employees. Developers must first submit a request to Apple in order to make an app unlisted and acquire a link.
Apps that have only been approved for private download on the Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager, on the other hand, require additional actions from developers. Developers must “create a new app record in App Store,” upload the binaries, and then “set the distribution method to Public,” according to Apple. Developers that have already made their apps available to the public can submit a request without having to take any further steps.
Once Apple approves the request, the app’s distribution method will change to “Unlisted App,” and any updated versions will follow suit. The link for the now-unlisted app will remain the same if the app is already available on the App Store. It’s also worth noting that unlisted apps “must be ready for final distribution,” with Apple refusing to approve any apps that are still in beta or pre-release.
Bad actors used a similar policy under Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program, which was created to allow developers to test and internally distribute apps before they were officially reviewed by Apple. As a result, there are now a slew of pirated games, gambling, and pornographic apps that can be readily sideloaded onto iPhones. It’s unclear how strict the review process for unlisted applications would be, but Ars Technica’s findings imply it will be confined to apps with a small audience.
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