Apple will soon allow developers to offer unlisted apps through the App Store, which can only be accessed by those who have 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 “restricted audiences,” such as visitors at a special event, members of an organization, 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 been only approved for private installation on the Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager, on the other hand, require additional actions from developers. Developers must “create a new program record in App Store, upload the binaries, and then “configure the distribution strategy to Public,” according to Apple. Developers that have already made their apps available to the public can make a request without having to take any further measures.
Once Apple grants 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 for download on 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 exploited a similar policy under Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program, which was created to allow developers to test and privately distribute apps before they were officially reviewed by Apple. As a result, there are now a slew of illegal 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.