Sideloading: why companies sidestep App Store and Play Store limitations

When most people look for new games or apps for the smartphone or tablet, they look at either Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, but there is a world of apps outside of these walled gardens.

Apple makes it particularly difficult to “sideload” apps from sources other than its own App Store, where the Cupertino company takes home 30% of each sale. This involves jailbreaking, and otherwise voiding the warranty of your device, so while it may be useful for some, we will focus on Android in this article.

On Android devices, by contrast, it is pretty simple to install apps from outside Google Play, with users just needing to head into settings and then click Settings >> Security and then toggle the switch that says “Allow installation of apps from sources other than the Play Store”. Once you have enabled third-party app installations, then all you have to do is download the app APK and launch it to install.

Now, we should be clear and say that you should probably only switch this setting on when you are about to install a third-party app you trust, and then switch it off immediately afterwards to avoid any unwanted rogue adware installations.

Just like with Apple’s App Store, Google takes a hefty 30% of all sales and 15% of all recurring subscriptions. Google’s subscription percentage was halved form 30% last year, but for companies offering journalism or music subscriptions with already razor-thin margins – this 15% can be a major issue. The Financial Times famously continues to eschew Apple’s App Store, and pushes its iOS users to its web app to avoid having to pay Apple its fees.

Beyond the pay terms, some companies offer services that for whatever reason Google and Apple have decided to ban from their stores, and so are forced to only offer their apps for users to sideload. Apple, for example, makes life very difficult for apps that compete with its own services, as Spotify recently found out, while the Play Store bans apps that feature their own app marketplaces such as the gambling app marketplace or Amazon’s Appstore.

By stepping outside the walled gardens of the official app stores, these apps and marketplaces can offer significant discounts on their services, as they do not have to pay any share to Apple or Google, and do not have to play by their PG-13 rules.

It is a much more difficult task to sign up users without access to the official stores, as installing the apps take extra steps and people have to feel safe with the software unvetted by Apple and Google. B if these companies can make a success of it, then the upside can be huge – they are not only able to pocket all of the revenue generated by their app, but they can also push updates more quickly without the need to wait weeks or months for the OK from Apple or Google, and they have full control of their user data. Is that enough to make these “rebel” apps a success? Only time will tell.

Photograph by Cristiano Betta

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