AltStore PAL Promises a Haven for the App Store’s Misfit Toys

AltStore PAL hero Credit: Riley Testut / AltStore
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Several companies have reportedly been hard at work on building alternative iPhone app marketplaces to take advantage of Apple’s new policies on app distribution in the European Union. Now, the first of these has launched as an open-source refuge for developers frustrated with Apple’s longstanding App Store restrictions.

Cleverly dubbed AltStore PAL, a nod to the European broadcast television standard of the same name, the new marketplace fulfills a decade-long dream of Riley Testut, the developer of GBA4iOS and Delta who created a grassroots unauthorized version of AltStore in 2019.

That alternative store was kludgy and complicated to set up, but it fulfilled the goal of letting Testut distribute his Delta NES emulator — an app that was verboten on the mainstream App Store.

However, thanks to the EU’s Digital Markets Act, Apple now has to allow more open app distribution. That includes opening the doors to other app marketplaces and, eventually, distribution of apps directly from the web.

Apple still plans to “notarize” apps distributed in these ways to ensure they’re safe and free of malware, viruses, and other nasty stuff. European Commission officials disagree that Apple should review apps at all, insisting that it’s the government’s responsibility to protect iPhone users from malware, not Apple’s, but they have yet to rule on the matter. Meanwhile, Apple has already made it clear that it doesn’t plan to censor apps based on content. If somebody wanted to set up an alternative app marketplace that exclusively distributed porn or violent political content, that’s on them — Apple won’t interfere.

I’m thrilled to announce a brand new version of AltStore — AltStore PAL — is launching TODAY as an Apple-approved alternative app marketplace in the EU. AltStore PAL is an open-source app store made specifically for independent developers, designed to address the problems I and so many others have had with the App Store over the years. Basically, if you’ve ever experienced issues with App Review, this is for you!Riley Testut

AltStore PAL is considerably more benign in that regard. However, it’s still breaking new ground in creating a home for the App Store’s misfit toys — a place where independent developers can publish nearly anything they want without worrying about the capriciousness of the App Review team.

All apps are welcome, but I believe AltStore makes the most sense for smaller, indie apps that otherwise couldn’t exist due to App Store rules. There are countless examples of these that aren’t allowed in the App Store for one reason or another; we just don’t know about them because there’s never been a distribution option for these poor apps.Riley Testut

Testut is taking it slow, with only two apps debuting on AltStore PAL today. The first is his NES emulator app, Delta, which he describes as “the reason I built AltStore in the first place.” The second is Clip, a “real” clipboard manager that can actually run in the background.

These are things that haven’t traditionally been allowed on Apple’s App Store but clearly fit within the frameworks of apps permitted on iOS. There’s no need to jailbreak or do anything else to bend the rules, and Apple has already cleared these apps through its notarization process.

Delta is entirely free with no ads, while Clip will require a “small donation of €1 or more.” While Testut could have also taken advantage of Apple’s new web distribution policies to make these both available directly from his website, that isn’t coming until iOS 17.5 is released next month. Plus, Delta may have been the inspiration for AltStore PAL, but it’s not just about Testut’s own apps; he plans to eventually open his marketplace to third-party apps as soon as he has everything running smoothly.

Naturally, AltStore PAL will only be available in the 27 EU countries where the Digital Markets Act is in effect; Apple isn’t opening up app distribution out of the goodness of its heart — it’s doing what the law requires of it. However, if you’re in the EU, you can grab AltStore PAL from the AltStore website, although there’s a small catch.

Thanks to Apple’s new Core Technology Fee (CTF), Testut has to pay €0.50 annually for every user who installs or updates AltStore PAL. Since “paid” apps on the new marketplace will be supported entirely by Patreon donations, there won’t be a lot of money in it for Testut. As a result, he’s passing the CTF on to AltStore PAL users, who will be charged €1.50/year to use the app marketplace. That covers the €0.50 CTF plus the payment processing.

We’ve done the math — a lot of math — and €1.50 is just enough to cover the CTF (+ payment processing) for our apps. This obviously isn’t ideal, but our priority is making sure we run AltStore sustainably so that developers can confidently distribute their apps with us — and this ensures we can pay Apple’s CTF no matter how many users we get.Riley Testut

The original AltStore is also staying put, so users who don’t want to pay or live outside the EU and can’t download AltStore PAL even if they want to can still rely on the legacy version. It’s as cumbersome as it’s always been since you’ll need a computer to sideload apps via iTunes and refresh them every seven days to keep them working, but it gets the job done.

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