[Update] AltStore in the test: iPhone sideloading (and game emulation) tried

The AltStore is an alternative app marketplace for the Apple iPhone. It offers sideloading options, but currently still needs to be installed and maintained via a computer. This could change with the web download of apps from iOS 17.5. But I have already tested the installation and use using the more complicated procedure (under iOS 17.4.1). You can find all the individual steps, the app offering, app usage and further information below.

Note: This post is about the free AltStore, which is available worldwide. Information and a test from AltStore PAL for the EU market (with easy download on the iPhone) can be found here: Install and use AltStore PAL as an app marketplace on the iPhone.

AltStore in the test: Here you can find my experiences with the alternative app marketplace for iOS.
AltStore in the test: Here you can find my experiences with the alternative app marketplace for iOS.

Step 1: Download and install AltServer on your computer (Mac or PC).

First, download the AltServer app onto your computer. I tried this on the Apple Mac. I have that from the official website downloaded a .zip file, extracted its contents and moved it to the Applications folder. The app was already installed. After the first start, an update was immediately indicated. I installed that and we were able to continue.

Step 2: Start AltServer and pair with the iPhone

Once the Mac or Windows app is started, you're ready to go. Under macOS it waits in the menu bar to be used. In order to be able to use the AltStore on the iPhone, you first have to connect it to the Mac using a cable and unlock it. Now open the Finder, select the iPhone and check the box “Show this iPhone when WiFi is available”. You then confirm the change with the “Apply” button.

Step 3: Install AltStore on iPhone

Now click on the AltServer symbol in the menu bar and move the mouse cursor to “Install AltStore…”. Next to that you select the connected iPhone. A window opens in which you have to log in with your Apple ID. This is used to authenticate AltServer with Apple and to make sideloading on the iPhone possible. After entering, click the “Install” button.

Step 4: Set up rights on the iPhone

After a few seconds, the AltStore app should be visible in the app library and possibly also on the iPhone's home screen. Before opening you should go into the Settings under General -> VPN and device management Tap your own Apple ID in the “Developer App” area and then Trust “Apple ID”. Select (instead of “Apple ID” it says the email address). You have to confirm this again by tapping “Trust”.

Then you have to go to the settings under Privacy -> Developer mode developer mode can be activated. Not only does this have to be confirmed, but it also requires a restart (have the device code and SIM PIN ready!). After restarting, you will be asked to activate developer mode again. Once you have confirmed this again, you can finally start using the AltStore.

Step 5: Use AltStore

If you now open the AltStore app, you should agree to the connection to local devices. This is necessary so that the iPhone can connect to the Mac via WLAN and thus to the AltServer app running there. However, you do not have to agree to notifications. Once all of this has been checked off, you can finally get started.

The first tab “News” presents information material and news about the AltStore project. In the second tab “Browse” you can examine the app offering. Initially there are only two apps: Delta (console emulator for retro video games) and Clip (iPhone clipboard management). You can find out how to find other apps below. The “My Apps” tab provides an overview of the installed programs. And “Settings” of course offers the settings.

iPhone AltStore review

If you look in the “Settings” tab or want to download an app, you will notice: you have to log in again with your Apple ID. Once this is done, you can now download and use apps. As a test, I downloaded the Delta app, which offers emulation for games (NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS). But you have to add ROMs, i.e. game files, yourself. A ROM download is not offered (that would also be legally questionable).

Since I happened to have a private backup copy of my “Pokémon Blue Edition” game on hand, I was able to AirDrop it to my iPhone and try it out. In the Delta app you can add games using the plus symbol (+) in the top right. They can be selected from the files and imported into the app. Using the Game Boy game worked without any problems in the short test.

Where are the other apps?

If you look at the AltStore website and also the news tab of the AltStore app, more than just the two apps offered by the development team themselves are advertised there. But where are these? Well, you have to tap on “Sources” in the “Browse” tab at the top right, then you can load additional app sources and the corresponding programs offered into the overview. A bit complicated if you ask me.

iPhone AltStore experiences

With all the sources added, the AltStore offering has grown to this list:

  • flycast: Emulator for Dreamcast games
  • Delta: Emulator for NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games
  • clip: Clipboard management for iPhone
  • UTM: Emulator for operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and so on (with JIT support)
  • UTM SE: Emulator for operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and so on (without JIT support)
  • PojavLauncher: Running Minecraft in Java Edition
  • DolphinOS: Emulator for GameCube and Wii games
  • DolphiniOS (Public Beta): Latest version of GameCube and Wii emulator
  • Provenance EMU: Emulator for game consoles from Atari, Bandai, NEC, Nintendo, Sega, SNK and Sony

Hopefully, starting with iOS 17.5, using alternative app marketplaces will become easier

The next update version of iOS will make it possible to install apps on the iPhone directly via website downloads. I hope that this eliminates the need to use a Mac or Windows PC. Mobile app management becomes somewhat absurd when it relies on a computer. As you can see in the “My Apps” tab of AltStore, the update via AltServer (i.e. via the connection to the computer) is necessary after seven days at the latest.

Correction: Here I was still of the opinion that the AltStore could only be installed and used as described above. However, there is also that AltStore PAL for the EU market. A single download on the iPhone is sufficient for this. A computer is not required. Here is the test report: Install and use AltStore PAL as an app marketplace on the iPhone.

Conclusion: Cumbersome setup, limited app selection, but works

Sideloading on the iPhone is still in its early stages, but it has now been done. The AltStore is a reasonably functioning alternative to the official App Store on the iPhone (preferably from iOS 17.4). And all without a jailbreak. It takes some time to set up the AltStore app and the range of apps is still limited. However, the way has been paved for alternative app distribution. The current offer is aimed primarily at fans of mobile system and game emulation. Further information, the AltServer download and instructions for use can be found at https://altstore.io and https://faq.altstore.io.

My tips & tricks about technology & Apple

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1 comment on “[Update] AltStore in the test: iPhone sideloading (and game emulation) tried out”

  1. I will continue to install applications exclusively from Apple's App Store. The only exception are programs from Apple verified developer sites. Such as B. Rogue Amoebia Store.

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In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.

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