Cook: Sideloading iPhone Apps Is ‘Not In the Best Interests of the User’

Cook: Sideloading iPhone Apps Is ‘Not In the Best Interests of the User’

Apple is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Epic Games that could affect the future of the iOS walled garden. At issue is the way Apple exerts total control over the software that runs on its phones, and CEO Tim Cook touched on the disagreement in a recent interview with a YouTube channel called Brut. According to Cook, sideloading apps is “not in the best interests of the user.”

The iPhone has existed for well over a decade at this point, and Apple has never supported the installation of apps it has not approved. Even before the App Store, the first-gen iPhone could only get apps when they were jailbroken. Hacking iPhones to install third-party app stores is still possible, but the security measures on the platform make it much harder than it used to be. If you don’t want to follow Apple’s rules, you can’t distribute software on the iPhone.

That’s why Epic and Apple are duking it out in court, and reporters are asking Tim Cook about sideloading apps. Android has always allowed sideloading, which is a process by which you manually install apps from outside Google’s ecosystem. Cook isn’t confident this could work for Apple. “As I look at the tech regulations that’s being discussed, I think there are good parts of it and then I think there are parts of it that are not in the best interests of the user,” he said.

Cook also pointed to malware as a reason to stick with the Apple model. He pulled out a statistic claiming Android has 47 times more malware than iOS does. I don’t know the source of this claim, but it doesn’t sound impossible. There are some real wild west Android app repositories, mostly in China and Russia, where malware flows like water.

Cook points to App Store features like privacy labels and app tracking transparency as things that could not exist in sideloaded apps. That’s true… unless you get them from a third-party app store that has implemented similar features. The problem is we don’t know how that would work because no one has been allowed to develop a full replacement for the App Store.

You could argue, as Apple often has, that it can run its platform however it likes, and the incredible success of the iPhone proves that people like the walled garden. However, that success is itself a problem. The iPhone has become so popular that Apple holds a solid majority of smartphone users in the US. For many, those smartphones are their primary computing device, and Apple gets to decide what software they get to run. Apple and Tim Cook might have the best of intentions, but should more than half the country be barred from running software that Apple hasn’t approved?