Apple will now allow developers to distribute unlisted apps through the App Store that only users with a direct link can access (via MacRumors). While unlisted apps are not discoverable to the general public through App Store search results, categories, charts, or recommendations, they are available to administrators through Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager.
Apple notes that unlisted apps are ideal for “limited audiences,” such as guests at a special event, members of an organization, participants in a research study, or a specific group of employees. To make an app unlisted and get a link, developers will first need to submit a request to Apple.
However, apps that have only been approved for private download on Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager require developers to take additional action. Apple says developers will need to “create a new app registration in the App Store“, upload the binary, and then “set the distribution method to Public”. Developers whose apps are already public can submit a request without additional steps.
Once Apple approves the request, the app’s distribution method will change to “Unlisted App”, and the same goes for all updated versions of this app. If the app is already available on the App Store, the link to the now unlisted app will remain the same. It’s also important to note that unlisted apps “must be ready for final distribution” and that Apple will not approve any apps that are still in beta or pre-release.
A somewhat similar policy under the Developer Enterprise Program, which was originally put in place for developers to test and distribute apps internally before they were officially reviewed by Apple, has seen bad actors use the program. to circumvent Apple’s stringent security requirements. This led to the obscure presence of pirated games, gambling, and porn apps that could be easily downloaded onto iPhones. It’s unclear how rigorous the review process will be for unlisted apps, but the findings of Ars-Technica suggest that it will be reserved for applications with a limited audience only.