The new iOS 16 Developer Mode may be a preview of a third-party app store’s toggle

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A new Developer Mode in iOS 16 and watchOS 9 that allows users to install apps through Configurator if they confirm they are developers may be a herald of what will be needed to take advantage of third-party app stores.

Currently, a developer can run their own Xcode apps on their iPhone for testing purposes, and developers can offer a TestFlight option that lets beta testers try out the apps. Now Apple is introducing a middle ground between the two, and it’s likely that this new Developer Mode is a precursor to how Apple might eventually allow third-party apps on the iPhone.

“Developer Mode, introduced in iOS 16 and watchOS 9, protects users from inadvertently installing potentially harmful software on their devices,” Apple says in a new developer document, “and reduces exposed attack vectors by features reserved for developers”.

“The feature does not affect ordinary installation techniques such as purchasing apps from the App Store or joining a TestFlight team,” it continues. “Instead, Developer Mode focuses on scenarios like performing a build and run in Xcode, or installing an .ipa file with Apple Configurator.”

It is this last point that is most significant. Applications distributed outside the App Store are in .ipa format.

“In these cases, the device explicitly asks the person using it to confirm that they are a developer,” explains Apple, “aware of the risks associated with installing software signed by the development”.

Enabling Developer Mode requires a user to go through several steps, including restarting their device, as well as acknowledging several warnings. It is not the case that a bad actor can easily enable it and then install rogue applications.

While the new option is part of Apple’s preparation for a future with third-party app stores, the company isn’t giving up on its campaign to avoid losing control.

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