Getting Apps That Are Not in the App Store

A woman using an iPad on a couch
  Westend61 / Getty Images

The App Store offers over one million amazing apps, but not every app that can run on the iPhone is available there. Apple puts certain restrictions and guidelines on the apps it allows into the App Store. That means that some good apps that don't follow those rules aren't available there.

This situation leads to people looking to find out how to get apps that are not in the App Store. There are a few ways to do this, but exactly how you do it depends on what you want to do. You can get apps that are in the App Store for free without using the App Store, but you shouldn't. You'll find out why later in this article.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to take a few risks and use apps not approved by Apple, there are some apps that you can download without using the App Store.

Sideloading Apps 

Maybe the simplest way to add apps to your iPhone without using the App Store is by using a technique called sideloading. Sideloading is the name used for installing apps directly on the iPhone rather than using the App Store. It's not a common way to do things, but it's possible.

The real difficulty with sideloading is that you need to have the app in the first place. Most iPhone apps are only available in the App Store, not for direct download from the developer's website or another source. But if you can find the app you want to use, you're good to go.

Jailbroken iPhones: Legal Apps

In the same way that Apple tightly controls the App Store, it also controls what can and can't be done to the iPhone. These controls include preventing users from modifying some parts of the iOS, the operating system that runs on the iPhone.

Some people remove those controls by jailbreaking their phones, which allows them to install apps that are not available in the App Store, among other things. These apps aren’t in the App Store for various reasons: quality, legality, security, doing things that Apple wants to prevent for one reason or another.

If you have a jailbroken iPhone, there's an alternative App Store: Cydia. Cydia is full of free and paid apps that aren't in Apple's App Store and let you do all sorts of cool things.

Before you run out to jailbreak your phone and install Cydia, it's important to remember that jailbreaking can mess up your phone and expose it to security problems. Apple doesn’t provide support for jailbroken phones, so make sure you understand and accept the risks before you dive into jailbreaking.

While there are still apps that can be installed only on jailbroken phones, jailbreaking seems to be dying out. The biggest sign of this is that Cydia disabled its feature that let users buy apps in Dec. 2018. With app sales gone and momentum slowing, Cydia may cease operations entirely, making it much harder to get apps for jailbroken phones.

Jailbroken iPhones: Pirated Apps

The other reason that people jailbreak their phones is that it can allow them to get paid apps for free, without using the App Store. That may sound appealing, but it should go without saying that doing this is piracy, which is both illegal and morally wrong. While some app developers are big companies (not that that would make piracy any better), the vast majority of developers are small companies or individuals who rely on the money earned from their apps to pay their expenses and support developing more apps.

Pirating apps takes hard-earned money from developers. While jailbreaking and pirating apps is a way to download apps without the App Store, you shouldn't do it. 

Why Apple Doesn't Allow Some Apps Into the App Store

You may be wondering about why Apple doesn't allow some apps into the App Store. Here's the deal.

Apple reviews every app that developers want to include in the App Store before users can download it. In this review, Apple checks for things like whether the app is: 

  • Using the latest technologies and code for compatibility and performance.
  • Properly rated for the kind of content it offers.
  • Original and useful, not just a cheap knock-off of a more popular app.
  • Violating users' privacy by collecting data secretly.
  • Hiding functionality or malicious code.

All pretty reasonable stuff, right? Compare this to the Google Play store for Android, which doesn't have this review step and is full of low-quality, sometimes shady, apps. While Apple has been criticized in the past for how it applies these guidelines, generally they make the apps available at the App Store better.