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Apple Has Added Unlisted Apps To The App Store


Isadora Teich wrote this article


At the end of January, Apple added a new feature to its app store. It’s one that might make some people in the business of apps scratch their heads: Unlisted Apps.

Some might wonder why they did this. After all, making sure that people see your app is key to gaining users and revenue. Some things that we talk about on this blog often are making your app searchable within and without of app stores.

So, why would anyone want to put their app in the app store, but then make sure most people can’t find it?

Let’s take a look.

Inside Unlisted Apps

Essentially, there is only one way to find this kind of app. Only users with an invite via a direct link can access them.

The general public will not see them in search results, App Store categories, recommendations, or charts. However, they are available to administrators via the Apple Business Manager and Apple School Manager.

Developers will have to submit a request to Apple directly in order to make an app unlisted. Then they will get a private link.

Who Benefits From Unlisted Apps?

Of course, if your goal is to create a smash hit mobile game, you would not want to make it unlisted. However, exclusivity can build buzz. Certain kinds of developers with certain kinds of apps might want to try this out.

No one knows if Apple will allow this yet. This may not be an option, however.

We saw how the exclusivity factor of Clubhouse caused it to blow up in the news cycle. Since the creators announced that they want to open it up to everyone, its buzz has faded.

However, it seems that Apple may focus or limit this feature entirely to apps that have a limited audience. This can include:

-Guests at a special event
-Organization members
-Interorganizational tools
-Research study participants
-Specialized groups of professionals

If You Want Your App To Be Unlisted, It Will Take Some Work

If you want your app to be approved for private download on the Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager, you will need to put in some extra work. There are simply more steps to take. This is because malicious actors previously abused older systems Apple had in place to benefit developers.

To get your app unlisted, you will have to create a new app record in the app store. You will need to upload the binary and then set the distribution method to public. Developers with apps that are already public can submit a request to make them private without taking these additional steps. Via Apple:

If your app hasn’t been submitted for review or was already approved for public download on the App Store, simply complete the request form. If your app was already approved for private download on Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager, you’ll need to create a new app record in App Store Connect, upload your binary, and set the distribution method to Public before completing the request form.

What Happens After Apple Approves Unlisted Apps?

After Apple approves a request, the distribution method for the app will switch to “Unlisted App.” All future updates of the app will also be unlisted.

If the app was previously public and has been switched to unlisted, the link for the unlisted app will remain the same.

One important thing to keep in mind, is that only finished apps in their final form can become unlisted. Apple will not approve any apps that are in beta or otherwise incomplete.

Why Will Apple Only Accept Release-Ready Apps?

Under Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program, developers used to be able to test and internally distribute test versions of apps before Apple officially approved them.

While a good idea, in theory, it led to many malicious actors abusing the app store. They spread things that are against Apple’s rules, and may even be crimes in some countries.

This included pirated gaming, gambling, and pornography apps. Keep in mind that in some parts of the world gambling, for example, is a criminal offense.

Who Can Make Use Of This?

So far, Apple has not given super-specific details on who can do this and which apps will be accepted or rejected. While the company says that this is best for the kinds of limited-use apps we have already discussed, they do not outright say that other uses are not allowed.

Your app may qualify for unlisted App Store distribution if it’s designed for a limited audience. Examples include apps for employees, apps for specific events, sales apps, or research apps. Unlisted apps are distributed using a direct link to the app’s product page on the App Store, but they do not appear in App Store categories, search results, or other App Store listings.

This could imply that other types of apps would be rejected, however, often when it comes to the Apple Store things look one way on paper and work differently in practice. This has been a complaint of many developers for a very long time.

If you want to read what Apple directly has to say, check out their support page on Unlisted Apps.

The Necesity Of Unlisted Apps

Honestly, this is likely a necessity in the modern world. While some people still scoff at people for being “phone-obsessed” or “always on their mobile devices,” it is for good reason.

Apps have become an integral part of modern life and we do everything from finding our way to participating in work meetings, to dating, to buying groceries, and getting medical care through them.

More and more industries rely on and incorporate apps. It makes sense that Apple would want to enable specialized private apps to support different kinds of organizations.

Final Thoughts

While these apps are geared toward specific kinds of organizations, we have yet to see if more types of developers can find ways to utilize them.

Perhaps Apple will release more information. We may just have to wait until we see which apps they accept and reject. So far, there has been some speculation, but nothing is very clear.

What do you think? Comment below!

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