In this article, we’re stepping off the beaten path of app store monopolies and digital gatekeepers, to venture into the world of sideloading, with all its benefits and potential drawbacks. We’ll also look at how Fortnite, Alternative App Stores, and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in Europe have disrupted the app distribution landscape, and why sideloading is a big part of this shift.

But First, What Exactly is Sideloading?


Sideloading, a term that might not immediately make sense, is an unconventional approach to app installation, involving the downloading and running of apps on devices from sources other than the official app store linked to the device’s operating system. For mobile marketers and developers, understanding the process is important to know how to leverage the benefits of sideloading and navigating the potential challenges.


How Fortnite Made the Epic Move to Sideloading – Bridging a Direct Connection with Users


The most publicized example of sideloading revolves around the popular game “Fortnite” on Android devices. In 2018, Epic Games, the brains behind Fortnite, chose not to distribute their game through the Google Play Store. This strategic move towards independence foreshadowed a clash with Apple a few years later when Fortnite was removed from the Apple App Store for allowing direct in-game purchases, bypassing Apple’s standard payment system and avoiding the 30% commission fee.

In response to breaking away from the Google Play Store, Epic Games offered Fortnite as a download from their official website, enabling users to sideload the application. By taking control of the distribution, they were able to maintain a direct relationship with their players and avoid the revenue share imposed on them by the two mainstream app stores. Fortnite’s sideloading approach drew attention within the mobile gaming community towards the potential of alternative app distribution.


The Pros of Sideloading


  • Expand Your App Availability: Sideloading broadens the reach of your application, going beyond the big app stores and into diverse user bases.
  • Direct User Engagement: Through sideloading you can directly engage with users, turning them into a valuable feedback community. This not only helps in shaping your app to match their preferences but also facilitates beta testing, enabling early feedback and improvements before releasing your app to a wider audience.
  • Independence from App Stores: As proven by the Fortnite example earlier in this article, sideloading liberates app developers from the constraints of app store policies, allowing much greater independence and flexibility.
  • Bypass Geographical Restrictions: In some cases, app stores have limitations that prevent users in specific regions from accessing your app. Sideloading breaks down these geographic barriers so people from any corner of the globe can download and enjoy your app. This opens up your app’s reach to a diverse and international audience.
  • Cost Savings and Freedom from Fees: As highlighted by the Fortnite example we mentioned earlier, sideloading offers a financially advantageous path by sidestepping the fees typically associated with app stores. A win-win situation that benefits mobile developers with higher revenue potential, while potentially offering more budget-friendly options for users.


The Cons of Sideloading


  • Security Risks: Sideloading could expose devices to security risks since apps installed via unofficial sources may not undergo the same rigorous security checks as those from official app stores.
  • Device Compatibility Issues (although not for much longer): Not all devices can sideload apps. For instance, iPhone users can only sideload apps using jailbreak on their iOS devices – but with the passing of the Digital Marketing Act in Europe, sideloading will be possible on all smartphones.
  • Lack of Updates and Support for Users: Sideloaded apps may not receive regular updates or official support, leading to a poor user experience due to outdated or unsupported software.
  • Legal and Copyright Concerns: Sideloading apps that infringe on copyrights or intellectual property can lead to legal issues for both developers and users.
  • Loss of App Store Benefits: Sideloading bypasses the benefits of app stores, such as centralized updates and user reviews – meaning developers could face challenges maintaining their apps and establishing credibility among their users.

Looking at the mobile app industry as a whole, the advantages outweigh the risks.

Thankfully, viable alternatives to Google and Apple’s app store monopoly are already in existence, offering mobile developers the flexibility and freedom they desire, even beyond sideloading. As underscored by AVOW’s CEO Robert Wildner in this article, Mobile app developers can reclaim their freedom of choice with alternative app stores.


Future Developments: Sideloading and the DMA in Europe


Sideloading may become more prevalent in 2024, due to the significant impact the Digital Markets Act (DMA) will have in Europe. What’s the DMA? In short, the European Commission identified six major tech companies including Apple and Alphabet (Google) as gatekeepers and they will have six months to align with DMA directives once they have been designated. Failure to do so could lead to lofty fines, such as up to 10% of the company’s global turnover and 20% for repeated offenses.

This regulatory shift sharpens the focus on freedom and freedom of choice for both users and app developers. Exciting times lie ahead…


Alternative App Stores and Freedom of Choice


It’s evident that freedom of choice thrives through Alternative App Stores (AAS) – the app stores of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Huawei, and Transsion – but how did this come into existence?

In the past, when users were limited to Google Play on Android devices and the Apple App Store on iOS, which restricted their options, sideloading emerged as a workaround. But installing apps from unofficial sources introduced security risks, which in turn prompted the need for safer alternatives – so OEMs responded by establishing their own app stores.

This alternative method of app distribution, which has become more mainstream in recent times, strikes a balance between user empowerment and device security – reshaping the app landscape as we know it.

If you’re interested in exploring these alternative app distribution methods check out our comprehensive Mobile OEM Guide for detailed strategies and practical tips.

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