Apple has deployed an interesting new App Store feature called ‘unlisted app distribution’. This means a developer can now publish an app to the App Store that can only be installed via a direct link – the app is unlisted and cannot be found through normal App Store search and discovery means.
The idea for this kind of hidden-but-not-private visibility is that not all apps necessarily want to be public.
For instance, a university research study may want to distribute an app to collect data, but it doesn’t make sense for that app to be made available more widely than the participants in the study. You can also imagine that some businesses may have apps that they want to send out to employees but don’t have the full MDM infrastructure set up for enterprise app distribution.
An unlisted application is still submitted to the App Store in the normal fashion and therefore must pass the App Review process. It’s just that after it has been approved, it won’t be available to the general public – only people with the link.
Apple makes it very clear that unlisting an app is not meant as a way to distribute pre-release versions. In fact, once an app is approved as unlisted, its visibility cannot be changed. Beta apps should continue to use the TestFlight system.
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