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How AltStore is building a haven for forbidden iPhone apps



profile altstore fastcompany The best way to install apps from outside Apple’s App Store was only made possible because Riley Testut wanted to play Pokémon on his iPhone.

Testut was still in college when he started building an emulator for playing classic Game Boy games on an iPhone. But when Apple wouldn’t allow the app in its store, he started looking for workarounds. The result was AltStore, which allows iPhone and iPad users to install Testut’s own Delta emulator for old Nintendo games along with any other app that Apple deems off-limits—a process known as sideloading.

AltStore has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times since its launch in 2019, and the service has more than 300,000 monthly active users. Nearly 6,000 of those users contribute to AltStore’s Patreon, which brings in more than $14,500 per month and gives backers early access to new features.

As Apple faces more political pressure to let users install apps from outside the App Store, AltStore is preparing for its biggest updates yet. Users will soon be able to discover new apps to sideload directly through AltStore, so they don’t have to wade through questionable download sites. Optimizations for iPad are also on the way, and Testut recently hired a longtime friend, Shane Gill, to improve AltStore’s documentation and work on developer outreach, allowing Testut to spend more time programming.

The goal, Testut says, is to turn AltStore into a haven for independent apps that clash with Apple’s App Store policies.

“Apps are boring,” he says. “No cool, fun apps are coming out. We want to see more small, but quirky, fun apps in AltStore.”

AltStore mimics a feature of Apple’s Xcode programming software that lets developers test their own apps on actual iPhones and iPads. That feature, which launched in 2015, was ostensibly aimed at students who want to dabble in app development, but in practice it allows anyone to sideload apps without a $99 per year developer account.

“When Apple announced that, I was like, ‘Oh, so there’s some way to install apps onto iOS just with an Apple ID,’” Testut says. “And from there I expanded that into a full solution.”

Riley Testut (left) and Shane Gil (right) [Photo: courtesy of AltStore]
To enable sideloading, users must install a companion app called AltServer on a Mac or Windows PC. This program then logs users in with their Apple ID, prepares their account for development, and signs the AltStore app so that it looks like the user created it. AltServer then uses the iTunes sync protocol to send AltStore to the user’s iPhone or iPad.
With AltStore installed, users can add Testut’s Delta emulator or Clip clipboard manager with just a couple of taps, and they can install other apps from outside the App Store using the .ipa file format. (Ad-free versions of major social media apps seem especially popular, as do other classic game emulators.)

Because of the app-signing process and the limits of sideloading through Xcode, AltStore does have some limitations: Users can only install new apps if they’re on the same Wi-Fi network as the Mac or PC running AltServer, and they can only install up to two apps alongside AltStore at the same time. While users can swap out those two apps at any time, AltStore can only sideload up to 10 total apps per week, and each app must be “refreshed” once per week through a connection to AltServer.

The resulting experience can feel a bit rickety, with apps occasionally failing to refresh or getting stuck in the install process, But the payoff can be tremendous. I’ve used AltStore to play classic Nintendo games on the go (with a Razer Kishi controller), make my Pebble Watch usable again (after its app disappeared from the App Store last fall), and even enjoy an ad-free version of Twitter.

Testut doesn’t believe Apple can do much to stop this behavior. While he’s occasionally had to deal with minor roadblocks—such as the time Apple disabled a simple account authentication method he had been relying on—ultimately AltStore is just tapping into the sideloading method that Apple itself has made available to developers.

Blocking AltStore would require Apple to completely rework its tools or change its policies for developers, and may not be worth the trouble amid regulatory pressure on Apple to loosen the App Store’s monopoly on app downloads. (Testut says he’s never been in direct contact with Apple about AltStore; Apple did not respond to a request for comment.)

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How IonQ is planning to bring a quantum computer to the masses




quantum ionq 2bsullivan fastcompany Today, Maryland-based quantum computing company IonQ is going public via a SPAC in a deal that’s expected to raise $650 million. Its $2 billion valuation and big-name investors indicate that quantum computing may be helpful to businesses sooner than expected.

The company’s main product is a 22-qubit quantum computer, to which it sells access through the Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Qubits are the far more versatile analogs of the binary bits used in classical computers.

IonQ says its hardware is based on 25 years of research by Chris Monroe and Jungsang Kim, professors at Maryland and Duke universities, respectively. The two licensed their research from the universities and founded a company based on it in 2015, with the stated goal of bringing quantum computing out of the lab and into businesses.

IonQ Founders Jungsang Kim (left) and Chris Monroe. [Photo: IonQ]
Many in the tech industry hope that quantum computers will deliver the next big leaps forward in compute power now that prying incremental gains from traditional silicon chips has grown progressively harder. While chip makers try to squeeze more transistors onto silicon for ever-smaller capacity increases, quantum proponents say adding a single qubit to a quantum machine can double its power.
But quantum computing remains a nascent technology; most experts don’t expect it to outperform today’s supercomputers for at least another five years. So it’s natural to wonder how IonQ is making money now, and why new investors should have confidence that the company’s earnings will keep growing after Friday’s IPO.

IonQ CEO Peter Chapman tells me that anybody can access IonQ’s 22-qubit quantum computers today. “You can use those devices, they’re relatively cheap, for two bucks you can run your quantum version of Hello World,” he says, referencing a short program developers use to test out new programming languages. IonQ doesn’t disclose its revenues, but has said publicly that it’s “eight figures,” with a run rate in the tens of millions per year.

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The 15 best tech podcasts you need to listen to right now




best tech podcasts Do you ever feel like technology is moving so quickly in so many different directions that there’s no way one human brain can keep up?

That’s what podcasts are for.

Whether you work in tech, run a startup, or just love learning about new technology and gadgets, podcasts can be a great way to keep up with major trends in the tech space. We’ve compiled 15 of our favorite podcasts that are not only entertaining but also can help expand your knowledge of a sometimes complicated industry. Some of these podcasts cover the general industry news of the day while others immerse you in specialty areas like crypto or electric vehicles. Some are short and hit just the highlights while others run longer and dive deep. But all of these great podcasts give you a chance to absorb useful knowledge in a relatively short period of time—even while your hands are busy doing something else.

Techmeme has for years carefully aggregated and curated some of the best (and fastest) coverage of the most important news in the tech industry every day. Techmeme Ride Home gives you much of the news on the website, but in audio form, making it even easier to digest, especially if you’re multitasking. The podcast is hosted by Brian McCullough, who enthusiastically provides the key facts from the tech stories du jour, with a dash of commentary. The podcasts go up at 5 p.m. daily and are usually pretty brief, at about 15 minutes long.

This podcast is another short, daily affair (many episodes are less than 10 minutes) that gives you a solid executive summary of what’s going on in tech news, plus a little bit of smart, and often funny, commentary. The Hustle Daily Show is hosted by The Hustle newsletter writers Zachary Crockett, Juliet Bennett Rylah, Jacob Cohen, and Rob Litterst.

Software may have eaten the world, but hardware and gadgets are still hugely important, and that’s the niche the Waveform podcast fills. It stars Marques Brownlee, who became well known among tech influencers for his reviews on YouTube of everything from smartphones to electric cars. Every week, Brownlee and cohost Andrew Manganelli look at all kinds of new gadgets, including gaming gear and virtual reality headsets, electric vehicles, folding phones, and pretty much anything consumer tech companies are putting out. These guys look at products with a critical eye, but they clearly love gadgets, which is part of what makes the YouTube cast fun to watch.

Many of us love our Macs but also suspect we could get more productivity out of them if we just had a little expert advice. That, in broad terms, is what the weekly Mac Power Users podcast is all about. Guided by hosts David Sparks and Stephen Hackett, and featuring insightful guests from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds, the show teaches listeners new workflows for their Macs, as well as news and commentary on Apple’s newest hardware, apps, and operating systems. The show has been going since 2009, and just published its 649th episode. The episodes are pretty long, but they’re rich with tips, and Sparks and Hackett create a low-key vibe that’s pleasant to listen to.

Connected is a deep dive into Apple World, with weekly commentary on the company’s latest devices, apps, features, operating systems, and services—and how it all works together in the ecosystem. The podcast features MacStories editor-in-chief Federico Viticci and Relay FM cofounders Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett (also of Mac Power Users); and the three have a comfortable and polished repartee together, complete with long-running jokes and references. All three are long-time Apple watchers/influencers and speculate intelligently on what Apple may come out with next.

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IRS stimulus checks update: When will mailed paper checks or EIP cards arrive?




stimulus mailed march 26 If you’ve been waiting for your third Economic Impact Payment to arrive via the U.S. Postal Service, there’s a chance it could already be in the mail.

The Internal Revenue Service said last week it would deliver the second large batch of stimulus checks—about 37 million of them. Although many were delivered via direct deposit, the batch also included about 15 million paper checks and 5 million debit cards.

It appears as though some mailed payments went out on Friday, March 26. That’s according to a number of social media users who were able to obtain an update from the IRS using the Get My Payment tool. If you have access to that tool—and you’re expecting a check by mail—it’s worth checking it for an update. If you’re among the 20 million people whose mailed payment is part of the second batch, there’s a chance it will show up this week, but the IRS says it will take a few weeks to deliver all of them.

Here are a few other things to know:


Nonfilers are still waiting: In its recent update, the IRS said the payments that went out with the latest batch included people who filed a tax return in 2019 or 2020. It also included people who didn’t file a return but were able to register with the IRS’s “nonfilers” tool. Nonfilers who didn’t use that tool are going to have to wait longer. Sadly, this includes many recipients of federal benefits such as Social Security. (We’ve reached out to the IRS for an update on when payments for these individuals will be sent out.)
It could be a paper check or a card: If you’re expecting a mailed payment, the IRS isn’t really saying whether you’ll receive it by paper or a debit card (EIP Card). Importantly, if you received a previous stimulus check by debit card, the IRS will not simply replenish it with $1,400. You’ll either get a new card or you’ll get a payer check. (Needless to say, don’t throw away any envelopes from the IRS.)
Lost payments are traceable: If you received a paper check or debit card but lost it, all hope is not lost. For paper checks, you can request a payment trace from the IRS. For debit cards, you can request a replacement from MetaBank, the issuing bank.
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11, authorized checks of up to $1,400 for individuals and $2,800 for couples. As of last week, the IRS said it has issued 127 million payments totaling $325 billion. Unfortunately, it hasn’t provided a timeline for when subsequent batches of payments will be sent out. We’ll keep you posted with updates.

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