Apple has added a new feature for app developers that should come in handy for internal tools and other types of apps aimed at a specific set of users but not the rest of the world: unlisted apps.
Making an app unlisted means that it will not appear “in any App store categories, recommendations, charts, search results, or other listings,” according to Apple. The only way to access the app is with this link, or through Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager.
Developers must submit a request to receive a link that can point to their app. Apple’s documentation on the feature goes a bit further for each of the possible cases:
If your app has not been submitted for review or has already been approved for public upload on the app store, simply complete the application form. If your app has already been 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.
It should be noted that this process will not replace TestFlight, as Apple will deny requests related to apps that are “in beta or pre-release”.
Beyond that, the company hasn’t given many details about which requests or applications will or will not be denied. He says this unsubscribe and link process is ideal for applications for specific organizations, special events, or research studies. But it doesn’t say whether Apple will deny requests for apps used for other purposes, beyond the beta/pre-release example.
The best we can do is this paragraph at the top of the application form:
Your app may be eligible 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 search 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 apps. other App Store listings.
For more details and for links to forms and process steps, see Apple’s developer documentation on the subject.