Roku plans to lock its platform down more, ending sideloading - The UpStream

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Roku plans to lock its platform down more, ending sideloading

posted Sunday Nov 7, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Roku plans to lock its platform down more, ending sideloading

These days, people want more from their devices. We all know that the items we carry with us, whether it be phones or tablets, can do more than the platform they run on will allow them to do. Unfortunately, while users want more from their devices, manufacturers want you to have less. Apple is actively fighting against usefulness, but it's Roku that's taking the biggest stand - removing features from their devices.

One of the things that have made Roku popular is the fact that you can sideload apps onto their devices. The feature was originally intended as a testing feature. It would allow a developer to deploy an app directly to testers without having to go through the store. This would be great for internal testers within a development team, as it would allow for more regular deployments. Developers could build an app and deploy it to a storage site and make a link available for testers.

But, the feature has been used for other purposes, as well. Most notably, for allowing people to install applications that Roku would not allow in the store. Adult sites have used this feature to allow subscribers to install streaming directly onto their Roku devices, giving them full access to adult content on their televisions. This circumvents Roku's policies against explicit adult content on their platform. It also makes Roku start to understand why Apple doesn't allow sideloading on their devices.

Following in Apple's footsteps, Roku announced at its developer event that this feature will see the end of its life in 2022. In its place will be a system more similar to how Android and iOS natively deploy test apps: a beta channel. This is a popular solution to the closed ecosystem problem of private deployment, as it allows the platform to maintain complete control over its deployment. It also guarantees that the deployment process matches what would be the experience for a normal customer.

However, it makes the process less intuitive, and certainly less direct. For a platform like iOS, building and deploying to TestFlight, the company's beta channel, is difficult and/or expensive to automate. It is significantly easier to use a different deployment process, such as AppCenter. This uses sideloading on Android and an Enterprise Certificate on iOS, to allow you to install apps without the various stores. But, it also allows for automating the process for testers. This is one of the things that will be lost with removing sideloading from the Roku platform. In addition, the biggest loss will be in the scale and scope of testing. Roku's beta channel will only allow for 10 testers per app.

But, the removal of the feature may not end up being permanent, because the Digital Markets Act (DMA) will also apply to Roku devices - not just Android and iOS. If the European Commission enacts this regulation, it will require digital marketplaces, such as iOS and Roku, to allow sideloading of apps. So, while the current plan is to close the gap in the ecosystem, it might end up being futile.


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