Editor’s note: as of January 15th, 2021, Apple has disabled this method of installing iOS apps, blocking ones that haven’t been approved by their developer to run on Macs with M1 chips. These instructions are no longer valid. Follow-up: as of January 19th, 2021, according to 9to5Mac, Apple reverted the change, and it’s once again possible to load the apps.
Earlier today, MacRumors reported that it is possible to run any iOS app you have purchased on an M1-based Mac, provided you can get access to the right file. Sure enough, if you’ve purchased or downloaded an app for your iPhone or iPad, it is possible to get it running on an M1-based Mac — I am currently looking at the iOS versions of Dark Sky, Spotify, Slack, Netflix, and Gmail on this MacBook Air.
Running some of these apps, it’s fairly clear in some cases why these developers haven’t immediately made them available for the Mac in the Mac App Store. Netflix, for example, is bounded inside a window and can’t be resized or go full screen (but it works, and you can even download videos for offline viewing). Instagram is relatively small on the screen, but it also runs fine, you can post, and it seems to hook into the right photo library and camera permissions. Many of these apps require Apple’s “Touch Alternatives” system to work.
To get these apps running, you just need to get the app files, which are simply packages with the .IPA file extension. And these files need to be associated with your Apple ID, so you can’t just share them around to other people.
A long time ago, IPA files were easy to find in an unencrypted iTunes backup, but that’s no longer the case. Instead, you can use a long-standing Mac app called iMazing to directly download legitimately purchased IPA files to your Mac. Simply double click them and they install into your applications folder like any other app so long as your Mac and iPhone are on the same Apple ID.
After publication, an iMazing rep emailed to provide a statement from the parent company’s CEO, Gregorio Zanon. He points out that iMazing is primarily meant for backup and management workflows. He also makes it fairly clear that his company is not planning on being in the business of working out any future restrictions Apple may impose on iOS apps on the Mac.
“App management has been available in iMazing since November 2017. We did not do any particular adjustments to ensure that iOS apps exported from iMazing’s library would run on Apple Silicon Macs. It turns out that when developers choose whether or not to include their mobile app on the Mac App Store, no change is made to the app itself – the setting is purely a distribution toggle.
Hundreds of thousands of iMazing users depend on our app management feature to save bandwidth. Downloading an IPA just once and installing it multiple times saves time and energy, and is ecologically sound. We understand that developers wish to control which platforms their apps run on. We’re also hopeful that Apple can find a way to limit which OS can run a specific IPA without altogether removing our ability to download apps.”
1. Plug-in device to Mac with iMazing running
2. Select “Apps” for the iPhone plugged in to your Mac
3. Select “Manage Apps” in the tabs at the bottom
4. Select “Library” in the manage apps screen
5. Download the apps you want
6. Right click on the downloaded app in the list -> Export ipa
7. Double-click the .ipa file on an M1 Mac to run install it.
Having run into some bugs myself with earlier versions of iOS apps ahead of the review, I will tell you that there are quite likely to be even more bugs with this method — both inside some of these apps and possibly even with your macOS system. This is more something to play around with than it is something you should consider for any important apps that you use.
Apple’s policy is that the only approved way to install iOS apps is to get them from the Mac App Store and the only way for developers to distribute iOS apps to Mac users is via that same store. Which means this method may or may not continue to work down the line.
Update, 10:30am ET, Nov 19th: Added statement from DigiDNA CEO Gregorio Zanon