Bloomberg: Apple prepping to allow alternative app stores and sideloading

To comply with the upcoming requirements in the European Union, Apple is reportedly preparing to allow alternative app stores and iPhone sideloading.

Apple's marketing image showing a 3D icon for the App Store set against a blue gradient background
Image: Apple
  • What’s happening? Apple is reportedly readying changes to its App Store distribution model to comply with strict European Union requirements.
  • Why care? If true, Apple’s mobile platform is going to undergo the biggest change since the App Store’s inception back in 2008.
  • What to do? Jump with joy because sideloading will enable you to go to a website and download an iOS app that sidesteps Apple’s restrictions.

Looks like Apple will allow sideloading of iPhone apps

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Software engineering and services employees are engaged in a major push to open up key elements of Apple’s platforms. As part of the changes, customers could ultimately download third-party software to their iPhones and iPads without using the company’s App Store, sidestepping Apple’s restrictions and the up-to-30% commission it imposes on payments.

The European Union’s Digital Markets Act goes into effect in a few months, but there’s plenty of time for companies to prepare for the new realities. All told, companies like Apple and Google must abide by the new rules by 2024. Apple’s alleged plan is to introduce the changes as part of 2023’s iOS 17 software update.

“The laws apply to technology companies with market valuations of at least €75 billion ($80 billion) and a minimum of 45 million monthly users within the EU,” according to the report. Read: How to fix “Cannot Connect to App Store” on iPhone

Alternative browser engines and other tidbits

Also, this:

Apple hasn’t made a final decision on whether to comply with a component of the Digital Markets Act that allows developers to install third-party payment systems within their apps. That would let users sign up for subscriptions to a travel app, for example, or buy in-app content from a game maker — without involving Apple.

In some markets like Japan, Apple already permits certain reader apps to add an external link to the signup page. In September 2021, Apple announced that it was expanding the new rule to other countries and all types of reader apps.

Third-party apps may soon be able to access additional system features:

Apple is also working to open up other features to third-party apps, including more camera technologies and its near-field communications chip—at least in a limited fashion. Currently, only the company’s Wallet app and Apple Pay service can use the NFC chip to enable mobile wallet functionality. Apple has faced pressure to let third-party financial apps have the same capability.

Gurman adds that Apple might even open up some of its internal APIs to third-party developers and allow web browsers like Chrome to use custom rendering engines instead of being forced to use Apple’s Safari browsing engine.

Our take: The party’s over

Of course, Apple hasn’t suddenly become an altruistic company that puts the interest of its users first. Being a publicly traded company that must maximize shareholder value, Apple has protected its fees on app downloads and in-app purchases in courts around the world. But as regulatory scrutiny on Big Tech has intensified, something had to give.

Epic Games is going to have a field day. If this plays out as Gurman says it will, and we have no reason to believe it won’t, then the Epic Games Store could expand to the iOS platform and rival Apple’s own App Store. That could be a major headache to the Cupertino firm because the App Store earns the vast majority of its revenue from in-app purchases in games.

And with sideloading thrown into the picture, you’ll be able to go to a website to download and install an app instead of using the App Store for that.

At first, Apple will limit side loading and alternative app stores to the European Union. But if lawmakers in the United States and other countries pass similar laws, Apple will need to comply with those requirements as well. For now, Apple’s changes will initially just go into effect in Europe, Gurman has it.