iPhones in the EU could get iOS app sideloading next year – here's what that means

The App Store on a phone screen
(Image credit: Shutterstock / BigTunaOnline)

For many years, Apple’s App Store has been beset with complaints, from how it blocks iPhone users from sideloading apps from other stores to the cut the company takes from every app sale. Now, both of those things could be fixed in the near future – if you live in Europe, at least.

That’s because Apple will reportedly allow the sideloading of apps onto iPhones in the European Union (EU) at some point in the first half of 2024. The news comes from Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman and his latest Power On newsletter (via MacRumors), where he alleges in a paid-for Q&A that cracks are appearing in Apple’s famous walled garden due to pressure from the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the EU.

The DMA requires “gatekeeper” companies – which includes Apple – to loosen restrictions on their services and platforms and make them more compatible with rival offerings. If companies don’t comply, the punishments can be huge – up to 20% of global revenue, in some cases.

That’s a big deal because it means Apple’s current method of distributing all the best iOS apps – via that App Store and nothing else – falls foul of the rules. Apple has long argued that allowing apps to be downloaded from third-party app stores would put users’ security and privacy at risk, but clearly the EU has not been swayed by the company’s pleas.

Will apps get cheaper?

iPhone 14 Pro Max review front straight handheld

(Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

So what is sideloading and how might it work on iOS 17? In short, it’s where users can install apps on their devices that have not come from a first-party app store. In the case of iOS, that means apps from anywhere but Apple’s App Store. Ever since the iPhone first went on sale, the App Store has been the only way to get apps without jailbreaking your device.

According to Gurman, next year Apple will introduce a “highly controlled system” that will allow EU users to get apps from other sources. As well as that, the company’s Messages app and its payment apps will also be changed to comply with the new rules.

One potential upshot of allowing sideloading is that your apps might become cheaper. Right now, Apple takes a cut of every developer’s earnings on the App Store (the figure varies by the amount of revenue the dev makes, but for many it’s 30%). Presumably, external app stores could charge a lesser amount, which might allow developers to lower their apps’ prices.

That’s all speculation at the moment, though, but things could become a whole lot clearer in the new year if Gurman is right. If things go the way he says the will, it might be the biggest shakeup in the App Store’s 15-year history – and could influence other governments around the world to pass similar legislation.

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Alex Blake
Freelance Contributor

Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he's learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That's all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.