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?
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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