Apple is finally going to allow iOS app downloads from the web – but only in the EU

Three iPhones on a green background showing AltStore
Third-part iOS app stores can now be used in the EU (Image credit: AltStore)

Apple's walled garden is being further dismantled – in EU member states at least. Apple has announced that iPhone (and iPad) users in the EU will soon be able to download apps directly from websites, just as you can on Windows or macOS.

The new options for app distribution (via tomsguide) also give developers more control over how in-app transactions are handled outside of the official App Store, as well as allowing third-party app stores to offer apps or games from a sole developer.

It's the web downloads that are the biggest change here though, and they'll be enabled via a software update "later this spring" according to Apple – so probably March or April. The most recent iOS 17.4 update landed last week, enabling third-party app stores to run on the iPhone in the EU for the first time.

This is all in response to the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the EU, which is forcing Apple to make it easier for other developers to distribute apps on the iPhone. None of these changes are coming to the US, Australia, or the UK – though the UK has its own version of the DMA in the pipeline.

Caveats attached

App Store Awards 2022

Apps are now available outside the App Store (Image credit: Apple)

The enabling of web app downloads on iOS (and iPadOS) doesn't mean anyone will be able to stick an app online ready to download: developers must have been in the official developer program for at least two years, and have an app with more than a million installs in the EU in the year prior.

There will be ongoing requirements that need fulfilling too, such as being transparent about data collection policies and having a web domain registered with the App Store. Apple is still going to be able to exercise some control over the apps you can and can't download through a web browser.

Apple's line, as it has always been, is that opening up app access in this way threatens the privacy and security of users because it gives Apple less control over third-party apps. The company is complying with the DMA, but very grudgingly.

The EU has also just whacked Apple with a huge fine of €1.8 billion – about $1.96 billion / £1.54 billion / AU$2.98 billion – for preventing other music streaming services (like Spotify) from offering cheaper deals on iOS. That decision is currently being appealed.

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David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.