Apple have plans to allow alternative app stores on iOS devices for the first time in response to EU regulations, reports Bloomberg. The move marks a huge change in policy for Apple and the end of their monopoly on their iOS devices.
Currently the only way to add an app to an iOS device, such as iPhone or iPad is via their own App Store. There are of course hacks that enable the 'side-loading' of apps but Apple's policies regarding inclusion of apps on their App Store is that circumventing the store itself is prohibited. Breaking such agreements (necessary for inclusion on the App Store) will result in that app being removed and – potentially – its developer banned from future submissions.
Apple offers the App Store as a safe, reliable, policed, tried and tested way to get legitimate apps onto your devices. However, the fact that they charge a 30% cut of all proceeds garnered by approved apps has increasingly found wrankle with publishers and developers to the point that European law has stepped in, in the interests of open competition, to demand that Apple end what is in effect a monopoly and open up access to its enormous and lucrative iOS-user market.
Such a change would brings Apple into compliance with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which was implemented in September with the aim of helping third-party developers remain competitive by boosting interoperability.
While Apple has as yet made no official comment, it's likely that they are changing their policies with some degree of reluctance. Not only because it brings an end the era of a single, secure, Apple-policed route on iOS (their often cited main reason for running the App Store) but denies them of a cut of any profits made by apps arriving on device from other routes.
An Epic battle
Apple has long stood up for its right to require developers to utilise the app store. The company went to court with Epic Games last year, following its decision to remove the game Fortnite from the App Store following Epic’s attempts to circumvent the store, offering services to players without the opportunity for Apple to take their commission fee.
The DMA could see Apple allow not just third-party app stores, but make further concessions too, such as allowing browsers such as Google Chrome to run apps and be a route onto iOS devices.
Despite the upcoming changes, it's worth noting that the DMA regulations and their enforcement are entirely in Europe only. Apple are and would still be free to impose its usual restrictions on third-party app stores in other regions, such as the United States, until the law takes a similar turn there.
Legislative bodies, per territory, would be required to pass their own laws similar to the DMA in order to force Apple to open up the app store although the passing of the European DMA certainly acts as a precedent and makes similar moves globally far more likely.
How it could work
The simplest implementation would be for Apple to allow apps to sell goods in the manner of Epic and Fortnite which – following Apple's removal of the app – attracted Epic's ire. Additionally developers could create their own Store apps too, as their own repositories of further apps with a fee going to the store's creator rather than going to Apple.
While outcomes are pure speculation at this point, one thing seems certain however. Apple are unlikely to take the move lying down, potentially warning users (who are used to Apple's controlled walled garden) that they are stepping beyond Apple's control when using such apps. As such take up and success of rival third party stores may see some difficulty in winning customers more familar with Apple's friction free approach.
We will continue to update this story as it develops.
Earlier this year, Apple enabled NFT sales with a 30 percent tariff.