Apple has long since prevented third-party apps from being installed on their mobile devices unless it came through their official App Store. However, new European Union regulations have prompted Apple to begin overhauling its services to allow outside app stores.
According to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple's software engineering and services teams are making massive changes to Apple's platform to allow "alternative" app stores. This would allow customers to download applications to their iPhone or iPad outside of Apple's control (and 30% commission). This represents a huge change in Apple's App Store policies as it tries to comply with recent EU legislation.
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The law in question is the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which was signed into law in September. It essentially tries to level the playing field for third-party developers against "Big Tech" and boosts interoperability between services. Tech companies would have to allow the installation of third-party app stores and force messages services to work together. The latter is something that Google has been trying to get Apple to do for months now.
Though it's complying with the EU law, Apple is not happy with it. It has consistently argued that allowing the sideloading of apps outside of the App Store could create security vulnerabilities and privacy concerns. As such, part of the engineering decisions involve possibly mandating security requirements which could still require Apple's approval.
Readers will no doubt remember the legal fight between Epic Games and Apple. Epic tried to get around paying the 30% fee in Fortnite, but Apple ended up removing Fortnite entirely from the App Store. Apple ultimately won Epic's lawsuit, but it did lead to an interesting Fortnite parady of Apple's infamous "1984" ad
The Digital Markets Act could lead to other concessions from Apple. Gurman notes that Apple could remove the requirement for third-party browsers like Chrome to use Safari's WebKit rendering engine. Other technologies such as the NFC chip (currently only used with Apple Pay) and private APIs could also be opened up to third-party developers.
It's important to note that these changes would only be limited to EU countries. Other markets, including the United States, would like still be restricted to using Apple's App Store. Congress (and other legislative bodies) would have to pass a similar law that forced Apple's hand like the DMA.
David Matthews is a freelance writer specializing in consumer tech and gaming. He also strongly believes that sugar does not go in grits. Follow him on Twitter @packetstealer