Apple is reportedly planning third-party iOS app stores in Europe • The Register

Apple is reportedly preparing to end its exclusive control over iOS app distribution – albeit only in Europe – by allowing third-party app stores, as required by European law.

According to Bloomberg, when iOS 17 launches next year, it will feature architectural changes called for under the European Digital Markets Act (DMA), part of a series of regulations passed earlier this year to harness the power of large limit technology companies.

The DMA says a gatekeeper’s ability to restrict the installation of third-party applications or third-party software application stores “should be prohibited as unfair.” To ensure competition, platform overlords like Apple should “allow third-party software applications or software application shops to ask the end user to decide whether that service should become the standard and allow that change to be easily made.”

This language appears to require support for both third-party application storage and direct app installation by users – sideloading – a feature available to Android and macOS customers but repeatedly denounced by Apple as a security disaster.

The extent of these changes has yet to be determined, but they are expected to remain limited to Europe, at least initially. Over time, it wouldn’t be surprising if Apple and other tech companies worked to harmonize gatekeeper obligations in different countries to avoid the compliance burden of maintaining disparate systems in different economic zones.

Federal lawmakers in the US have failed to pass legislation against tech gatekeepers, despite continued political magnanimity over anti-competitive behavior. Other countries, like Japan and South Korea, have forced Apple to make some concessions, but these have been narrowly targeted. Australia has called for regulatory changes to limit gatekeeping by tech companies in a recent interim report, but these have yet to be translated into legislation.

By 2024, when DMA obligations need to be met, iOS customers in Europe will be able to download apps from outside Apple’s iOS App Store, avoiding the company’s commission of up to 30 percent on paid apps. Apparently, it has not yet been decided whether Apple will also allow third-party payment services to process in-app purchases.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman Expectations Apple “still plans to charge developers for access to iOS even with sideloading.” It’s unknown how this fee is collected, and presumably it would be in addition to the Apple Developer Program’s $99 annual fee.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Among other changes under consideration is the removal of Apple’s requirement that all iOS browsers use its WebKit rendering engine, a rule already approved by the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority following objections from developer groups such as Open Web Advocacy is viewed with skepticism.

In addition, Apple is said to be trying to make some private application programming interfaces (APIs) and hardware, such as its camera and NFC (Near Field Communication) chip, more accessible to developers. Another possibility is that Apple will open up its FindMy network, which is used to locate AirTags and Apple hardware, to third-party hardware.

Apple’s response to the DMA’s requirement that chat apps be interoperable has yet to be announced. However, the company is not expected to add support for RCS, a communications standard that Google has been pushing Apple to adopt.

In a statement, Rick VanMeter, executive director of the Coalition for App Fairness, a group backed by Epic Games, Spotify and March, welcomed the intervention of EU regulators and called for similar legislative action in the US.

“In the United States, Congress should take notice of this development, which exposes Apple’s privacy and security arguments as flimsy, hollow excuses to avoid competition,” VanMeter said. “It is time for Congress to immediately pass the Open App Markets Act (OAMA) as part of the omnibus package to protect American consumers and businesses from the anti-competitive practices of mobile app store operators. Until OAMA is passed, American developers and consumers will continue to suffer while those in foreign jurisdictions will benefit.” ® Apple is reportedly planning third-party iOS app stores in Europe • The Register

Rick Schindler

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