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Apple planning to allow alternate app stores on iOS devices to comply with new EU rules

By | Published on Wednesday 14 December 2022


Apple is planning to allow alternate app stores to operate on iPhones and iPads, which would mean users could install apps that are not approved by or available in the tech giant’s own App Store.

The move is a response to the European Union’s Digital Markets Act which was passed in July and went into force last month. Those new rules ramp up regulation within the EU of the biggest digital platforms with the specific aim of ensuring said platforms don’t exploit their dominance in the digital market in an anti-competitive way.

The DMA is, in part, a response to criticisms made about Apple and Google by European app-makers, not least Spotify, which reckon that the rules enforced on the tech giants’ mobile operating systems and their accompanying app stores are anti-competitive. Apple’s rules are stricter than Google’s, so have come under the most criticism.

Apple has always argued that allowing users to install apps from sources other than its App Store – often referred to as ‘sideloading’ – risks the security of its platform and the privacy of users. With that in mind, Apple may still seek to enforce some rules on apps distributed outside its store which might include charging app-makers for verification.

According to Bloomberg, Apple employees are now working on a plan to comply with the new EU rules while still addressing the firm’s own security and privacy concerns. The current plan is introduce any changes as part of iOS 17 in 2023, ahead of the March 2024 deadline set by the EU.

While those proposed changes to Apple’s systems will address some of the issues raised by app-makers, there remains the question of whether the tech firm will also allow in-app payments to be taken within App Store delivered apps via transaction systems other than its own. For Spotify, Apple’s rules around in-app payments remain the biggest grievance.

In theory the DMA forces a relaxation of the rules around in-app payments too, though Apple may as yet argue that by allowing alternate app stores it is already compliant with that element of the new EU regulations.

These changes to the way the Apple iOS system works are only likely to apply within the EU initially. Although, with other countries considering similar measures to the DMA, the changes will probably ultimately roll out globally.