Apple has now apparently begun to look to allow them to use iOS 17 next year to comply with European laws, after fighting “sideloading”. According to Bloomberg, Apple is looking at opening its camera and NFC (Near Field Communication), stack to developers.
Apple’s closed-door policy has meant that iPhone users have to only download apps from the Apple App Store. Android allows users to download third-party apps stores.
Bloomberg reports that Apple’s sideloading project under its engineering VP Andreas Wendker has already begun. Wendker reports to Craig Federighi (Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering). According to reports, the project involves other senior executives like Jeff Robbin and Eddie Cue.
The Digital Market Act (DMA) in Europe will be implemented next year. Companies will have until 2024 for compliance. Big Tech must now allow other app stores to be available on their platforms in order to give users more options. It’s possible that Apple is already preparing to comply with the new rules.
Apple has already pledged to support USB-C in response to the EU’s push for standardizing charging ports. With the DMA imminent, Apple could be forced to allow sideloading as well.
A win for developers?
Developers won’t be required to pay 30% or 15% to Apple for in-app purchases if Apple opens other app stores. This could be a relief to many companies, including Spotify and Tinder/ Match Group, which have all criticized Apple’s fee structure.
Apple allows developers to use third party payment systems in certain markets. For example, all developers from South Korea or dating app developers from the Netherlands. They still need to pay Apple a substantial fee.
The DMA could force Apple to allow third party app stores in the EU. There is every chance that other regulators will follow suit. Apple’s current efforts to enable sideloading with iOS 17 could also be extended to include support for other jurisdictions.
This news comes as Aptoide from Portugal, is launching an iOS version to jailbreakers. Paulo Trezentos, the company’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that Apple will open its app stores to third-party developers.
Bloomberg also reported that the EU rule could force Apple to open up more parts its ecosystem, such as the camera, NFC stack, and browser engine.
All browsers running on iPhones, including Chrome, must use Apple’s WebKit engine. Apple is looking at removing this feature. To see how other engines work on iOS, and what features they could enable in other browsers, we might need to wait until Apple makes an official announcement.
The NFC stack could allow other payment companies to integrate their services with Apple Pay. Apple has been criticised by the EU. In February, they stated that should be available to all providers. This could give Apple’s rivals, Stripe and Square the opportunity to create their own integrated solutions for iPhone.
Apple executives have repeatedly opined about the dangers of sideloading for users’ security. Even created a developer mode for iOS 16 in order to stop users “inadvertently downloading potentially harmful software onto their devices.”
Apple has made it difficult for developers to use third-party payment methods in South Korea and the Netherlands, where Apple was forced to close its platform. Apple mandated that app developers must warn users if they plan to use an alternate payment system. In some cases, Apple asked them to create a separate app file to be available for a specific market.
Although technically it is in compliance with local regulations, the company creates friction to encourage developers to reconsider changing their payment system.
If Apple opens up to complying with EU regulation for iOS 17, it may choose to make things more difficult for developers and consumers. This could mean that only the most tech-savvy users will sideload. The company could also display warnings and banners regarding third-party apps stores to discourage potential switchers from leaving Apple’s App store.
The Coalition for App Fairness, a group fighting against Big Tech platforms like Apple and Google for fair distribution, has released a statement saying that reports that Apple allows sideloading are “an admission that they have a chokehold over the competition.”
“It is evident that Apple will only give up their control over iOS device distribution and their gatekeeper power within App Store in response to pressure from policymakers. It stated that the Digital Markets Act, passed by the European Union, is forcing Apple to comply. Strong enforcement of the law is essential for leveling the playing fields for mobile app developers.”
The group urged U.S. lawmakers to adopt the Open App Markets Act. This could force Apple or Google to allow third party app stores, sideloading, and other payment systems as soon as possible. Epic’s Tim Sweeney also joined the fray, asking Congress to follow Europe’s lead and pass the Open App Markets Act (OAMA).