In order to comply with new European Union laws coming in 2024, Apple is reportedly preparing to allow iPhone and iPad owners to install third-party app stores. Bloomberg reports that software engineers and service employees are currently working to open up all of Apple’s platforms to give users the ability to use alternative app stores.
Third-party app stores are coming to iPhone
While Europe’s new Digital Markets Act (DMA) technically entered into force on November 1st, the DMA will only be fully applicable in early 2024. Therefore, Apple has over a year to complete the work required to comply with the new regulations.
The EU’s European Commission explained the DMA in a press release earlier this fall: “The DMA defines when a large online platform qualifies as a “gatekeeper”. These are digital platforms that provide an important gateway between business users and consumers – whose position can grant them the power to act as a private rule maker, and thus creating a bottleneck in the digital economy. To address these issues, the DMA will define a series of obligations they will need to respect, including prohibiting gatekeepers from engaging in certain behaviours.”
The DMA includes a number of “do’s and don’ts” for the gatekeeper platforms. The first “do” is that the gatekeeper platforms must “allow third parties to inter-operate with the gatekeeper’s own services in certain specific situations.”
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, not everyone at Apple is happy with the change:
Apple is applying a significant amount of resources to the companywide endeavor. It hasn’t been a popular initiative within Apple, considering that the company has spent years decrying the need for “sideloading” — the process of installing software without using the official App Store. In lobbying against the new European laws, Apple has argued that sideloading could put unsafe apps on consumers’ devices and undermine privacy.
Apple is planning to make the necessary changes in time for the release of iOS 17 next fall. The changes would only go into effect in Europe at first, as other countries — including the United States — have yet to pass similar laws forcing Apple’s hand.
Allowing third-party app stores would be one of many changes Apple would make in order to comply with the Digital Markets Act. Other changes include opening more of its APIs to third-party apps, removing the requirement for third-party web browsers to use WebKit, and potentially allowing users to install third-party payment systems.
Apple is still deciding how to open up iMessage and the Messages app to third-party services. Gurman reports that integrating Google’s RCS protocol isn’t currently in the offing. Apple is also considering opening its Find My network to third-party accessories, like Tile.