Apple Loosens App Store Grip In A Big Win For iPhone Users In Europe

iPhone EU

Against Apple's repeated and strenuous objections, the European Union's Digital Markets Act (DMA) kicked in earlier this month. Among other things, the DMA will force Apple to relax its iron grip on iOS software distribution just a little. It has unlocked the ability for users in Europe to install alternative app stores, and now Apple has revealed how it will handle app installations from the web. In typical Apple fashion, the system is pretty locked-down, but it still gives iPhone owners more options.

The DMA labels big technology companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and ByteDance as "gatekeepers," which subjects them to additional regulations. In the case of Apple, that means it can no longer block software from outside its walled garden. Apple says it will unlock the ability to install apps from developer websites with a software update this spring. That gives developers some time to get ready, as they are going to have a lot to do.

According to Apple, developers that want to distribute their apps still need to follow Apple's security and platform integrity rules, and users will only be able to install apps from URLs that have been registered with the company's App Store Connect program. Developers not in good standing with Apple (like Epic) will be unable to make apps available on websites. And no, developers can't put their apps on another dev's website—that's just an app store by another name, and Apple has a different set of rules for that.

Users will have to jump through some extra hoops to install apps from the web, too. They'll have to manually authorize each developer for web installations. When installing, the system will issue a few warnings and show all available information on the app, including app name, developer name, app description, age rating, and screenshots. A few more confirmation taps, and you'll finally get your app.

App Store PD trimmed

This option won't be available to all developers, either. Apple will only accept applications for Web Distribution for apps that have been downloaded at least 1 million times in the EU in the previous calendar year. These need to be first installs, not returning users. If apps get more than 1 million installs outside the App Store, the developer has to begin paying Apple's Core Technology fee of €0.50 per install and update. This essentially means small developers will remain tied to app stores.

It's good to see developers getting more options, even if the restrictions limit what they can do. There are already some pending complaints before the EU Commission about how Apple manages alternative app stores, and Web Distribution will undoubtedly ruffle more feathers.
Tags:  Apple, iPhone, Europe