EU will enforce the Digital Markets Act in Spring 2023 and it could allow iOS users to install apps from third-party sources

May 9, 2022

The European Union will enforce the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in 2023, and this could have a huge impact on Big Tech companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Meta (Facebook). Among other things, the law is expected to allow iOS users to install apps from third-party sources.

Why is the DMA so important?

The biggest advantage that Google's Android boasts over iOS, is the freedom of choice that it offers users. You can download and install Android apps from anywhere, aka sideloading. All you have to do is download an APK file, allow installation of apps from unknown sources, and the app is ready to use. There are some security risks with this method, an app could be malicious, something which Apple's CEO, Tim Cook pointed out as why iOS shouldn't allow it. But that is only a problem if you download apps from unknown sites, and disreputable sources.

iOS users have only one place to get their apps from, the App Store. Being locked into Apple's ecosystem is kind of like living in a gilded cage. I've been using iOS for about 5 years on my iPad 2017. While I like the huge screen and the OS experience, I find iOS to be lacking when it comes to apps. Since it restricts browser apps to use the Webkit engine, all browsers on the OS are basically Safari with a different coat of paint, which makes it almost pointless to use another browser.

As someone who is used to Firefox and extensions, I find it nearly unusable. The lack of a file manager and emulators (for games) are the other buzzkills for me. The iPad could be a great emulation device, and the only way I can do that is via resources such as the AltStore. It is a third-party store where you can download emulator apps from. But it's not as simple as downloading an APK and tapping the install button.

It requires a computer with the iTunes app which you need to use for installing the AltStore app, then you have to download the IPA files (apps), jump through some more hoops, before signing the files. That's another issue, since Apple only allows users to sign 3 apps and these work for 7 days, before they have to be re-signed. There is a way to sign unlimited apps and use them for a longer time (without signing them again), but you'll need to subscribe to a Developer account, and that costs $99. The only real alternative to this problem, is to Jailbreak the iPhone or iPad. But, that has even more complications, not to mention it also voids the warranty of your device.

So, you see, iOS users are really stifled when it comes to the choice of installing apps. If an app that a user wants is not available on the App Store, that's pretty much it for most people, they have to use something else. Is it any wonder that the EU views the App Store as a monopoly? It is an anticompetitive practice, aka an antitrust violation, that's why the EU wants Apple to remove these restrictions, and allow users to install apps from other sources.

The EU lawmakers approved the DMA in March this year, but are yet to get the final approval from the European Parliament and Council. TechCrunch reports that Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, announced that the Digital Markets Act will enter into force in Spring 2023, and will be enforced soon after. (via The Verge)

I'm looking forward to the day when the DMA is passed, and Apple allows us to use the apps we want. I'd also love to see a proper third-party repository for iOS like F-Droid with open-source alternatives for everyday apps. While the new law would force Apple to allow users in Europe to install apps from other sources, I wonder what this would mean for users in other regions. Will the rest of the world get the same treatment?

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iOS users may be able to install apps from third-party sources from Spring 2023
The European Union has confirmed it will enforce the Digital Markets Act in Spring 2023. iOS users may finally be able to install apps from other sources.
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  1. Caqiw said on May 16, 2022 at 10:35 am

    Alternative methods of installing apps help when, for example, an autocratic government prevents an opposition party’s app to be distributed in the App Store by threatening Apple employees in the country.

    Also good for downloading privacy respecting apps. Apple talks about privacy yet bans alternative Youtube frontend apps that help reduce user tracking, because Google’s money is worth more than consumer’s privacy.

    I’m skeptical, but hope it happens.

  2. Anonymous said on May 10, 2022 at 4:00 am

    Good, it’s time to open up all these big techs. It’s time for EU revert Microsoft’s nonsense account requirement in Windows 11. Also, remove all these bloated Bing and Edge garbage all over the shell.

    Microsoft needs to be broken up and heavily fined for their mischievous behavior. Local accounts and services should be the user choice not Microsoft’s.

  3. ilev said on May 9, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    “and it could allow iOS users to install apps from third-party sources”

    No, it won’t.

    To implement EU’s Digital Markets Act will take 5 years at least.
    Some parts like Messaging from any app to any app can’t be implemented.

  4. tayt said on May 9, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    If they make that along with USB type C, it might actually make the iPhone something worth investing into.

    For many years the reason why I wasn’t interested in owning an iPhone was because it didn’t support sideloading of apps from 3rd party sources. Android not only allows that, but it gives you the freedom to install powerful apps that Google will never allow on the Play Store.

  5. allen said on May 9, 2022 at 6:17 pm

    What’s next? Forcing McDonald’s to sell Wendy’s burgers?

    1. Gerard said on May 9, 2022 at 7:06 pm

      Wrong analogy. You clearly don’t (want to?) understand the issue.

  6. Red Army said on May 9, 2022 at 5:18 pm

    Do you know that the Europeans are the ones who need Apple? Why would Apple care what some parasites and criminals who weren’t even democratically elected like the European Union say about them?
    I mean, I don’t think Apple will give too much crap and will not change a thing because it would be stupid to allow sideloading of apps when their whole system is not made for that.

    Do you really think that when people buy an iPhone, they are thinking about sideloading apps? only idiots would buy Apple mobile devices and then complain about what they knew was going to be like.
    So, who cares why Android is blabla because “freedom of choice”, even if that is not even true anymore, you can’t install your own 3rd party android version on most phones today, well, even old phones can’t be done that like Huawei phones where you needed a code, and they decided to restrict it and now you can only buy the code which costs like $30 to be able to jailbreak it, but we can mention more and more restrictions for developers and APIs, for example after Android 10 you wouldn’t be able to autostart apps because of ‘security’, Huawei because of political reasons they couldn’t have Google services in their phones so they decided to ahead and offer their own store.
    What freedom or choice? only because you can sideload apps? I admit I use the feature but if I got an iPhone I wouldn’t be like “oh I will complain I can’t sideload apps”.

    I mean, there is so much freedom of choice in Android that a year old phone can stop getting updates if the manufacturer wants to, while iPhone which are like 5 years old still can get latest iOS version, so you are able to use newer apps even if your phone lack all the good new features, plus the security updates.
    So actually, you get a better deal using an iPhone even if you can’t sideload crap and have to use all Apple services for everything.

    Last time Android there were news about how people had to install some new security patch because issues but obviously most phones will not have access to it because it is an update that was released in December or something, and most phones will not even have latest Android installed even if they are new.
    So it seems your ‘freedom of choice’ doesn’t mean much in the whole picture, when you compare how Apple does things vs the competition that uses Android.

    If you want to sideload apps then keep buying android that will stop getting updated after 2 days, you are dreaming if you think Apple will change anything because of European criminal undemocratic organizations being a US company, they will probably know people will buy their phones anyway, they only need to buy then through amazon as many people do today anyway.

    1. anona said on May 10, 2022 at 12:50 pm

      >”Red Army”
      >hates freedom

      username checks out

    2. Magissia said on May 10, 2022 at 7:03 am

      Jailbreak is only an Apple thing, android users were not in a jail to begin with.

      You are comparing an OS to a phone manufacturer. Truth is Android does not prevent you from installing third party software repositories and Apple does, preventing competitors to provide service for IPhone users while avoiding the huge arbitrary Apple tax.

    3. dmacleo said on May 9, 2022 at 11:56 pm

      my samsung galaxys getting updates quite often, the S9+ 3yrs old now.
      s10+ just over a year old.
      thats many days past 2 days.
      so hate google forcing locked bootloaders on manufacturers. makes rooting an iffy proposition

    4. John G. said on May 9, 2022 at 11:25 pm

      @Red Army, I beg your pardon, however the EU has a lot of laws to protect the users in so many ways that you can’t even dream about them. So sad about US laws by the way! Thanks @Ashwin for this good article! :]

    5. m3city said on May 9, 2022 at 10:51 pm

      You have no idea about EU. It is democratily elected.

      1. Anonymous said on May 10, 2022 at 1:09 pm

        Lol, so this is really what other Europeans think. No wonder we are the laughingstock of the world. Let’s just wait until a new law is passed that makes it illegal to say current thing did not happen.

    6. :-) said on May 9, 2022 at 8:40 pm

      Hahahahaha, I can tell you’re so jealous of not being part of the EU. Don’t worry little fella, EU laws will end up benefiting the world, as we are much more progressive than any nation.

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