Apple's rules to allow third-party app stores in the EU are not beneficial for users or developers
Apple has announced its plans to allow side-loading and third-party app stores in the European Union in order to comply with the Digital Markets Act in March. But, the changes that the company has announced aren't good for users or developers.
Let's forget the fact that sideloading will not be available for the rest of the world. The new rules are much more important, here is how they will impact users in the European Union region.
Changes to iOS
Users in the EU region who have an iPhone that runs on iOS 17.4 or above will be able to download third-party app stores on their device. The company calls these third-party stores as App Marketplaces. A user will be able to download a marketplace from a website.
The marketplaces will need to be approved by Apple, that's not all. Apps will need to by notarized by the Cupertino company. Apps will also need to pass automatic checks and a human review. Users will be requested to grant the marketplace permission to download and install apps, after which it can download apps and provide auto updates. The main difference is that these marketplaces can host apps that vate App Store guidelines. In other words, the App Store's app quality rules do not apply to third-party marketplaces.
Apple wants marketplaces to provide a "stand-by letter of credit from an A-rated (or equivalent by S&P, Fitch, or Moody’s) financial Institution of €1,000,000 to establish adequate financial means in order to guarantee support for your developers and users. Developers will need to pay a Core Technology Fee of €0.50 for each first annual. This fee will apply after an app crosses a threshold of one million installations in a year.
That being said, a support page on the Apple developer page mentions that developers who have registered with the Apple Developer Program as a profit organization, accredited educational institution, or government entity, and distribute free apps on the App Store without in-app purchases, and do not sell digital goods and services, are exempt from the Core Technology Fee. So, essentially, open source apps could be excluded from these restrictions. But this will not apply to all free apps.
The good stuff
Apple will allow browser makers to use custom engines instead of WebKit in iOS 17.4, which means Google Chrome may soon be powered by the Blink engine, and Firefox with Gecko for iOS could soon become a reality. Third-party apps can use the iPhone's NFC for their payment systems. The App Store will allow Game Streaming Services, so we could see the likes of Xbox's Xcloud, and NVIDIA's GeForce Now on iPhones soon. iOS apps on the App Store will be required pay a reduced commission of either 10 percent or 17% on transactions for digital goods and services.
Reactions from around the web
TechCrunch points out that Apple is using scaremongering tactics that might scare users. The press release from the company emphasizes on the fact that it had no choice but to comply with the DMA, and focuses on the risks that the DMA poses to users. It is true that sideloading apps from unknown sources has some risks, that is true for Android as well, but Apple is overstating the problems to defend its rules.
The Verge quotes Mozilla spokesperson Damiano DeMonte who said that Mozilla was extremely disappointed with Apple's new rules, and that it would force independent browser makers to build and maintain two different browsers; one for the EU, and one for the rest of the world (based on WebKit). Apple Safari itself is exempt from these rules. DeMonte said that this creates yet another barrier for true browser competition on iOS.
Epic Games CEO, Tim Sweeney, said that Apple's plan to thwart the DMA is a devious new instance of Malicious Compliance. He termed it as an anticompetitive scheme that comes with junk Fees on downloads and new Apple taxes on payments they don't process. Several app developers have criticized Apple's Core Technology Fee, claiming that they may be required to pay a hefty portion of their earnings. Sweeney ridiculed Apple's announcement, calling it hot garbage. Meanwhile, the Epic Games Store will be launching its own app marketplace.
Spotify CEO, Daniel Ek, criticized Apple's plan calling the new app installation fee an extortion, and that these rules allow Apple to maintain its monopoly under a different mask.
EU industry chief Thierry Breton told Reuters that the DMA will not hesitate to take strong action if the proposed solutions are not good enough.
9to5Mac reports that iOS 17.4 beta adds multiple ways that verify if an iPhone is eligible for sideloading. The verification system will check the Apple ID billing address, the current location (Country), region settings, and the device class. These data will be verified via an Apple server that allows the device to sideload apps and marketplaces. This system will effectively prevent users around the world from bypassing the regional restrictions to sideload apps on their iPhone.
macOS has allowed installation of third-party apps forever, so has Windows and Android. So, why is Apple trying to create these restrictions with iOS? Several Apple fans have defended the company's decision, but none of their arguments make sense. I have an iPhone and a MacBook, and I'm terribly disappointed by this anti-consumer / anti-developer stance. It is ridiculous, and why on earth did the European Commission agree to this nonsense? They might have as well let Apple continue with its walled-garden, because the new policies make little difference to users and developers.
I was expecting a marketplace like F-droid for iOS. What the users in the EU will get seem to be rubbish. Apple knows that big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Meta, Spotify, Amazon, Netflix, Epic Games, etc., will come up with their own app marketplaces. Unlike indie developers, these companies can afford the Core Technology Fee and other fees. It is evident that Apple wants to cash in on the profits, with little respect for the freedom of indie developers, which may in turn affect users as well.Advertisement