A new report suggests that Apple will soon allow alternative iOS app stores in the EU in time for regulatory changes due to arrive in 2024. These changes could make it possible for developers and publishers to bypass the restrictions Apple places on App Store devices, as well as the commission it claims on App Store sales.
This news comes via Bloomberg (note: article behind paywall), which cites "people familiar with the efforts" on Apple's side. According to Bloomberg, Apple engineers and employees are "engaged in a major push" to open up iOS and allow other app store manufacturers to host their services on iOS devices.
These changes, if they are indeed incoming, are likely intended to comply with a new EU law called the Digital Markets Act, which requires tech firms to allow users to install third-party apps and change default settings within their devices. The new rules are specifically aimed at big tech; they target businesses with $80 million or more in terms of market valuation, as well as 45 million users or more within the EU.
Supposedly, the changes will be ready with iOS 17, which debuts next year. Apple employees are reportedly unhappy with the decision to allow third-party app stores; the company has railed against doing so for many years, citing potential security concerns and other issues.
As part of this, Apple is apparently considering imposing certain security restrictions on all app stores, third-party or no. This could also be a way Apple could collect commission from third-party app stores; if Apple needs to verify their security, then it can charge for the privilege of doing so.
There are other details Apple has yet to work out on this front. The company doesn't yet know how it's going to open up iMessage, its proprietary messaging app, which the Digital Markets Act says it must. Discussions are also underway regarding Apple devices like the AirTag and how they could interact with third-party services like Tile. There are many details remaining to be hashed out, but the groundwork seems to be being laid.
Tim Sweeney and Epic Games respond to this Apple report
In a press release, the Coalition for App Fairness, which was founded in part by Epic Games, describes the above report as "an admission" that Apple holds a "chokehold" on its competition. The Coalition laments that American devs and iOS users will "continue to suffer" despite the report showing Apple's arguments, which it has also used in the US to avoid allowing third-party stores, to be "flimsy, hollow excuses to avoid competition".
Epic head Tim Sweeney tweeted that if Apple's decision only applies in Europe, it would "leave American developers in serfdom" in Apple's own home nation. Sweeney urges the US Congress to pass the Open App Market Act, which would prevent Apple from forcing users to use its own app store or payment system if they wanted to use third-party alternatives instead.
Sweeney has cause to pay close attention to Apple's decision in the EU. In 2020, Fortnite was removed from the App Store after the game directed users to buy in-game currency using a proprietary Epic payment system. Epic promptly sued Apple over this, as well as Google, claiming that these companies held a mobile duopoly.
Epic challenged Apple across various countries, including Australia and Korea, as well as (of course) the US, where 35 states publicly declared support for Epic in January after a judge ruled Apple's App Store didn't constitute a monopoly.
If these changes go through in the EU, it could lead other jurisdictions to take note of what's happening and perhaps come to the conclusion that Apple should also be obligated to make the changes elsewhere. We'll have to wait and see what happens next, but if Bloomberg's report is correct, the times could be a-changin'. Stay tuned to TechRaptor for more on this.