Forced by Europe, Apple may open up the iPhone to apps outside the App Store

16 years after the first iPhone, Apple may agree to do what it always refused to do: open up its device to third-party apps not available in the App Store. Other huge changes were planned, such as the opening of several key elements.

Is the iPhone about to experience a revolution? On December 13, 2022, Apple ordered several senior executives to oversee one of the most significant changes in smartphone history, according to Bloomberg insider Mark Gurman.

In order to comply with the European Digital Market Act, which is due to enter into force in 2024, Apple may allow software to be installed outside of the App Store from iOS 17 in 2023. This change could allow giants like Epic Games (Fortnite, Autumn Children…) or Spotify, which has been demanding the death of the “App Store monopoly” for a long time, to open parallel stores on iOS and iPadOS.

The end of the App Store, really?

the side loading It’s the experience of installing an app without going through the App Store.

When asked about the release of an iPhone with a USB-C port that meets European requirements, Apple answered in October 2022 with the voice of its vice president Greg Jozwiak: “ Obviously, we’ll have to follow through.”. Not surprisingly, the doctrine appears to be the same as the DMA. After years of lobbying to convince authorities, the media, and customers that “sideloading” would destroy iPhone security, Apple decided to no longer block the switch.

While Mark Gurman seems confident about his scale, there are many mysteries about how this opening of the planet’s most closed ecosystem works. iOS 17 should allow App Store competitors and apps to be installed outside of Apple’s store, but it’s not clear how. For example, will Apple agree to waive sales commissions, or will it still charge a fee for apps sold elsewhere? Legally, Apple should have allowed alternative payments as it was already being tested in South Korea. However, if it allows alternative applications with a signature sold to developers (which is what it offers on the Mac, especially for security reasons), it can enforce its own rules.

Another question: will this change be promoted by Apple as an innovation or is it hidden from consumers? Bloomberg suggests that only European iPhone models will benefit from this greater opening, which suggests Apple won’t be bragging about it on stage.

App Store logo. // Source: Numerama

If the App Store will no longer be the only place to download apps on iPhone or iPad, many developers may come down to iOS and iPadOS. Obviously, there are video game catalogs (Xbox Game Pass, Epic Games Store, Steam), emulators, but also some developers (pornography, cryptocurrencies, P2P downloads, etc.) that are banned from the App Store today. ).

Others, such as Spotify, Netflix, Tinder or Twitter, may take the opportunity to launch more advanced versions of their apps without some protection from Apple (and without a 30% commission). However, it’s hard to imagine Apple letting all of this happen without the slightest bit of resistance. From the first iPhone in 2007 and the first jailbreaks (breaking the system to install alternative stores), Apple has always done everything to prevent bypasses in its ecosystem.

But what about Google, the other player Apple is accused of maintaining a duopoly? If Google is to follow DMA as well, all the changes Bloomberg mentioned are already available on Android. The iOS competitor, whose main store is the Play Store, has never stopped installing software from a simple link.

Contactless payment, web browser and iMessage… Other attacks from Europe

Apple’s lawyers have probably read the DMA well, so they know that opening up the iPhone to third-party apps won’t be enough to appease the European Union’s fervor. Apple will have to make additional changes to avoid a fine of up to 20% of its worldwide revenue. Bloomberg notes at least three that Apple is ready to release:

  • Today, all web browsers on the iPhone use the same engine: WebKit. In other words, people who think they’re using Google Chrome on their iPhone aren’t actually using it. They use the same web browser as Safari with Chrome interface and features. With iOS 17, Apple can open up the iPhone to alternative engines like Chromium for the first time.
  • Today, the iPhone’s NFC chip is being squeezed. It can read content but cannot be used by the developer to send signals. Only Apple Pay and Apple Wallet (eg movie tickets) have access to the Apple NFC chip. With iOS 17, a European bank like Société Générale can create its own payment app and no longer have to use Apple Pay. The risk here is that several banks refuse Apple’s service, which is fairly unanimous for its universality. Such a change would also, on paper, allow a company like Île-de-France Mobilités to dematerialize the Navigo pass without partnering with Apple. But the two companies are already working together.
  • Apple can also open up the Locate network to all these objects, allowing objects like AirTag to work. Brands like Tile complain about the advantages that Apple reserves for itself.
Apple Pay uses the iPhone's NFC chip, which other developers don't have rights to.  // Source: Apple
Apple Pay uses the iPhone’s NFC chip, which other developers don’t have rights to. // Source: Apple

On the other hand, Apple is reluctant to change its stance against iMessage, which it has kept for iPhones since 2011. DMA forces it to open its service to other services so that a message is never reserved for a program again. This rule will create problems for Apple, forcing it to reduce the encryption of conversations it refuses to do. The brand may adopt RCS, a replacement for SMS already adopted by Google, but it doesn’t want to give flowers to its competitor. It’s likely that Apple will have to adjust its stance on the subject at some point.

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