Apple to Allow Third Party App Stores

John Lister's picture

Apple is reportedly planning to allow iPhone owners to use third-party app stores and "sideloaded" apps. But the move appears to be limited to Europe, complying with local regulations.

Throughout the existence of the iPhone and iPad, Apple has been adamant about only allowing users to install software downloaded from the official Apple store. It argues that's necessary to maintain security and ensure compatibility and performance to make sure users get the best experience.

Cynics counter it's actually about maintaining a monopoly on supplying apps, giving Apple more power to charge commissions on app sales. That quickly turns into a philosophical debate about whether "market share" should cover access to all mobile devices or just the iOS system.

Market share is at the heart of new rules in the European Union through the Digital Markets Act. Broadly it says that software services which have a large number of users must meet openness requirements about how they work alongside other services. Those rules take effect from March 7, 2024. (Source:

Apple Blinks

That would mean two key changes for Apple. It would have to let users download and install software from sources other than the Apple app store. It would also have to let app developers take payments (such as for in-app purchases and subscriptions) through third-party processors rather than only through Apple.

It seems Apple is convinced the European Union is serious about enforcing these rules and has decided not to call its bluff. Instead, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports Apple will make the changes: just with a catch.

Instead of making the changes worldwide, Apple will create a separate version of iOS and the app installation system for users in EU countries. Its policies in the rest of the world will remain unchanged. (Source:

Hardware Changes Trickier

That's a change from the way giant tech companies often respond to European rules. For example, Apple is expected to include USB-C charging ports in all iPhones around the world to comply with EU requirements to standardize charging.

The difference is that making hardware changes just for one market can be tricky. For example, it would mean that when making iPhones (often in China), Apple would need to know how many units were for the European market and needed the port. That would mean less flexibility in responding to demand changes around the world. With software and app distribution, having a special system just for Europe is much less disruptive.

What's Your Opinion?

Are you surprised Apple has made this change? Would you like the ability to sideload iPhone apps? Does Apple's control of iPhone software constitute a monopoly and, if so, should it be regulated?

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