Apple Loopholes Could Quash Third-party App Stores

John Lister's picture

Apple appears to be exploring loopholes in its recent agreement to allow iPhone users to install apps from sources other than its official store. It wants to continue reviewing apps and taking commission from developers, which could significantly undermine the effect of the changes.

The company has until March 7 to comply with new rules in Europe. Rather than fight the rules or pull out of the market altogether, it decided to allow sideloading for users in European Union countries. Unlike with some physical device changes made to meet European rules, Apple won't be extending the policy to the rest of the world.

Officially, Apple insists on users getting apps only from its own app store as a way to maintain performance and security on iPhones and iPads. Unofficially it's also very keen on maintaining its commission on app sales, including taking 30 percent of any in-app purchases such as subscriptions or ad-free versions of apps.

Rules May Not Be Watertight

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has found a major loophole that means it can comply with the letter of the European rules, if arguably not the spirit. (Source:

The plan would take advantage of the fact that app developers must use specific software tools to make apps that are compatible with iOS. Using these tools requires consenting to license terms. (Source:

It seems Apple may change these license terms such that developer agree to submit apps for review, even if they plan to distribute them via alternative methods. It could also require commission for any revenue from the apps, regardless of how the payment is collected.

Regulators May Revolt

Whether such a plan would satisfy European regulators is questionable. It certainly appears Apple would be replacing one monopoly-like power (controlling access to app installation) with another (controlling access to the app development tools).

That certainly wasn't the aim of the rules, known as the Digital Markets Act. It may be that Apple is simply hoping to drag the argument out in court and claim it has complied with the law as it's written.

What's Your Opinion?

Is Apple behaving reasonably? Do you think it will get away with this apparent loophole? Should large software platforms be open to any apps and distribution methods?

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ehowland's picture

Apple being insanely greedy? Say it isn't so!

They have always been this way, look at the stock value and excess cash if you need proof.

Draq's picture

Seems like that just defeats the purpose of the law in the first place, and Apple is knowingly trying to get around it. Hopefully they don't end up getting away with it.