Want to install an app or game on an iPhone or iPad? The only official ways to do that are to get them from the App Store or set up a developer account. And that’s been the case since the App store first launched in 2008.

But according to a new report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple is preparing to make it possible for users to install third-party apps and even alternate app stores on iPhones and iPads.

App Store for iOS and iPadOS (One day this might not be the only official way to download apps for iPhones and iPads)

The move is said to be part of an effort to comply with European Union rules set to take effect in 2024 that are meant to spur competition. And that means it’s highly likely that Apple will only support installation of apps from outside the App Store in EU countries initially.

But once Apple retools its operating system so that it’s possible to install apps without using Apple’s store, I wouldn’t be surprised if other countries pass similar laws that prompt Apple to bring the feature to other regions in the coming years.

Apple has long insisted that the App Store serves multiple purposes. It allows the company to vet apps for safety and security purposes. It makes it easy for users to find every app they’re looking for because they’re all in one place. And Apple provides a unified experience for billing, subscriptions, and software updates, among other things.

But Apple also charges developers a fee of up to 30% of any payments made through the App Store. That includes subscriptions and in-app purchases as well as one-time payments. And that’s led some app makers to remove in-app payments altogether, instead directing users to pay via a website. Others, like Fortnite developer Epic Games, have directly challenged Apple’s policies in court.

According to Bloomberg, Apple is still considering whether to support third-party payment systems inside of iOS and iPadOS apps (as required by the EU rules), and the company is looking into ways to ensure that apps which are sideloaded from outside the App Store meet Apple’s security requirements (there could be fees associated with that too).

So it’s possible the company could open its mobile devices to third-party app and app store installations… while still attempting to squeeze money out of every iPhone and iPad app developer. I suspect that move would lead to further legal battles, but it’s not like Apple has been shy about making its case in court when it has to.

One other somewhat surprising tidbit from that Bloomberg article? Apple might finally allow third-party iPhone and iPad web browsers to user their own rendering engines rather than the WebKit engine used by Safari. That could lead to new versions of Firefox, Chrome, and other companies that use their own rendering engines.

The company may also open some APIs and hardware features that are currently only available for Apple’s own apps and services. For example, you may one day be able to use the NFC chip in iOS devices with third-party mobile payment apps and not just with Apple Pay.

But it sounds like a lot of this is still up in the air, so we might not find out just how much Apple plans to open up its iOS & iPadOS walled gardens until closer to 2024.

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  1. No they won’t. That’s the hill they will die on. At best, Apple can let you install unsigned code, but it will mean de-registering from iTunes and probably voiding the warranty.

    Even if Apple charges 51% fee for a third-party AppStore, it’s not worth it for them. Once breached, there’s nothing they can do about it. It could mean a high barrier of entry, or upfront payment, but then it’s almost a guarantee that piracy will happen and things that erode the necessity of the official AppStore.

    They rather lose out on Hundreds of Millions of Euros, than to lose Billions. Frankly, I see this as a very difficult uphill battle for the EU to go. The likely compromise is that things stay as they are, but Apple isn’t able to stop people from alternative payments, advertising external subscriptions, unable to charge such exorbitant 30% rate (reduced to 5%-10%).

    1. You should probably check a few actual numbers before claiming random stuff…
      In 2021 Europe was the 2nd market for apple with 22billions worth of revenue, (america was 34b) similarly this year over 52% of total ravenue was in iphone sold (over 200b global).
      For comparison sake GLOBAL revenue in services (aka fees and digital) is at 78billions.
      So claiming they’re gonna give up their second most lucrative market because they might lose a certain % in fees is ludicrous.
      They’re gonna make it cumbersome and not intuitive to still make people prefer their own store but they’re going to comply to the law.

    2. There is another way of looking at it: “now there is literally no reason to buy an Android phone”.
      This of course depends on how exactly they choose to comply and what expanded functionality they allow. I would expect that they’d forbid alternate app stores that hosted certain software they didn’t like, which requires them to continue to forbid installing packages you just downloaded from wherever. But the potential for insulting and berating users of anything else into buying iPhones is still greatly increased.

    3. Apple still has the ability to maintain some control over a 3rd party app store. They could just give those apps less permissions, or even run them in a complete sandbox.

      Infact, I think Apple could spin that into an advantage over Android. Allowing people to sideload any app they want, but knowing they will be protected by the fact that the OS will run it in a secure sandbox, with no access to any other apps or data.

      1. This makes the most sense. Not whatever Efreet is smoking.

        Apple will fight this tooth and nail, and likely will win. If in the very unlikely circumstances that they lose, then they will comply with the law in the most Apple-esque way. Just like they did with Right-to-Repair they opened it up for third-party at an exorbitant price and with a poor solution. If Apple does go the route of sideloading applications, they will be so locked down that nothing useful would come of it. Well, i guess those FartApps will be Adfree and Unpaid or something like that.