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.
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.