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

16 years after the first iPhone, Apple could agree to do what it has always refused: open its device to third-party applications not available on the App Store. Other colossal changes would be planned, such as the opening of several key elements.

Is the iPhone about to experience a revolution? According to information from the very well-informed Mark Gurman of Bloomberg, on December 13, 2022, Apple ordered several of its senior officials to oversee one of the most significant changes in its smartphone history.

To comply with the European Digital Market Act, which should return to application in 2024, Apple could authorize the installation of software outside the App Store from iOS 17, in 2023. This change could allow giants like Epic Games (Fortnite, fall guys…) or Spotify, who have long called for the death of the “App Store monopoly”, to launch parallel stores on iOS and iPadOS.

The end of the App Store, really?

the side loading is the practice of installing an application without going through the App Store.

Asked about the launch of an iPhone with a USB-C port to meet European requirements, Apple had replied through the voice of its vice-president Greg Jozwiak in October 2022: “ Obviously, we will have to comply with it”. Unsurprisingly, the doctrine seems the same with the DMA. After years of lobbying to convince the authorities, the media and its customers that “sideloading” would destroy the security of the iPhone, Apple has decided to no longer block this transition.

If Mark Gurman seems sure of his scoop, really mysteries surround the functioning of this opening of the most closed ecosystem on the planet. iOS 17 is expected to allow installation of App Store competitors and apps outside of Apple’s store, but it’s unclear for comment. For example, will Apple agree to cancel its commission on sales, or will it still impose one for applications sold elsewhere? Legally, Apple is supposed to allow alternative payments, as it is already testing in South Korea. But, if it authorizes alternative applications subject to a signature sold to developers (in particular for security reasons, this is what it offers on the Mac), it could then impose its own rules.

Another question: will this change be put forward by Apple as a novelty, or hidden from consumers? Bloomberg suggests that only European iPhones could benefit from this greater openness, which suggests that Apple will not brag about it on stage.

The App Store logo. // Source: Numerama

In the event that the App Store would no longer be the only store for downloading applications on iPhone or iPad, many developers could land on iOS and iPadOS. There are obviously video game catalogs (Xbox Game Pass, Epic Games Store, Steam), emulators, but also some developers banned from the App Store today (pornography, crypto-currencies, P2P downloads, etc.). ) .

Others, like Spotify, Netflix, Tinder or Twitter, could take the opportunity to launch more advanced versions of their applications without certain protections from Apple (and without the 30% commission). However, it is hard to imagine Apple letting all this happen without the slightest resistance. Since the very first iPhone in 2007 and the first jailbreaks (hacking the system to install alternative stores), Apple has always done everything to block bypasses in its ecosystem.

What about Google, the other player with whom Apple is accused of maintaining a duopoly? If Google must also comply with the DMA, all the changes mentioned by Bloomberg are already present in Android. The competitor of iOS, which is the Play Store in the main store, has never prevented the installation of software from a simple link.

Contactless payment, web browser and iMessage… The other attacks from Europe

Since Apple lawyers have probably read the DMA well, they know that opening the iPhone to third-party applications will not be enough to calm the ardor of the European Union. To avoid a fine of up to 20% of its worldwide revenue, Apple will need to make further changes. Bloomberg cites at least three on request Apple would be ready to let go of ballast:

  • Today, all web browsers on iPhone use the same engine: WebKit. In other words, people who think they’re using Google Chrome on iPhone aren’t actually using it. They use a web browser identical to Safari, with a Chrome interface and functions. With iOS 17, Apple could open its iPhone to alternative engines, such as Chromium, for the first time.
  • Today, the NFC chip of the iPhone is clamped. It can read content, but cannot be used by a developer to send a signal. Only Apple, with Apple Pay and Apple Wallet (cinema tickets, for example), access to the NFC chip. With iOS 17, a European bank, like Société Générale, could create its own payment application and no longer have to use Apple Pay. The risk here is that several banks will give up on Apple’s service, which is rather unanimous because of its universality. Such a change also proposed, on paper, to a company like Île-de-France Mobilités to dematerialize the Navigo pass without partnership with Apple. But, the two companies are already working together.
  • Apple could also open its Locate network, which allows objects like AirTags to work, to all such objects. Brands like Tile complain about the perks Apple reserves for itself.
Apple Pay uses the iPhone's NFC chip, which other developers are not entitled to.  // Source: Apple
Apple Pay uses the iPhone’s NFC chip, which other developers are not entitled to. // Source: Apple

On the other hand, Apple would not keep changing its position vis-à-vis iMessage, which it has reserved for iPhones since 2011. The DMA forces it to open its service to other services, so that a message is never again reserved for a single application. This rule would pose a problem for Apple and would force it to reduce the encryption of conversations, which it would refuse to do. The brand can adopt the RCS, the replacement for the SMS already adopted by Google, but would not keep giving its rival a boost. It is likely that Apple will have to adapt its position on the subject at some point.

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