iPhone app sideloading: Apple reportedly plans to charge fees and review apps downloaded outside of the App Store

Apple will soon announce policy changes to conform to the Digital Markets Act in Europe, with an impending implementation deadline of March. The DMA will force Apple to allow iPhone app sideloading, with the goal of reducing Apple’s monopolistic control of software on iOS.

However, exactly how that will go down remains in question. The Wall Street Journal believes it has the inside scoop on Apple’s plans. Although apps will be available outside of the App Store for the first time, the Journal says Apple still plans to charge fees and conduct app review processes for sideloaded apps.

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It isn’t clear whether the fees would be a commission based on revenue, just like its In-App Purchase fees.

For external links to alternative payment systems in the US, Apple is currently asking developers to pay 27% commission — even though many developers initially thought they would be able to evade Apple’s 30% commission by not using In-App Purchase.

It’s also unclear how Apple intends to review apps that are not distributed through the App Store. But if the report is accurate, it undermines much of the anticompetitive constraints originally envisaged by the DMA. Apple would still be in the driving seat, with oversight of what software is running on the iPhone and collecting fees on every app.

From a technical perspective, Apple can do almost anything it wants, but it remains to be seen whether Apple’s implementation will be acceptable to lawmakers.

The Digital Markets Act is somewhat vague as to how so-called ‘gatekeeper’ companies are allowed to be in compliance. It is likely that after the March deadline, the European Commission will follow up with additional requirements and enforcements. So, Apple may not be able to sustain its restrictive control indefinitely. (In the US, Epic Games is currently appealing Apple’s 27% commission requirement for alternative payment methods to the court.)

Apple is expected to officially announce iOS 17.4, which will include affordances for sideloading in Europe, imminently.

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