E.U. Legislation to Mandate Sideloading Is Nearing Completion, But Details Remain Unknown

Sam Schechner and Tim Higgins, reporting last week for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

The new European Union legislation — which could be effectively completed as soon as this month — is set to direct Apple to allow software to be downloaded outside its cash-generating App Store and limit how companies impose their own payment systems on apps, according to people involved in the negotiations. Failure to comply would carry penalties of up to tens of billions of dollars.

Not the sort of fines Apple can just pay from the loose change in Luca Maestri’s couch.

Rivals and critics of Apple’s power hope the EU law will serve as a catalyst for other jurisdictions, such as in the U.S., where similar legislation is pending before Congress.

“Apple is playing 5D chess right now,” said Paul Gallant, a policy analyst for Cowen & Co. “It will struggle to explain why government changes will radically change the iPhone when Google already does it and it will struggle to explain why it can’t do it in the United States when it may soon do it in Europe.”

What a dumb quote. First, what the hell is the fifth dimension? It’s like he was going to say “4D chess” — which itself is a poor metaphor, given that regular chess is complex enough and takes place in two dimensions — and decided to give it some extra oomph. Second, the iPhone is different from Android. It is true that the fact that Android supports sideloading doesn’t seem to adversely affect typical Android users, but one of Apple’s core arguments against legally mandated sideloading is that it would remove from the market a choice to buy devices where sideloading is not possible. Third, no one from Apple has ever once argued that they “can’t” enable sideloading on iOS because that’s obviously nonsense. They don’t want to enable it.

The full effect of the sideloading provision isn’t yet clear as lawmakers work on final language defining security exceptions that could give Apple leeway to limit the scope of sideloading.

That’s really the rub.

Thursday, 24 March 2022