The Wall Street Journal on Apple’s Plans for iOS Sideloading in the E.U.

Aaron Tilley, Salvador Rodriguez, Sam Schechner, and Kim Mackrael, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

Meta Platforms, Spotify and other companies are preparing new download options for customers in anticipation of the new rules. Meta is considering a system that would allow people to download apps directly from Facebook ads. Spotify plans to offer users the ability to download some of its iPhone apps directly from its website, according to the company. Microsoft has weighed a launch of its own third-party app store for games in the past. [...]

Apple’s approach to the EU law will help ensure the company maintains close oversight of apps downloaded outside the App Store, a process known as sideloading. The company will give itself the ability to review each app downloaded outside of its App Store. Apple also plans to collect fees from developers that offer downloads outside of the App Store, said people familiar with the company’s plans. The company hasn’t yet announced its plans and they could change.

The restrictions and fees could renew tensions with app developers, some of whom had expected the new law to allow them to deliver their apps to users free of Apple’s restrictions or what they see as a high commission. The new European law “is a regulation with teeth, with the possibility to apply fines and with a possibility for the commission to have powers of investigation,” said Olivia Regnier, a senior director of European policy at Spotify.

The Journal story is light on details, but it sounds like Apple is planning for a system largely like last week’s External Purchase Link entitlement, where developers will still be on the hook to pay Apple 27/12 percent commissions. How will this review process work for apps that aren’t distributed through the App Store?

I’ve considered it very odd from the start that the DMA is not clear at all about this. And here we are on the cusp of it going into effect, and we still seemingly have no idea whether the European Commission and Apple see eye to eye on what the DMA demands for compliance.

Clearly, the most strident critics of Apple’s App Store policies believe that the DMA requires opening iOS to something akin to how the Mac works: where the App Store is one method of software distribution, but users are free to simply download apps directly from developers’ websites, so long as those apps are signed. According to the Journal, Apple is planning to announce something not like that at all.

I have a feeling that fireworks are going to fly when Apple announces their compliance plans, but I don’t know. Maybe Apple has shared their plans in detail with the EC and the EC is fine with it. But if that’s the case, I don’t see how the DMA “has teeth” when it comes to sideloading.

Wednesday, 24 January 2024