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Apple Might Have to Support Sideloading and Third-Party App Stores in Europe

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In a major development, Apple may soon be required to support sideloading and third-party app stores on the iPhone in Europe. This comes as the Digital Markets Act (DMA) is now in effect, an antitrust law aimed at protecting consumers and promoting competition. Apple, iOS, the App Store, and Safari have all been listed as gatekeeper companies and products under the DMA.

Changes Coming to iPhone Software

As a result of the DMA, Apple will need to make changes to its iPhone software in order to comply with the new obligations. For the App Store, this means allowing other companies to compete against it with their own app stores. Apple will also be required to support third-party payment systems in Europe.

Sideloading Becoming a Reality

Sideloading, the ability to download apps from sources other than the App Store, will likely become a reality once Apple starts implementing these changes, potentially with the release of iOS 17.2. This means that consumers will have the freedom to download apps from any source they choose.

Code Indicates Support for Sideloading and Third-Party App Stores

Code found in the iOS 17.2 beta suggests that Apple is already working on supporting app installs from sources other than the App Store. The new beta includes a public framework called "Managed App Distribution," which could potentially be used for installing enterprise apps. However, further analysis of the code indicates that it could also support the installation of other apps, effectively allowing developers to create their own app stores.

Region Lock and Apple's Response

The code also reveals evidence of a region lock, indicating that these features will only be available in the EU. Apple is reportedly looking to appeal the EU's gatekeeper designation for the App Store and will argue against further scrutiny of iMessage. The EU is expected to issue a ruling on iMessage's gatekeeper status by February.

Sideloading Coming Next Year

According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, iPhone app sideloading is expected to be implemented next year. Apple plans to offer a "highly controlled system" for users to install apps from sources other than the App Store, but this feature will be limited to the EU. Apple has acknowledged that support for third-party app stores and sideloading may be inevitable in certain markets and could impact its revenue in the region.

It remains to be seen how Apple will navigate these changes and whether sideloading and third-party app stores will eventually become a global feature on the iPhone.

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