Apple gives up control of iOS apps in Europe? It's not as simple as it seems

Apple gives up control of iOS apps in Europe? It's not as simple as it seems

By complying with the decisions of European legislators, Apple would seem to be weakening its control over the creation and distribution of OS applications, but in reality it retains control levers. Let's take a closer look.

While Google has always allowed Android users to install apps not only from the official Google Play Store, but also from third-party stores or via an APK file downloaded from a web, Apple is known for its closed iOS system that only works with apps from the App Store. Until now, it was impossible to install an app directly on an iPhone without getting it from the App Store or from one of Apple's approved marketplaces. However, the entry into force of new EU legislation on digital marketplaces is forcing Apple to become more flexible. What can the Cupertino corporation give up?

In fact, we are talking about Apple starting to follow Google's practices, at least on the European continent. Following alternative stores selling iPhones, iPads and other Apple products, the company announced the ability to install some applications directly from developer sites, without going through the Apple Store. With the iOS 17.4 update, which has been rolling out in the EU countries, Apple is allowing developers to provide third-party app stores that are direct competitors to the App Store. Direct installation will soon be possible.

Eligible developers will have access to Apple tools to make it easier to integrate their apps into iOS. "Web Distribution, available in a software update later this spring, will let authorized developers distribute their iOS apps to EU users directly from a website the developer owns and operates. Apple will provide access to APIs that facilitate the distribution of developers' apps from the web, integrate with system functionality, back up and restore users' apps, and more," Apple said in an official announcement.

The changes in Apple's policy should not be understood in such a way that developers have complete freedom. The corporation will certainly strive to maintain maximum control over the distribution of applications on its operating system, and in particular to ensure that they comply with security requirements. Developers will be subject to the following membership criteria:

  • "Be enrolled in the Apple Developer Program as an organization incorporated, domiciled, and or registered in the EU (or have a subsidiary legal entity incorporated, domiciled, and or registered in the EU that's listed in App Store Connect). The location associated with your legal entity is listed in your Apple Developer account.
  • Be a member of good standing in the Apple Developer Program for two continuous years or more, and have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year.
  • Agree to, among other things: only offer apps from your developer account, be responsive to communications from Apple regarding your apps distributed through Web Distribution, particularly regarding any fraudulent, malicious, or illegal behavior, or anything else that Apple believes impacts the safety, security, or privacy of users, publish transparent data collection policies and offer users control over how their data is collected and used, follow applicable laws of the jurisdictions where you operate (for example, the Digital Services Act, the General Data Protection Regulation, and consumer protection laws), be responsible for handling governmental and other requests to take down listings of apps".

In addition, the iOS developer will also be required to contribute to the Apple Developer Program if the app sales exceed one million first annual installs per year, and, as well as aa CTF of €0.50 for each first annual install over one million in the past 12 months. Non-profit and educational only institutions or public institutions of the European Union will be exempt from these contributions.