Apple must really be beginning to dislike the European Union. It’s having to give up on its beloved Lightning port on iPhones due to EU law changes, and now — according to Bloomberg — it’s entertaining the idea of third-party app stores in iOS 17 for the same reason.
It’s all thanks to a piece of legislation called the Digital Markets Act, which requires large companies (those with at least 45 million monthly users within the bloc) to allow the installation of third-party apps and change their settings more easily, amongst other things.
Companies have until 2024 to comply, and those that don’t could face fines of up to 20% of their annual global revenue.
For Apple, that’s not exactly chump change. If 2022 were a guide, that would leave Apple on the hook for around NZ$124 billion in fines, which — even with its 30% tax on developers’ App Store payments — is significantly more than it makes from third-party apps.
Currently, Bloomberg says, third-party app stores would only be allowed in Europe, but if other countries make similar laws, then Apple will have a template ready to roll out. That will be music to the ears of the likes of Spotify, Epic Games and various dating apps which have never been best pleased at losing 30% of their on-iPhone subscription payments to Apple.
That said, Apple isn’t going to be deprived of revenue that easily. Bloomberg suggests it’s considering charging a fee to verify apps on third-party stores for safety reasons.
Less dramatic, but also significant, is the word that Apple is working to open up some APIs to third-party apps, and it may even allow them to share its camera tech, NFC and the Find My network too. It’s all very un-Apple.
That said, there are some of Apple’s familiar “doesn’t play nicely with others” here too. Bloomberg adds the caveat “at least in a limited fashion” to the NFC opening, and says that it’s still resistant to opening iMessage to third parties. That’s presented as a security and privacy concern, but it probably also helps that iMessage enthusiasm is one of the things that keeps young people hooked on iOS.
Still, these are potentially big changes to the way iPhones work, and while the laws are ostensibly for pro-consumer reasons, Apple’s closed-garden approach with iOS does allow for a streamlined and user-friendly experience that just isn’t the same on Android. It will be interesting to see whether Apple can maintain this feel when it’s forced to play with others.