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Sideloading and alternative app stores: Apple makes it exciting

Sideloading and alternative app stores: Apple makes it exciting

When it comes to opening up app stores, Apple remains unclear — at least for now: In the run-up to its WWDC developer conference, it was eagerly awaited whether the iPhone manufacturer would introduce changes in iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 or alternative app stores. Or something like that enables what’s called sideloading. But it is clear that Apple does not want to practice hasty obedience in relation to the new laws in Europe. In an interview, software chief Craig Federighi gave at least a rough idea of ​​the direction Apple is headed.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA), which will enter into force in March 2024, aims to create fairness in the platform and extract concessions from Apple in several areas in which the US company previously remained closed. For security reasons, Apple has so far denied the possibility for iPhone owners to download apps that have not gone through the Apple App Store and are therefore checked directly on the device. There are also no app stores run by other providers. But that has to change with DMA.

“We work with the European Union,” said software chief Craig Federighi when asked by broadcaster John Gruber. In addition to some jokes about Android, Federighi wasn’t eager to make any far-reaching pronouncements, such as the timeline and exactly how the placement of apps on Apple devices will change. He says Apple is guided by what’s best for customers — again without clearly specifying what that might be.

Leading up to this, iOS 17 was expected to lay the foundations for EU requirements at an early stage. The speculation was that sideloading would in fact only be possible in the EU country region. As a result, Apple wasn’t likely to make a big deal out of the feature, especially not in the keynote. At least in the developer documentation or using the new programming tools, it was hoped to find some hints or even the first functions – to no avail.

However, unless Apple can somehow stop DMA, the company will have to integrate sideloading into the usual iOS 17 duration of one year. The new operating systems are currently in beta testing. In the fall they will appear to everyone. Either way, Apple can secretly integrate the features until then. Or they follow a minor release, like iOS 17.5. In this context, it would be conceivable for Apple to develop a new security concept that stores applications loaded in this way in a hermetically sealed sandbox.

In addition to sideloading and alternative app stores, Apple has other changes to make as part of the DMA: In the future, browser engines other than Apple WebKit may also be approved—perhaps also as an SDK for apps. Apple will also likely have to open up the NFC interface more than what is currently allowed via the APIs. And with iMessage messenger too, it can be eagerly awaited how far the interoperability specification will reflect.

Regardless, Apple also needs to switch its iPhone from a Lightning connector to USB-C. The US company also announced that it would comply with European law. The switch has already been made for several Apple products.

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