Apple hints at enabling sideloading in iOS 17

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Apple execs continue to hint at enabling sideloading in iOS 17 to comply with pressure from governments, particularly the EU.

Renowned for its closed ecosystem, Apple is routinely accused of taking advantage of its market position to implement anti-competitive policies. The EU’s upcoming Digital Markets Act aims to put a stop to such practices by tech giants.

Under the EU’s act, Apple will be forced to allow third-party app stores to be “sideloaded” on its devices. Microsoft is already making preparations to launch its own third-party mobile app store on iOS and Android after the EU’s law comes into effect.

In 2022, Bloomberg reported that Apple was considering a significant alteration to the iOS ecosystem, allowing users to sideload apps from various sources—a practice already prevalent on other platforms.

The rumours indicated that Apple’s approach would include implementing security requirements for apps distributed outside of the App Store, akin to those found on macOS. Moreover, the initial reports suggested that sideloading would be exclusive to EU countries, in response to regulatory pressure.

Following the unveiling of iOS 17 at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2023, the absence of sideloading in the first beta surprised many. However, during a podcast interview, Apple’s VP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, hinted at the company’s willingness to cooperate with the EU:

Federighi emphasised the importance of aligning with the EU’s requirements and indicated that discussions on compliance were underway. Although not explicitly confirmed, his statements strongly suggested that sideloading might be implemented in iOS 17 further down the line.

Apple has historically resisted sideloading due to concerns about user security and its revenue streams from the App Store. The App Store has been a lucrative platform for developers, who pay commissions of up to 30 percent on each sale.

In a letter to lawmakers last year, cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier said that Apple’s concerns about sideloading were “unfounded” and that it’s “simply not true” that legislation such as the EU’s puts user privacy and security at risk.

“It’s fairer to say that this legislation puts those companies’ extractive business models at risk. Their claims about risks to privacy and security are both false and disingenuous and motivated by their own self-interest and not the public interest,” wrote Schneier.

“App store monopolies cannot protect users from every risk, and they frequently prevent the distribution of important tools that actually enhance security. Furthermore, the alleged risks of third-party app stores and ‘side-loading’ apps pale in comparison to their benefits.

“These bills will encourage competition, prevent monopolist extortion, and guarantee users a new right to digital self-determination.”

Apple’s potential move towards sideloading represents a significant shift for the company and the iOS ecosystem. As regulatory pressures mount, Apple’s compliance with the EU’s demands suggests that change may be on the horizon.

However, how Apple navigates the implementation of sideloading and its impact on the App Store’s revenue model remain to be seen.

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