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Apple finally allows app sideloading and third-party stores on iPhones in the EU

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Apple has announced it is making significant changes to iOS, App Store, and other services in the EU to comply with the new Digital Markets Act (DMA). The changes will provide developers with more options for app distribution and payments, but Apple says this also opens up new risks for user privacy and security that it is working to mitigate.

Under the DMA, Apple's services, like the App Store and Safari, have been designated "core platform services," forcing the company to allow alternative app stores and payment options on iOS devices in the EU. As a result, iPhone users in Europe will be able to download apps directly from developer pages and third-party app stores beginning in March 2024.

Apple says it implements new safeguards like "Notarization," which subjects all apps to a baseline security and privacy review before running on iOS, regardless of where they are downloaded. The company will also require alternative app stores to be authorized and commit to ongoing requirements to protect users.

Despite these safeguards, Apple admits that direct downloads and third-party app stores increase risks like malware, fraud, or harmful content and impact user experience factors like performance. The company will no longer be able to use iOS features like App Tracking Transparency and Family Sharing outside of the App Store.

With iOS 17.4, European iOS users will also have more choices when selecting their default web browser. Apple will now present users with a prompt the first time they launch Safari, allowing them to choose their preferred default browser from a list of options.

Apple summarized the changes in iOS and App Store as follows:

Changes to iOS

  • New options for distributing iOS apps from alternative app marketplaces
  • New framework and APIs for creating alternative app marketplaces
  • New frameworks and APIs for alternative browser engines
  • Interoperability request form

Changes to the App Store

  • New options for using payment service providers (PSPs)
  • New options for processing payments via link-out
  • Business planning tools
  • App Store product page labels
  • In-app disclosure sheets
  • New App Review processes
  • Expanded data portability on Apple's Data & Privacy site

Developers now have access to over 600 new APIs provided by Apple to support alternative distribution and payment methods. However, with less centralized control over what apps can do, Apple believes it will be more difficult to ensure privacy and security on iOS.

The European Commission has designated several major tech companies, including Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Apple, as gatekeepers under the Digital Markets Act. Last week, Google announced adding new search and browser selection screens for Android phones in Europe. Microsoft also changed its Windows 10/11, Bing, and Edge services to protect them from DMA enforcement.

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