EU lawmakers are giving Apple’s arm a final twist to enable third-party app installs in its walled garden - and this time, the Cupertino tech giant has no choice but to comply.
The iPhone maker is already hard at work implementing permissions in iOS 17 for alternate app stores that customers can use to ‘sideload’ third-party apps, like how Android users can install a third-party app file to their device without restrictions, Bloomberg reported this week.
The move comes after the European Union's Digital Markets Act (DMA) took effect last month, requiring so-called ‘gatekeeper’ companies to open up their platforms to third-party app venues.
The change would enable iPhone and iPad users to download software that hasn’t passed Apple’s safety checks for privacy and security, as well as benefit developers looking to monetize products without paying a tribute to the Cupertino giant.
As legislators pressured Apple over the years to soften restrictions inside its ecosystem, the company has repeatedly maintained that sideloading will eventually undermine privacy and security protections built by design into iOS, leaving customers vulnerable to malware infections, scams, spyware and other ills.
As security concerns will likely increase in scale and scope, iPhone and iPad users may soon find it more important to deploy a dedicated security solution on their devices.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says Apple's software engineers and a number of other services employees are opening up "key elements of Apple's platforms." The company is reportedly using a "significant amount of resources" for the change, as it seeks to comply with the new legislation next year with the release of iOS 17 - well ahead of the DMA’s 2024 deadline.
Employees working on the change reportedly said some features may be impacted as a result of the drastic shift in planned development cycles.
Apple is said to be considering implementing new security requirements, similar to those available on macOS where users can tick a box and install software unvetted by the mother ship.
On the one hand, the security implications of app ‘sideloading’ on iOS are very real, as evidenced by cases of malware infections enabled by the practice in the Android ecosystem.
On the other hand, the DMA stipulates that EU watchdogs can fine non-compliant ‘gatekeeper’ companies up to 20% of their global revenue which, in Apple’s case, would extend into the tens of billions of dollars.