Apple Announces Overhaul of App Store Operations in Europe

Apple has officially announced significant modifications to its App Store operations in Europe, marking a departure from policies maintained since the inception of the iPhone in 2007. These adjustments are in response to upcoming European Union (EU) legislation. As of March, Apple will permit users within the EU to download applications and conduct transactions from sources beyond the confines of its App Store.

Traditionally, iPhone users have been restricted to installing apps exclusively from the App Store, an approach that Apple adopted to meticulously vet all software for security, unauthorized functionalities, and quality. Nevertheless, critics argue that Apple’s imposition of a 30% commission on all digital purchases made through the App Store constitutes a monopolistic practice.

To sidestep this mandatory commission, various companies, such as Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify, have implemented workarounds. For example, Netflix doesn’t allow new customers to subscribe through its iPhone app, and Spotify temporarily charged users more for in-app subscriptions. Now, these practices are set to change in Europe.

Apple’s forthcoming changes will be incorporated into the next major iPhone update—iOS 17.4—and will be applicable to the 27 EU member states. This move precedes the enactment of the EU’s Digital Markets Act on March 7, 2024. However, it’s worth noting that iPhone owners in the UK will remain subject to the existing rules for the time being.

Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, emphasized that the company remains committed to user safety. He stated that the alterations align with the Digital Markets Act’s requirements in the EU and aim to protect users from increased privacy and security risks. Importantly, developers have the option to maintain the current business terms if they prefer.

Key Changes Introduced with iOS 17.4:

External App Sources: iPhone users can download apps from external sources, including websites or alternative app marketplaces operated by competitors like Microsoft.

Default Web Browsers: Apple will allow users to set Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, and other popular browsers as their default web browser on the iPhone.

Browser Engines: Developers can use engines other than Apple’s WebKit to build web browsers for the iPhone, potentially leading to improved performance and functionality.

NFC Access: App creators gain access to the iPhone’s NFC chip for wireless payments outside of Apple Pay, enabling tap-to-pay transactions.

While these changes enhance user flexibility, Apple will introduce a new review process named “Notarization” to ensure the security of iOS app distribution. This process, combining automation and human reviewers, will scan for malware and potential threats. Developers will be limited to distributing a single version of their iOS app across different app stores, preventing exclusive features for apps outside the Apple App Store.

Despite the adjustments, Apple aims to maintain a vigilant approach to app distribution, ensuring a balance between openness and user safety. This transformation is expected to foster a more competitive app market on iOS, allowing rival companies to establish their digital storefronts on iPhones. Microsoft, among others, has already expressed intentions to launch a separate store on iOS for mobile games in line with the forthcoming Digital Markets Act legislation.