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Apple is reportedly preparing to allow third-party app stores on iOS

iOS 17 could bring major changes to Apple's mobile ecosystem.
Apple's new iPhone 11 phones are displayed at the Apple Store in IFC, Central district, Hong Kong, China October 10, 2019, after Apple Inc on Wednesday removed an app that protestors in Hong Kong have used to track police movements from its app store. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
Igor Bonifacic
Igor Bonifacic|@igorbonifacic|December 13, 2022 3:01 PM

Apple is reportedly preparing to open iOS to competing app stores. According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, the company's software and services teams are redesigning the platform to "open up key elements." That effort is likely to end in Apple giving iPhone and iPad users the option to download third-party apps without going through the App Store. In turn, that would allow developers to avoid the company's infamous 30 and 15 percent commissions on payments. Gurman reports the forthcoming charges are primarily designed to placate European Union lawmakers, who recently passed the bloc's sweeping Digital Markets and Services Act, and will be initially implemented on the continent before potentially rolling out to other regions.     

Apple did not immediately respond to Engadget's comment request.  

According to Gurman, Apple plans to have the changes ready to release alongside iOS 17 next year. Companies have until 2024 to be in full compliance with the Digital Markets Act. The legislation is particularly problematic for Apple, as it outlaws many of the speedbumps the company has relied on to make it difficult for consumers to leave iOS. For instance, the act calls for interoperability between different messaging platforms and equal access for outside developers to core operating system features. Critically, it also mandates that platform holders allow for sideloading. 

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Apple has consistently lobbied against sideloading, calling it a security and privacy risk. Gurman reports the company is considering whether it should enforce certain security requirements on software distributed outside the App Store. "Such apps also may need to be verified by Apple — a process that could carry a fee," he suggests.  

There are other major changes that could come to iOS as a direct result of the Digital Markets Act. Apple could open up major APIs and features, including those that control the iPhone's NFC and camera technologies, to outside developers. Historically, only the company's Wallet app and Apple Pay service have had access to the iPhone's NFC chip. What's more, the company is considering whether to drop its longstanding requirement that third-party browsers must use its WebKit framework. Apple may also further open up its Find My Network to competitors like Tile.

At the same time, it appears there are some golden eggs the tech giant may be much more reluctant to give away. Specifically, Gurman reports RCS integration within iMessage is currently not on the table. Google has pushed the messaging protocol for years, going so far as to criticize Apple publically for not adopting it. How likely Apple is to make those same concessions in the US is hard to tell. Gurman notes the work the company is undertaking could "lay the groundwork" for similar changes in other markets. However, while American lawmakers are considering similar legislation to the Digital Markets Act, their version, the Open App Markets Act, has yet to pass.  

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Apple is reportedly preparing to allow third-party app stores on iOS