Anyone who owns an iPhone knows that the only way to install an app on it is to do so via the App Store, something that has long proven to be an issue for both users and developers. But that could be about to change, with a new report claiming that Apple is working to enable the sideloading of apps for the first time - although it's likely that will only apply to users who happen to have bought their iPhone in the European Union. The report, in Mark Gurman's weekly Power On newsletter, claims that Apple will enable sideloading in the first half of 2024. Gurman is well-connected and could well have information not normally in the public domain.
Sideloading is installing apps outside of the App Store, something that is currently impossible. But an EU ruling means that Apple will be forced to open the iPhone up to sideloading as part of the Digital Markets Act, or DMA. That act requires that so-called gatekeepers, like Apple, must make their services and devices more interoperable than they otherwise might be. One instance of that is to allow apps to be installed via means other than Apple's App Store. It's argued that will give users more choice, while developers will be able to offer their apps without having to give Apple a cut of their income. Currently, Apple takes 15% or 30% of all App Store transactions, something that previously saw Epic Games and the popular Fortnite game kicked out of the store.
Epic Games famously bypassed Apple's in-app purchase system by allowing V-Bucks to be bought via the game's in-app web browser. That was against Apple's rules and Fortnite was banned as a result. However, once sideloading is allowed Epic Games will be able to offer Fortnite via its own Epic Games Store on iPhones and iPads.
There is, however, a catch to note. Because this ruling will only affect iPhones in the EU, it's likely that Apple will only allow sideloading in its member countries. That means that users in the United States, the UK, and non-EU countries will be left with no option but to use the App Store.
It's hoped that might change, though. with other countries and lawmakers following the EU's lead to force Apple to bring sideloading to their part of the world.
As for the DMA, that's also taking a good look at other aspects of the iPhone including iMessage. If the European Commission decides that iMessage should be classed as a gatekeeper it's possible Apple will be forced to make it interoperable with similar services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.