The implementation of the new European legislation – the Digital Markets Act (DMA) – by the companies concerned is awaited. Seven companies have confirmed this situation, including Apple. This law aims to change a fundamental aspect of the operating system of our iPhones or iPads, but it may fail. Because what if Apple doesn’t allow third-party stores on iOS?
Two key points to ensure that we can continue to have secure systems
Let’s put that in context. After years of work, the European Union has approved a law a forcing Apple to allow installing apps from outside the App Store on iPhones and iPads. According to the published text, the Cupertino company will have until March 5 next year to allow third-party app stores, but the reality is that it could be much, much later before that happens.
Let’s put that in context. What makes the iPhone what it is today is largely due to the fact that distribution of apps is exclusively through the App Store. This allows Apple to enforce rules on security, design and best practices, ensuring low-quality or deceptive apps they don’t make their way onto our devices. Some argue that Apple wants to maintain the App Store as an exclusive software distribution channel to collect a 15% (in some cases 30%) commission on certain purchases, excluding advertising, reading/streaming apps or other monetization methods. However, there’s a much more significant reason for the company: the security of millions of iPhones and iPads around the world.
Neither Apple nor its users are interested in being forced to access applications outside the secure environment of the App Store simply because those apps don’t want to be there. The reality is that this may never materialize and there are two key elements to support this statement.
First, there are Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). These are applications installed via a web browser. Examples include Twitter or entire game catalogs like the now-defunct Google Stadia. PWAs have gained significant attention with the arrival of iOS 17 and macOS Sonoma. On Mac they are available for the first time (Instagram now has a Mac app) and on iPhone they get the ability to send notifications with sound and alerts, putting them on par with other native apps in terms of this important feature.
The second key element supporting this claim is the law itself. The text says it clearly the company must ensure the security of its software and hardwareand therefore, our data and may implement appropriate and proportionate measures to prevent software other than the App Store from compromising the level of security of the systems.
Between these two points, the there are ingredients for a long legal debate. When March 5 arrives, Apple may, and this is speculative, take no action. PWAs could be considered sufficient for users to install any desired app from outside the App Store. If these PWAs offer the necessary catalog, they could be considered third-party app stores.
If the European Union does not agree with Apple’s hypothetical position, the argument of maintaining system security becomes a significant factor. And if none of this works, it’s important to remember that the wheels of justice turn slowly. Years can pass after March 5th without any compromise to the security of our iPhones or iPads.
Speaking of security, this is an argument Craig Federighi actually brought up during his trial against Epic Games. He said that on Macs, where apps can be installed without any supervision, the presence of malware is completely unacceptable compared to the level of security on iOS. It is a reality that cannot be ignored and that could undermine the proposal made by the European Union, by making it another attempt to interfere in corporate decisions. As the judge in the Epic Games case mentioned earlier, these decisions don’t belong to the courts or lawmakers, but rather to the companies themselves. So in the end, what if Apple doesn’t allow third-party stores on iOS?
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