No App Store needed: Apple caves, will allow sideloading in EU

Think this'll help you escape the fees? Nope – Apple still wants a cut for letting devs install things on user devices

Apple's compliance measures with the EU's Digital Markets Act haven't exactly been universally well received, so the iMaker is making a few tweaks to appease the software-developing masses. 

In a post to its developer site today, Apple said it is modifying not only how developers can distribute apps, but also changing the structure of alternative app marketplaces and linking out for purchases that are made away from the official iOS App Store. 

Let's get the quick news out of the way first, starting with changes to alternative app marketplaces. Whereas previously alternative app marketplaces in the EU had to allow apps from other devs, Apple now says that marketplaces "can choose to offer a catalog of apps solely from the developer of the marketplace." 

Think a Meta market that contains just Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and the like – but not an Epic Games store, as developers still need to be part of the Apple Developer Program. 

Apple also loosened its link-out rules, and will now allow developers pushing users outside the App Store for purchases to display their offers however they want. Up until now, developers had to use Apple-provided design templates to "optimize for key purchase and promotion use cases," Cupertino said. Those templates are now optional.

Screw app marketplaces - let's distribute on the web

The biggest announcement Apple made was the one that didn't go live today: Allowing developers to distribute apps directly from their websites. Dubbed "Web Distribution," Apple said the feature will be available following a software update later in the spring.

The new function will provide APIs "that facilitate the distribution of developers' apps from the web, integrate with system functionality, back up and restore users' apps, and more," Apple explained on a new developer support page.

"Using App Store Connect, developers can easily download signed binary assets and host them on their website for distribution," the company added. Users will have to give the OK for a developer to install apps on their device and this will require users to be presented with an App Store-esque system sheet that includes information about the app submitted to Apple.

Of course, not everyone will qualify for Web Distribution, which is limited to companies enrolled in the Apple Dev Program with a registration location based in an EU nation, and in good standing (that includes Epic again... for now). Developers distributing apps on the web also can't offer anyone else's software, have to publish transparent data collection policies, "be responsive to communications from Apple," and have to handle their own taxes. 

And let's not forget Apple always ensures it gets a slice of the pie. Like Apple's previously announced DMA provisions, devs distributing apps via the web will still be subject to a Core Technology Fee that will force them to pay €0.50 for each first annual install over one million in the past 12 months. That could add up quickly for big-name devs, though waivers are available for nonprofits, educational institutions and government entities.

As it has previously, Apple justified this fee by saying it "reflects the value Apple provides developers through ongoing investments in the tools, technologies, and services that enable them to build and share innovative apps with users around the world." ®

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