Official: EU users can swerve App Store and download iOS apps from the web

Anticompetitive remedies? We've heard of them

Apple is turning on Web Distribution for iOS apps, allowing EU users to download applications directly from developer websites.

The update applies only to users in the European Union (EU) and, when you upgrade to iOS 17.5 beta 2, it opens up APIs "that facilitate the distribution of developers' apps from the web, integrate with system functionality, back up and restore users' apps, and more."

Apple decided it would allow developers to distribute apps directly from their websites in March this year – not out of the goodness of its heart but in the hopes of satisfying European regulators, which designated Apple as a gatekeeper under the European Union's Digital Markets Act (DMA) in relation to iOS, App Store and Safari. The DMA requires Apple to offer an alternative to iPhone's App Store as well as to allow devs to opt out of using its in-app payment system, from which Apple takes a hefty 30 percent cut from those that genereate in excess of $1m revenue annually.

The web distribution move is a substantial change for Apple, which would prefer users not to stray away from its app store's walled garden. However, it is also not a headfirst dive into the freewheeling world of sideloading; there are restrictions, and Apple will still expect a fee.

Users must overcome a few hurdles to install apps from a developer's website. First, the user must approve the developer to install apps via Settings on their iPhone. Then, prior to the app's installation, the user will be shown the information submitted by the developer for Apple to review – data such as the app's name, the developer's name, and so on.

Once this is done, the app will then install. An app installed this way should also receive automatic updates, just as if it had come from an app store.

For developers, things are a bit trickier. The app itself must meet Notarization requirements and can only be installed from a website domain registered in App Store Connect. The developer must also have an app that has had more than one million first annual installs in the EU in the prior calendar year and "been a member in good standing of the Apple Developer Program" for at least two continuous years.

Additionally, there is a fee to be paid, and even though "distributing apps directly from a website requires responsibility for and oversight of the user experience, including the ability to manage apps and provide customer support and refunds" from the developer, Apple will still demand its slice of the pie via a Core Technology Fee of €0.50 for each first annual install over one million in the past 12 months.

Apple justifies this as something that "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."

Apple is already subject to an investigation by the European Commission (EC) under the Digital Markets Act, and the arrival of Web Distribution is at least part of its response to pressure from lawmakers. ®

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