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Apple will allow iPhone app downloads from websites in Europe

Apple announced that iPhone customers in the European Union will be able to download apps from websites rather than the App Store or a competing app store app, as part of the latest modification required by the European Commission’s Digital Markets Act.  

This is a significant setback for Apple. For years, the corporation has fought against web downloads of iPhone software, also known as sideloading, claiming security concerns and Apple’s right to govern the user experience. 

The revelation on Tuesday is the latest example of how the Digital Markets Act is forcing Apple to make long-resisted changes to its App Store business practices. The DMA is intended to compel “gatekeepers” – large digital companies such as Apple — to open their platforms to smaller competitors.  

The web download program will launch later this spring and will need developers to achieve “specific criteria,” such as having an app with more than 1 million downloads in Europe. Apple will still charge a fee, it added. 

Apple stated that corporations can also provide an app store for iPhones in Europe, as long as it only allows access to one company’s apps.  

“Distributing apps directly from a website requires responsibility and oversight of the user experience, including the ability to manage apps and provide customer support and refunds,” the company stated on its support page on Tuesday. “Apple will authorize developers after meeting specific criteria and committing to ongoing requirements that help protect users.” 

Under the DMA, Apple was obliged to enable third-party app shops in Europe, reinstated Epic Games’ developer account after a legal struggle, and reversed its decision to ban web app shortcuts on the main iPhone screen. Apple’s actions indicate that the European Commission will be able to successfully govern Apple in the region by threatening fines and other sanctions for noncompliance.  

European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager stated that the European Commission was consulting with Apple’s competitors, such as Spotify, which supported Apple’s recent $1.95 billion EU fine for a related app store practice known as steering, to ensure that Apple’s new policies were in line with the spirit of the law. 

“We will want to hear from third parties,” Vestager told CNBC on Monday. “Do they get what the DMA is supposed to give them, which is an open market?”  

Apple continues to impose a price of fifty Euro cents for software downloads outside of the software Store, including web app downloads. Apple’s App Store payments are a profit center for the company, according to the company’s services segment, which generated $78 billion in revenue in fiscal 2023, including subscriptions and other goods. 

According to Apple, Europe accounts for approximately 7% of its App Store revenue.  

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