Apple is set to roll out significant changes to its App Store and iOS operating system in the European Union, responding to the bloc’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). This legislation, targeting major tech companies identified as “gatekeepers,” is reshaping how Apple operates in the EU, particularly in terms of app distribution and payment processing.
New Horizons: Sideloading and Alternative Marketplaces
A key change is the allowance of sideloading and the introduction of alternative app marketplaces. This move, long resisted by Apple due to concerns over security and privacy risks, marks a significant departure from its tightly controlled ecosystem.
Apple has expressed apprehension that these changes could open new avenues for malware, fraud, and scams, posing threats to user privacy and security. Despite these concerns, Apple has introduced iOS 17.4 in beta to help developers adapt to the upcoming changes, which include:
- New frameworks and APIs to support alternative app marketplaces and browser engines.
- An interoperability request form for developers seeking additional integration with iPhone and iOS hardware and software features.
- Expanded data portability options for EU users on Apple’s Data & Privacy site.
The Controversial Core Technology Fee
In parallel with these changes, Apple is introducing new business terms, including a “Core Technology Fee.” This fee, set at €0.50 for each first annual install per year over a 1 million threshold, applies to apps distributed both on the App Store and alternative marketplaces.
It’s seen as a way for Apple to maintain revenue streams, even when developers opt for alternative distribution or payment methods. These terms also include a reduction in Apple’s commission for digital purchases on the App Store, with the rate dropping to either 17% or 10%, depending on the scenario.
Epic Games’ Reaction and the Return of Fortnite
These developments have particular implications for companies like Epic Games, which has been at odds with Apple over its iOS practices. Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, criticized Apple’s new EU rules, labeling them as “hot garbage” and a “devious new instance of Malicious Compliance.” He expressed concerns that these rules could still limit competition and innovation.
Despite Sweeney’s criticism, Epic Games is planning to launch a native iOS version of the Epic Games Store and reintroduce Fortnite to iOS devices in the EU. Fortnite has been unavailable on iOS since August 2020 due to disputes over App Store payment mechanisms. The game’s return to iOS, albeit in the EU, marks a significant moment in the ongoing saga between Apple and Epic Games.
As Apple gears up to comply with the DMA by the March deadline, it’s clear that the tech giant is walking a tightrope between adhering to new regulations and maintaining its ecosystem’s security and revenue streams. The success of these changes and their acceptance by EU regulators will be crucial in setting precedents for how tech giants operate in heavily regulated environments.