As Bloomberg reports, citing informed sources, Apple employees are working on changes to iOS that will allow installing applications on the iPhone from outside the Apple App Store. The Cupertino-based company intends to implement these changes by 2024 in response to EU regulatory requirements such as the Digital Markets Act. The changes could begin rolling out late next year with the release of iOS 17.
This would mark a departure from Apple’s longstanding position that third-party app stores and app downloads from third-party sources pose a security and privacy threat to iPhone owners. At the same time, Apple is studying ways to limit users’ access to potentially malicious software. For example, the company is discussing the possibility of Apple employees “checking” external applications with special security requirements. The company could take a similar approach to the Mac situation where users can install any app, but if the app hasn’t been vetted by Apple, it can be difficult to install.
According to Bloomberg’s sources, the initiative is not popular within the company, even though it involves many people from several teams. Some employees agree with the company’s line on privacy and security. Others believe it will distract from adding new features or solving other software problems.
The European Digital Markets Act requires the opening of some features via APIs to third-party developers that were previously only available to Apple. For example, this may affect contactless payments and camera functions.
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Regulators have also called for interoperability between messaging systems such as iMessage. However, Apple has no concrete plans in this regard yet due to concerns that these changes could compromise end-to-end encryption and other privacy and security features.
Another provision of the Digital Markets Act requires Apple to allow developers to add third-party payment systems to apps. The company has also not reached a final decision on this issue, although it has made some concessions as part of an agreement with the Japanese government, allowing some apps to direct users to online payment systems.
All of these changes could affect Apple’s bottom line. Bloomberg suggests that the changes may only take effect in Europe and will not affect users in North America or other regions not covered by the European Digital Markets Act.