Sideloading on iPhone? OK, but Apple still plans to charge fees and review apps

If Apple wants to maintain some control over - and revenue from - iOS apps after the Digital Markets Act takes effect, the company needs to make some changes by March.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Scrolling through iPhone
Image: Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The European Union's Digital Markets Act (DMA) requires Apple to make even more changes to how it does things. The company is being forced to allow sideloading apps, though apparently it still plans to charge fees and review these apps. 

The DMA aims to reduce major tech companies' control over digital markets and  to increase competition. As part of DMA compliance, Apple plans to announce the ability to sideload apps on iOS, which it will allow in Europe effective with iOS 17.4. No word yet on when sideloading will be allowed in the US. 

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According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple's response to this is to create new fees, restrictions, and review processes for sideloaded apps.

Apple doesn't officially allow sideloading apps yet. Sideloading on iOS entails downloading and installing apps outside the company's official App Store; this is something that Android users can do. Apple's prohibition against sideloading has given the company near total control of the apps downloaded in the iOS ecosystem, with Apple ensuring that each app is reviewed for security and content guidelines. 

Beyond ensuring security compliance, however, there's the question of Apple's revenue from the App Store. Apple typically takes a 27%-30% commission on sales of paid apps, in-app purchases, and subscriptions -- with few exceptions. This means that an app costing $1 typically will yield Apple $0.30 and the app developers $0.70 just to run on iOS.

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Whether Apple will charge fees from sideloaded apps with its commission-based model or another model isn't entirely clear. Nor is it clear how Apple plans to conduct the review process.  

Apple's restrictive method of not allowing sideloaded apps, its rigorous review process, and its commission-based App Store revenue have landed it in the middle of controversies and legal battles more than once. Epic Games has been battling Apple for years over the tech giant's commission requirements.

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Time is of the essence for Apple to make some changes, however. The DMA's implementation deadline is March, so Apple will likely release iOS 17.4 in Europe by then. 

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