Apple announces sweeping EU App Store policy changes—including sideloading

Enlarge / The iPhone 15 lineup.

To comply with European Union regulations, Apple has introduced sweeping changes that make iOS and Apple’s other operating systems more open. The changes are far-reaching and touch many parts of the user experience on the iPhone. They’ll be coming as part of iOS 17.4 in March.

Apple will introduce “new APIs and tools that enable developers to offer their iOS apps for download from alternative app marketplaces,” as well as a new framework and set of APIs that allow third parties to set up and manage those stores—essentially new forms of apps that can download other apps without going through the App Store. That includes the ability to manage updates for other developers’ apps that are distributed through the marketplaces.

The company will also offer APIs and a new framework for third-party web browsers to use browser engines other than Safari’s WebKit. Until now, browsers like Chrome and Firefox were still built on top of Apple’s tech. They essentially were mobile Safari, but with bookmarks and other features tied to alternative desktop browsers.

The changes also extend to NFC technology and contactless payments. Previously, only Apple Pay could fully access those features on the iPhone. Now, Apple will introduce new APIs that will let developers of banking and wallet apps gain more comparable access.

Developers will have new options for using alternative payment service providers within apps and for directing users to complete payments on external websites via link-outs. They’ll be able to use their apps to tell users about promotions and deals that are offered outside of those apps. (Apple warns that it will not be able to provide refunds or support for customers who purchased something outside its own payment system.)

Apple says it will give users in the European Union the ability to pick default App Stores or default contactless payment apps, just like they already can for email clients or web browsers. EU users will be prompted to pick a default browser when they first open Safari in iOS 17.4 or later, too.

Developers can “submit additional requests for interoperability with iPhone and iOS hardware and software features” via a new form.

All of the above changes impact only the EU; Apple won’t bring them to the United States or other regions at this time. There is one notable change that extends beyond Europe, though: Apple says that “developers can now submit a single app with the capability to stream all of the games offered in their catalog.” That opens the door for services like Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass or Nvidia’s GeForce Now.

Apple notes that “each experience made available in an app on the App Store will be required to adhere to all App Store Review Guidelines,” which could still pose some barriers for game streamers.

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