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Apple Faces Regulatory Pressure: Sideloading APKs on iPhones Becomes a Reality with iOS 17.2

Apple, a global tech behemoth, commands economic influence comparable to that of entire nations. Despite its colossal stature, the company is not immune to regulatory oversight. Last year, influenced by a European Union decision, Apple transitioned from the Lightning port to the USB-C port in the iPhone 15 series. Now, in response to another EU directive, the company is revisiting a longstanding policy. Starting next year, iPhone users will have the ability to install APKs.

Challenging Apple’s App Store Monopoly

The European Union’s recent decision, embodied in the Digital Markets Act enacted on November 1, 2022, has set in motion a shift that challenges Apple’s dominance over its App Store. For Android users, installing applications through APK files outside the Google Play Store is a familiar practice. However, iPhone users have been bound by Apple’s rules, with no alternative to the App Store. The new regulation empowers Apple users to sideload applications, a practice colloquially referred to as “installing APKs on the iPhone.”

Understanding the Technicalities

It’s important to note that the term “installing APK on the iPhone” is a simplification. APK, which stands for Android Package Kit, is specific to the Android platform. The iOS equivalent is IPA (iOS App Store Package), a file format used for distributing iOS applications. Both APKs and IPAs contain an application’s code, images, and resources. The term for installing applications outside the official app store is sideloading.

Enforcement Timeline

While the law is already in effect, Apple has requested additional time, citing unreadiness in its systems. The EU has granted this extension, with the condition that the feature must be implemented no later than the iOS 17.2 update in 2024. Non-compliance could expose Apple to penalties amounting to 20% of its global revenue, potentially leading to sales bans in Europe.

Apple’s Stance on Sideloading

Apple has historically resisted sideloading, citing potential security vulnerabilities as a primary concern. The company argues that iPhones, with their closed-system design, are more secure than Android devices. Allowing external installations could compromise this security.

Implications for the App Store Economy

The introduction of sideloading may disrupt the established App Store economy, where Apple currently charges a commission ranging from 15% to 30% on app earnings. App developers, subject to the so-called “Apple Tax,” could potentially find ways to circumvent these charges.

Balancing Act for Apple

While sideloading offers users newfound flexibility, Apple faces a delicate balance. Opening the door to pirated installations may introduce complications for app developers. The future relationship between Apple and App Store developers remains uncertain, but the ability to install APKs on the iPhone represents a positive development for users amidst this evolving landscape.

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Last modified: November 14, 2023

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