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EU antitrust laws might force Apple to allow third-party app stores on iPhone

iPhone 13 Pro Display

Apple has never allowed third-party app stores on iPhone or iPad, and the company has had to fight against increasing pressure to do so. The battle over Fortnite, one that Apple largely won, is one such example. Other examples are the new laws in Korea and the Netherlands forcing Apple to allow third-party payment systems for apps or specific apps, respectively.

But the European Union might force Apple to embrace third-party app stores on iPhone. Similarly, the EU’s regulatory body might force Apple to let people install apps on iPhones from any source (aka sideloading), much like what’s possible on computers.

Why third-party app stores on iPhone might be a bad idea

Apple has often explained that the security and privacy features it builds into the iPhone are the main reasons why it’s against third-party app stores on iPhone.

As an iPhone user, I’ve previously explained that support for third-party app stores on the iPhone (and Android) isn’t something I’d need or use. It all boils down to the same security and privacy matters that Apple advertises. But it’s also about convenience.

Apple might be operating a walled garden, where it’s dictating terms to developers and imposing rules and fees. But Apple also safeguards transactions and protects the user’s privacy. Not to mention that the whole digital content purchasing is extremely user-friendly.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Main
Apple iPhone 12 Pro with display turned on. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

The iPhone security and privacy aspects alone are the most important here, compared to computers.

Almost everybody has phones, whereas not everyone operates traditional computers. Therefore, it’s more important to ensure the safety of billions of mobile users, not all of them computer-savvy enough to understand the dangers that might come from third-party app stores on iPhone (and Android). Laptop and desktop users might be more trained to safely install apps from anywhere on the internet.

But the EU’s new rules might change all that.

The EU’s new laws

The EU isn’t the only regulatory body fighting against the power of Big Tech. And the European Parliament just adopted two bills that the European Commission proposed in December 2020. These are the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), or the Digital Services Package.

The Council of the European Union now has to adopt the two bills formally. After that, they’ll be published in the Official Journal. The acts will enter into force 20 days after publication this autumn.

Apple isn’t officially named in the new laws, as they propose new frameworks for “gatekeepers” in the digital sector. But Apple will likely be deemed one such gatekeeper.

Apple iPhone 13 Software
Apple iPhone 13 apps. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

The EU explains some of the “dos” it will impose on gatekeepers. Under the DMA rules, Apple would have to open the iPhone to third-party app stores.

  • Allow end users end-users to easily un-install pre-installed apps or change default settings on operating systems, virtual assistants or web browsers that steer them to the products and services of the gatekeeper and provide choice screens for key services;
  • Allow end-users to install third-party apps or app stores that use or interoperate with the operating system of the gatekeeper;
  • Allow end-users to unsubscribe from core platform services of the gatekeeper as easily as they subscribe to them;
  • Allow third parties to inter-operate with the gatekeeper’s own services;
  • Allow business users to promote their offers and conclude contracts with their customers outside the gatekeeper’s platform;

When will third-party app stores come to iPhone?

Should Apple fail to comply with the new rules, it’ll risk fines of up to 10% of the company’s total worldwide annual turnover. The percentage goes up to 20% for repeated offenses.

We’ll have to wait for the EU to provide more specifics about the tech giants it deems gatekeepers. After that, companies like Apple will probably work under a deadline to comply with the new rules. Adding third-party app store support to the iPhone won’t happen overnight.


More Apple coverage: For more Apple news, visit our iPhone 14 guide.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.