Apple is set to make some changes to how apps are distributed on its smartphones, ahead of a March 6 deadline before the European Union’s Digital Markets Act regulations go into effect. The iPhone maker is changing how developers can offer applications on iOS, and will allow users in the EU to install apps from third-party marketplaces. However, Apple only plans to enable this functionality on iOS in the EU, and customers on iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS, will have to rely on the App Store to download apps.
The Cupertino company recently detailed all of the changes coming to iOS 17.4, including support for alternative app marketplaces on an iPhone, app notarisation to keep users safe, support for third party browser engines, and opening up its Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to more apps. However, all of these changes will be limited to iOS (via MacRumors), which means that your experience on different Apple devices will vary.
The EU’s Digital Markets Act will force Apple to open up iOS to allow third-party app stores, but the regulations do not cover iPadOS, which is a distinct operating system. As a result, all of the sideloading-related changes coming to users in the EU won’t apply to iPad owners, who will continue to get their apps from the App Store.
While app sideloading and third-party marketplaces aren’t coming to the iPad, Firefox Mozilla has highlighted another issue with Apple’s changes before the DMA deadline. As part of the DMA, Apple will allow browsers like Firefox and Chrome to use their own engines — they were previously using Safari’s WebKit engine — but these changes will remain limited to iOS. Mozilla told The Verge that the non-profit would need to develop one version of Firefox with its own engine, and one with Safari’s engine for iPad users in the EU.
iOS 17.4 is also expected to bring one more change related to the DMA — access to NFC hardware for third party apps. Until now, only Apple Pay supported contactless payments on an iPhone, but this is set to change in the EU. Users will soon be able to set third-party apps as the default for making contactless payments, via the phone’s NFC technology. This change will also be limited to iOS, and will be accessible in the EU, just like the other changes being introduced by the company.