E.U. forces Apple to allow downloads from websites

After years of resistance, the U.S. tech giant complies but will keep charging fees for external downloads.

Apple has announced that iPhone users in the European Union will now have the option to download apps directly from websites, marking a significant shift spurred by the European Commission's Digital Markets Act. This move represents a departure from Apple's longstanding resistance to web downloads, commonly referred to as sideloading, citing concerns over security and the preservation of its user experience.

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Under the new program, slated to commence later this spring, developers must meet specific criteria, such as having an app with over 1 million downloads in Europe, to participate. Apple emphasizes on its blog that it will continue to levy fees for these downloads while maintaining oversight to ensure user protection and satisfactory customer support. 

This adjustment comes amidst a series of concessions compelled by the Digital Markets Act, aimed at compelling major tech companies, including Apple, to foster a more competitive landscape by opening their platforms to smaller competitors.

Notably, Apple has been compelled to allow third-party app stores in Europe, reinstate the developer account of antitrust adversary Epic Games, and retract its prohibition on web app shortcuts on the iPhone's main screen.

Despite these changes, Apple remains steadfast in its commitment to charging fees for app downloads outside of its App Store, including those facilitated through web downloads. This fee structure has been a lucrative aspect of Apple's services business, contributing significantly to its revenue. However, the company asserts that Europe represents a relatively small portion of its overall App Store earnings, just 7%.

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The European Commission’s Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager has promised to closely monitor Apple's compliance with the Digital Markets Act, seeking input from stakeholders like Spotify to ensure that Apple's policies align with the legislative intent of fostering an open market.

This indicates a regulatory climate wherein tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are subject to scrutiny and potential penalties for non-compliance, underscoring the evolving landscape of digital governance in the E.U.

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