How Apple Will Finally Allow Third-Party App Sideloading on the iPhone

It'll probably still take its 30 percent cut, though

  • Apple is preparing to add third-party app stores to iOS. 
  • This is almost certainly for compliance with new EU laws set for next year. 
  • Despite Apple's claims, sideloading is not dangerous. 
Someone using a mobile phone a grocery story while they do their shopping.

FG Trade/Getty Images

Apple will soon allow third-party app stores on the iPhone and iPad, thanks to new EU laws. 

The change won't happen tomorrow, but thanks to the EU's Digital Markets Act, which goes into effect next year, Apple's software engineers are hard at work preparing to comply. This effort includes adding 'sideloading' or installing apps from sources other than the official Apple App Store. This follows USB-C, which the EU has forced on phone makers as the standard charging port, and which Apple is expected to add to the iPhone 15 this fall. Finally. 

"Some critics have pointed out that sideloading has been available on the Mac for years without any major security issues, calling into question Apple's reasoning for not allowing it on iOS. Others have highlighted the benefits of being able to install apps from anywhere, which could promote competition and innovation in the app market," software engineer Drew Romero told Lifewire via email. 

Evidently, Sideloading Is Not So Dangerous

Until now, Apple has painted sideloading as dangerous. At the Web Summit 2021, Apple's head of software engineering Craig Federighi called it a "gold rush for the malware industry."

And yet, at the same time, the Mac has allowed users to install any app from anywhere since the beginning. Has this caused a rush of malware on the Mac at any time in its nearly 40 years of life? It has not. 

Someone using a smartphone with digital app icons overlaying the image.

Blue Planet Studio/Getty Images

Consider also that iOS was designed from the beginning to be secure, whereas the Mac was initially created at a time before malware, the internet, or even modern email existed. It's pretty clear that Apple's bluster on this subject probably had more to do with its 30 percent cut of all App Store transactions. 

"Apple's resistance to sideloading was always more about maintaining control over the software market on their devices than about user security. While Apple does have a track record of taking concrete steps to protect users and blocking sideloading did achieve this to some extent, it's hard to deny that they had an ulterior motive here," Ben Michael, attorney at Michael and Associates, told Lifewire via email.

Third-Party Apps Open iPhones Up to So Much More

Given Apple's track record when it comes to avoiding tech-related laws, it is likely to do the bare minimum to comply. There will almost certainly not be icons for alternative app stores on your iPhone's Home screen. You will probably have to dive deep into the Settings app, unlock all kinds of permissions and settings, and you'll then have to somehow get the apps onto the device. 

Apple will probably also still find a way to levy the 30 percent tax it takes from all app transactions (or 15 percent for some smaller developers). When forced to open up its South Korean App Store to third-party in-app-payment systems, Apple eventually added the option but ended up taking an even higher 33 percent cut of sales until it corrected this "error."

But even if Apple makes it hard and keeps charging developers, there is still one significant advantage to going outside the App Store: avoiding Apple's review process. 

Closeup on an iPhone displaying the App screen.

William Hook / Unsplash

If you spend any time reading technology news, you'll know that Apple's app review process is somewhat capricious. The team rejects apps for supposed infractions when plenty of other apps do the same thing. Apps containing web browsers are rejected because they could show, for example, porn—just like any other browser. All while dodgy games aimed at children with predatory in-app purchase systems pop up daily. 

This has a chilling effect on the kind of apps developers are prepared to make. If you're Adobe, you can call up Apple's top brass and get a leg up on the review process. But smaller indie developers may not even bother to invest years of work into an app if they risk not even getting it onto the store. 

By opening up the iOS platform, we may see more complex apps, turning the iPad and iPhone into more versatile, mature computers. 

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