Apple’s announcement of major app ecosystem changes for the European Union signals one of the biggest shifts we’ve seen in the mobile app landscape. As a global tech consultancy that has been following the iOS and broader tech space for over 15 years, these rules seem to have profound implications for developers, consumers and the tech giants themselves.
At a high level, by loosening restrictions imposed for years in areas like app distribution, payments and technology usage, Apple is surrendering unprecedented control. This control has long been a cornerstone of its rigidly closed iOS mobile platform. But the new EU Digital Market Act (DMA) rules effective in March 2024 are now forcing Apple’s hand. And the results could re-shape the future of digital experiences across Europe.
Alternative app stores will now stand shoulder to shoulder with Apple’s industry leading App Store within the iOS platform gates. Smaller stores can curate offerings tailored to niches Apple neglects. Or larger challengers can leverage existing scale with gaming, messaging and other apps to accelerate adoption. This injects choice into what device owners see and install, beyond Apple’s singular lens.
For developers targeting EU users, the impact cannot be overstated. The requirement to strictly use Apple’s App Store and in-app purchase system has been both a huge boon in finding users easily as well as a major cost burden. Now developers can leverage alternative app stores, circumventing Apple’s fees and content review process. This could turbo-charge growth, especially for smaller devs.
Payment flexibility also brings major benefits. Integration hassles aside from supporting new providers, the cost savings could be dramatic if commissions dip into single digits. Combined with alternate distribution channels, the economics of sustaining an EU app business just improved tremendously.
Users also come out as winners. The alternative NFC payment options to Apple Pay provide a healthy competition and unprecedented flexibility. At the same time, more devs may be able to survive and thrive by passing on cost savings through subscriptions and in-app purchases. And alternate stores could focus on specific segments like gaming or unique curation, beyond Apple’s one-size-fits-all approach. Defaults may change to allow new apps as preferred tools for maps, browsers or emails.
However, risks still exist. Apple argues its tight control over apps has delivered unparalleled security, privacy and simplicity for users to date. Opening new distribution channels for apps skipping its review could increase harmful, fraudulent or unstable experiences for users. Fragmentation within payment systems can also introduce complexity and pitfalls. Users oriented towards convenience may find alternate defaults confusing as well.
Importantly, Apple is still retaining oversight over key app characteristics even when distributed through third-party stores:
- Accuracy – Apps must accurately describe functionality and costs
- Functionality – Apps need to be stable and performant
- Safety – Apps cannot promote harm
- Security – Apps must be free from malware and unauthorised access
- Privacy – User data collection must be transparent
So alternative stores will not be complete free-for-alls. But Apple’s content restrictions on areas like adult materials could be loosened.
Ultimately some developers may fret at continued Apple influence even outside its walls. But keeping users safe remains crucial with expanded app sources that skip App Store reviews. Only if Apple oversteps into anti-competitive behaviour would added scrutiny resume.
These changes are currently geared for the EU only and don’t yet impact the UK. But with similar Digital Markets Act proposals in the works locally, we can assume the UK app ecosystem could follow suit within a few years. This sets up a scenario where developers must navigate distinct distribution and payment rules tailored per major Western market. Significant engineering resources will be required to build compliant apps catering to usage differing by geography. And the multiplying permutations of guidelines will keep even the best legal teams on their toes.
Google received a $4.3 billion EU antitrust fine in 2018 centred on Android’s approach to browsers and search defaults. With Apple voluntarily relinquishing similar mobile platform control now, Google could also soon face pressure to open up Android more substantially.
Whether these specific DMA changes benefit or harm consumers comes down to execution. If simplicity and coherence guide Apple’s implementation, risks should remain muted. By 2025, it is expected that Europe’s app landscape will look radically different from the norm established when Apple first launched the App Store.