Apple will allow EU-based users of its devices to download apps without going through its app store, as the tech giant reluctantly moves to comply with the bloc’s incoming Digital Markets Act (DMA).
Apple will also give iPhone and iPad users a range of browsers to choose from as their default and allow the use of alternative payment systems to Apple Pay. The sweeping changes will come into effect for all new Apple devices purchased in the EU from March of this year.
In theory, this could see major competitors like Google’s Play Store becoming available on Apple devices.
Currently, Apple forces users of its devices to exclusively access apps through its App Store. App developers must pay Apple up to 30% commission just to exist on the App Store — or risk losing access to the billion-plus users of Apple devices.
Dismantling monopolies like these is exactly what the EU’s new pro-competition law was designed to do. One of Apple’s requirements under the DMA is ending its mandatory 30% fee for in-app purchases. The tech giant must also allow consumers to uninstall pre-installed apps and replace them with third-party ones.
These new rules will enable users of apps like Spotify to purchase audiobooks and subscriptions directly in-app. The music streaming giant could then bypass the 30% commission, a fee which it says it has been forced to “pass on to customers.”
While good news for some, Apple made it clear it is furious about the new features. “The DMA requires changes to this system that bring greater risks to users and developers,” it said. “This includes new avenues for malware, fraud and scams, illicit and harmful content, and other privacy and security threats.”
The company has always insisted, without any particular evidence, that allowing other engines to operate on its devices is a security and performance risk.
Changes for developers
Perhaps the most affected by the changes are developers, who will be able to take payments and distribute apps from outside of the App Store for the first time.
Apple is also changing its commission structure so that developers will pay 17% on subscriptions and in-app purchases with the fee reducing to 10% for “most developers” after the first year.
But of course, there’s a catch. For the first time, developers who don’t exclusively use the App Store will be charged a “core technology fee” of €0.50 for each app installation, which would apply to apps with 1 million downloads or more.
According to Apple, the new fee structure will result in most developers paying the company less with less than they currently do, since the core technology fee will have the greatest impact on larger developers.
However, this change is likely to be economically challenging for some sectors like free-to-play gaming that have a small core of users who pay money and many more who do not.
Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games, described the changes on X as “hot garbage.” Epic, the maker of free-to-play game Fortnite, famously withdrew its hit game from the App Store after disagreeing with its policies.
“They are forcing developers to choose between App Store exclusivity and the store terms, which will be illegal under DMA, or accept a new also-illegal anticompetitive scheme rife with new Junk Fees on downloads and new Apple taxes on payments they don’t process,” he said.