Forward-looking: Apple is reportedly working on allowing iPhone users in the European Union to sideload apps onto their phones to comply with the provisions of the Digital Markets Act (DMA). However, the feature is likely to be restricted to the EU and inaccessible to virtually everyone else.
The news comes from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who claims that sideloading will be rolled out to iPhone owners in H1 2024, enabling them to install apps from third-party app stores and websites. The feature has long been available on Android devices, where users can download apps and games from virtually anywhere after enabling a simple setting.
It is worth noting that earlier reports claimed the feature might arrive this month with iOS 17.2, but if Gurman's assertion is accurate, it would mean that iPhone owners will have to wait a little bit longer. When it finally does launch, it is also expected to bring some changes to Apple's payments platform and the Messages app, as required by the DMA.
According to Gurman, EU users will be able to sideload apps through a "highly controlled system," suggesting that Apple will still employ stringent measures to ensure that no app can get on an iPhone without its explicit consent.
Apple executives, including CEO Tim Cook, have often spoken out against the EU for forcing it to allow sideloading, which they claim could create a security risk. During a speech last year, Cook even claimed that the feature could create a privacy nightmare by allowing companies to more easily exploit user data.
It is worth noting that Apple has already had to make some changes to its iPhone hardware this year due to EU regulations. After using the Lightning connector on iPhones for over a decade, the company switched to USB-C with the iPhone 15 to comply with new EU legislation that requires all mobile gadgets sold in the region to use USB-C ports for wired charging by autumn 2024.
The European Union passed the DMA last year with a view towards rooting out monopolistic trade practices by tech behemoths such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Meta, among others. According to the EU, large technology companies act as "gatekeepers" in digital markets and need government regulations to ensure that they behave in a manner that's fair for their competitors, as well as consumers.