iOS 17 may bring a huge new feature that everyone has been clamoring for years to get: the option to sideload apps. No more being limited to the walled garden of the app store!
I’ve already talked about the 5 features to get excited about in iOS 17, but this recent report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has what may quite possibly be the biggest change to iPhone’s software in years.
In more ways than just the hardware, the iPhone 15 could be a paradigm shift for Apple’s smartphone business.
No more app store requirement
It all started when the European Union’s (EU) Digital Markets Act was signed into law on November 1, 2022 (alongside the USB-C requirement). There’s a lot of jargon to it, but fundamentally, it implemented a requirement that “gatekeeper” companies open up their platforms and services to third party developers.
This is a tectonic shift for the way Apple has usually done its business — locking everything down for a seamless user experience, and taking a cut of app sales/subscriptions for the pleasure. But as the EU is capable of fining companies up to 20% of its global revenue should they not follow the rules, the Cupertino-based company is set to comply.
So, in just a few months time, you could start to see new third party app stores become available for the iPhone, alongside the option to just download them directly from developer websites. That also means the developer could be taking home a lot more of their app sales revenue than before too!
The future is bright, but is it secure?
This opens up a lot of doors that have previously been closed before. The first obvious one to talk about is the possibility of Fortnite coming back to the iPhone. A legal battle between Epic and Apple ended iPhone support for the game, but this change in the way iOS works means the runway is now clear for the battle royale spectacle to make a landing back on Apple’s turf.
Not only that, but one particularly exciting one for me is Microsoft can now skirt around the app store’s ruling against its game pass streaming app. If you remember, Apple ruled the former xCloud app as breaking its rules for trying to run an app store alternative, and made it a requirement for Xbox to put each individual game on its store as individual apps.
With iOS 17, however, that wouldn’t be a problem anymore. And we could very well see a lot more iPhone users make the most of their Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
However, what happens in terms of security? Sideloading apps on Android has shown more benefits than drawbacks, but it has led to plenty of vulnerabilities and data exposures that we’ve reported ad nauseum about.
Apple does have a fix to this, though, and it's looking at the way that the Mac works. Software that is downloaded outside of the app store goes through a verification system on the system itself, which runs a background check of all the files on the app itself.
Gurman confirmed this is what Apple was looking to do for the iPhone as well in a December 2022 report. Plus, the company could charge a fee for this security check service to make up for the revenue shortfall it could have made in its app store sales cut.
There are a lot of things that Android phones can do better than an iPhone, but the ability to sideload apps was always one fundamental blow to Apple’s slab. Normally, you are restricted to only the iOS app store for downloading software, with no option to sideload anything from anywhere else.
Now, however, thanks to the EU, we may very well see the iPhone finally open up support to third party app stores. This could open the doors to so many apps and games that we can’t get access to because of Apple’s stricter regulations around app store submissions.
The only question now is how will Apple deal with the security side of this? Sure, the idea is sound for security checks, but it's going to be quite a task to keep on top of any workarounds. Time will tell what else comes in iOS 17 to tackle that.
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Jason brings a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag. He takes a particular interest in writing articles and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.