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Apple has a cheeky new plan to protect its App Store

Peter Kafka   

Apple has a cheeky new plan to protect its App Store
  • Courts and regulators around the world are trying to get Apple to open up its App Store.
  • Apple hates that idea, so it's trying to blunt those efforts every way it can.

European regulators say Apple needs to open up its App Store, and a new law that goes into effect in March is supposed to make that happen.

Apple's response?

Obey the law, but in a way that makes sure it won't have any practical effect.

That's what Apple critics/competitors like Meta and Spotify are telling The Wall Street Journal. The WSJ has a report out about Apple's plans to accommodate "sideloading" — loading an app onto Apple's iPhone without going through Apple's store — that seem to be designed to not really accommodate sideloading at all:

Apple's approach to the EU law will help ensure the company maintains close oversight of apps downloaded outside the App Store, a process known as sideloading. The company will give itself the ability to review each app downloaded outside of its App Store.
Apple also plans to collect fees from developers that offer downloads outside of the App Store, said people familiar with the company's plans. The company hasn't yet announced its plans and they could change.

To tease that out: Critics say Apple's strict rules around its App Store — it controls who can distribute apps there, what kind of apps can be distributed, and levies a tax of up to 30% on transactions made within the app — stifle competition. Sideloading is supposed to fix that by letting customers download apps onto iPhones without going through the store. (Google already allows sideloading on its Android phones.)

But per the WSJ's report, Apple is going to effectively add the same kind of oversight and taxing setup it has for App Store apps on sideloaded apps — meaning there won't be any incentive for a user or developer to go through the process. The Journal doesn't actually describe how Apple would go about policing sideloaded apps or collecting fees from developers.

Apple declined to comment.

If this sounds familiar, there's a good reason. Last week, we told you about Apple's response to a US court ruling designed to let developers sell "in-app" digital goods for Apple apps without going through the App Store. Apple plans to comply with the ruling but will make it a pain for both consumers and developers — meaning the ruling should have little, if any, practical effect.

Apple says it needs to tightly control apps on its devices to protect consumers. But it also makes an enormous amount of money from the App Store. (Revenues from the App Store are the main driver for Apple's "services" revenue — and last year, that was more than $85 billion, more than 22% of the company's total sales.)

Which has led to a push-pull between Apple and regulators all over the world: Apple gets orders from courts and lawmakers to release its grip on its app ecosystem. And each time, Apple tries its best to blunt those orders.

That kind of grappling requires enormous legal and other costs — the kind few companies beyond Apple can take on. It also ensures a steady stream of articles about developers who are angry at Apple.

But Apple seems committed to keeping control over its store — and the geyser of money that comes with that — for as long as it can.

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