Apple may be forced to allow alternative app stores for European consumers

European antitrust laws are putting a strain on Big Tech companies, accustomed for years to “squashing” any hint of competition, and Apple is no exception.

Owner of its own software ecosystem (iOS), i.e. a hardware platform completely unaffordable to other device manufacturers (iPhone, iPad), Apple has set the rules of the game with impunity, ensuring that developers’ access is via its own app store and that app sales are only brokered by paying the commissions imposed by the American company. For a long time, the recipe worked perfectly with consumers back home, and the fragmented and disjointed nature of non-US markets encouraged an arrogant attitude in which Apple’s management indulged in almost anything. That is, until EU authorities moved beyond the deeply bureaucratic stage of negotiating among EU bloc members, moving on to drafting and eventually voting on much stricter packages of laws designed to better protect citizens’ interests.

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The first signs of Big Tech’s monopoly being broken came with the Fortnite vs Apple battle, fought in South Korean and Dutch courts, over the developer’s demand that player payments be processed on its own, bypassing the services provided by the AppStore and Apple’s fees.

At least within the EU, such disputes may soon be a thing of the past, once the acceptance of third-party app stores and alternative payment systems is guaranteed and regulated by European law.

As before, no one will be forced to use third-party app stores, but removing Apple from the position of sole provider of this service and intermediary for payments made will benefit everyone. For example, too big a difference in the fees charged when brokering in-app payments or purchasing premium apps could translate into lower prices on the rival platform, forcing Apple to reconsider its position. However, the “democratisation” of app stores on iOS could also pose some dangers for users if alternative stores adopt an overly relaxed attitude to the security of hosted apps.

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