Apple to accept alternative app stores for European consumers

Constrained by European antitrust law, Apple is already preparing the iOS ecosystem for alternative App Stores. But the stakes are even higher than the loss of App Store exclusivity, with EU authorities opening the floodgates wide for app developers to evade Apple’s 30% commission charged for any transactions initiated from apps downloaded from the App Store. So all companies like Twitter have to do is repost their apps in one of the alternative stores.

Owner of its own software ecosystem (iOS), plus 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 only through its own app store and that app sales are brokered only with the payment of 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.

Signalling imminent defeat for Apple, sources close to the US company reveal that developer teams are working hard to adapt the iOS system to work with software downloaded from alternative app stores. However, before we get too excited, it must be said that the new European legislation breaking the App Store monopoly will not come into force until 2024.

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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 a far too lax approach to the security of hosted apps.

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At least in the first stage, the alternative app stores will only be accessible to European consumers. But Apple could include other regions of the world if the authorities in those countries follow the European example by passing similar laws.

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