Mark Gurman, the Sith Emperor of Apple rumours, this week claimed we’ll see third party app stores on iPhone and iPad in iOS 17. The EU’s got its hackles up about what it considers anti-competitive behaviour by Apple. Its Digital Markets Act will compel the US giant to kick a hole in its walled garden and let you install apps from beyond the App Store.
Android users are no doubt nodding sagely at this point, while some iPhone owners mull which apps Apple currently bans will be first on to their devices. But I suspect the emotions Apple fans feel when this change happens won’t just be ‘appyness’. They’ll also be mired in…
There’ll be creeping unease your iPhone is no longer as secure. That might be literal fact. Even if not, Apple will scare the wits out of you when you stray beyond the App Store. You’ll flick an ‘Install EVIL and DEADLY apps’ button in Settings, and a string of alert messages will ramp up hyperbole until you’re shaking in the corner of the room. A final huffy response from your iPhone will confirm you’re off Tim Cook’s Christmas card list, and should your iPhone transform into a ravenous beast and chew your face off, that’s on you.
Folks like AltStore will offer a cheery wave at the newly freed iPhone masses and affably point at apps that extend the Apple device user experience in new (to said masses) and meaningful ways. And then industry giants will stamp on everyone’s faces. They’ll unleash their own app stores, with versions of existing apps that can offer functionality those in the App Store mostly do not – like directly buying digital media. Keeping track of everything will be a pain. You’ll reason buying an ebook in a web browser and reading it in an app wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
Some companies will yank their apps from Apple’s App Store entirely. Meta, smarting from Apple punching a hole in its ad revenue, might take its Instagram ball home – and then lob money at developers to ‘encourage’ them to move across in exclusive fashion too. Users will be faced with not having a choice regarding multiple app stores. They’ll have no option but to install them if they wish to continue using apps and games they love.
It won’t all be bad. Freedom means freedom. (Except when it means fries.) Developers will get the chance to create apps that couldn’t previously exist. (Whether they’ll be able to get them in front of enough people to make a living is another matter.) And the iPhone will finally be able to run open emulators, letting me load all the games I enjoyed from childhood, shortly before realising 1) I left my reactions back in 1987, and 2) twitchy games designed for joysticks and keys fare poorly on touchscreens.
Ignorance – and nonchalance
For most, these two emotions will be the end stage. A majority of iPhone users will remain unaware they can install apps from outside of the App Store. Those in the know will find excitement wanes, leaving them in a state of dispassionate indifference.
The EU, meanwhile, will move to the next item on its tech disruption to-do list. (“What do you mean we have to allow multiple app stores on Xbox? This was never meant to be about us,” will scream someone at Microsoft HQ.) And Apple will fume, quietly wondering if it can make enough from Clash of Clans IAP to perform a hostile takeover of the entire EU.
Still, the company’s only got itself to blame. Why was it hostile to streaming game services? Why did it stick rigidly to its 30% commission rate for so long? Why has it continued to be inflexible, inconsistent and opaque regarding App Store rules and submissions? Occam’s razor suggests various reasons – few of them good. And now Apple’s set to lose money and control, while the vast majority of its users will gain very little. Still, I’ll finally be able to run Wizball on my iPhone, so that’s something.