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iOS 17.2: Apple Moving Toward Allowing Sideloading

Apple and the Digital Markets Act

Apple has been under pressure in the European Union because the Digital Markets Act (DMA) requires the company to allow users to sideload apps outside the App Store to increase competition. The code in the iOS 17.2 beta suggests that Apple is indeed moving towards enabling sideloading on iOS devices.

New ManagedAppDistribution API

Apple has published new documentation for the “ManagedAppDistribution” API, primarily intended for MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions. However, the API could potentially serve other purposes as well.

What is Sideloading?

Sideloading is installing apps obtained from third-party sources instead of an official source. The official source for iOS devices is the App Store. Apple has traditionally disallowed sideloading to prevent apps from bypassing the App Store guidelines.

Last year, the European Union passed the Digital Markets Act (DMA) to prevent big tech companies from using their advantages to undermine competition. One of the DMA’s requirements is that users should be able to install apps from third-party sources.

iOS 17.2 and Alternative App Stores

iOS 17.2 features a new public framework called “Managed App Distribution.” Initially, this API seemed related to MDM solutions for installing enterprise apps, but it appears Apple is working on something more significant.

The API has an extension endpoint declared in the system, meaning other apps can create extensions of this type. A new, unused entitlement also permits third-party apps to install other apps. In other words, this could allow developers to create their app stores.

The API includes controls for downloading, installing, and updating apps from external sources. It can also verify whether an app is compatible with a specific device or iOS version. Additionally, this API references a region lock, suggesting Apple could restrict sideloading to specific countries, which aligns with the DMA’s requirements.

When Will This Happen?

Apple is required to comply with DMA legislation by March 2024. The company has indicated that it expects changes impacting the App Store’s business model. Simultaneously, Apple is appealing the EU’s decision to include the App Store in the DMA, which is unsurprising as Apple seeks to preserve the iOS App Store. Nonetheless, iOS 17 seems poised to accommodate sideloading.

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