Serious changes are emerging for iOS, the App Store & Co: the European Parliament passed the Digital Market Act (DMA) on Tuesday. The rules for gatekeepers laid down in it are intended to ensure that central platform services are also fair and as openly accessible as possible for third-party providers. As the operator of several important and sometimes strictly isolated platform services, radical changes are on the horizon, especially at Apple.
iPhone apps no longer just from the App Store
The law on digital markets shakes the billion-dollar App Store business: the upcoming rules are intended to force Apple to open the iOS and iPadOS operating systems to third-party app stores and free app distribution. Although the manufacturer can continue to make certain specifications to ensure the security of the platform, the existing limitation to a single app store controlled by Apple is no longer permissible.
According to the DMA, Apple can no longer require apps sold in the App Store to use the group’s in-app purchase interface – direct payments must therefore be possible. The company is already preparing for this change; the in-app payment monopoly has already fallen in South Korea. However, Apple continues to insist on charging a commission on all sales of digital content in apps.
The law on digital markets also intervenes in many other places on Apple’s platforms: third-party browsers for iPhone and iPad have so far had to use Apple’s WebKit browser engine, which should not be permitted in the future. Things like restricting contactless iPhone payments to Apple Pay are no longer permitted under the DMA, and third-party providers must also be granted access to the NFC interface.
Overall, the law stipulates that platform operators are not allowed to give preference to their own apps and services. Apple is already arming itself with a delete function for many pre-installed apps, and iOS 16 adds other manufacturer apps that can be deleted for the first time. According to the specifications, Apple would have to open up its platforms even more for smartwatches or in-ears from other manufacturers in order to enable other manufacturers to have functions similar to those of the in-house hardware.
iMessages for everyone
Apple will also have to show more flexibility in the future when it comes to choosing standard services and language assistants, so far users can only select the standard settings for browser and e-mail client in the operating system.
The DMA also demands interoperability for “number-independent interpersonal communication services” – i.e. messaging services. Apple would have to enable communication with iMessage on request from other providers in a timely manner – end-to-end encryption should be preserved. Of course, this interoperability requirement also applies to other messaging giants, most notably WhatsApp. However, iMessage would be usable across platforms for the first time, instead of being limited to Apple hardware.
When asked by Mac & i, Apple referred to a statement from the spring in which the group expressed concern that the specifications would create “unnecessary data protection and security gaps”. However, Apple wants to “continue to work with those responsible across Europe in the hope of minimizing these vulnerabilities”.
The law on digital markets still has to be approved by the Council of the European Union and could come into force as early as autumn. It will probably take several more months for the gatekeepers to be designated, and the first concrete steps by the EU are not expected until 2023. The Commission has announced a quick and strict procedure and wants to impose high fines if the rules are not followed.