Apple is set to make a monumental change to the App Store on the iPhone. In response to looming regulations in the European Union, Apple has software engineers and services employees working on a project to “allow alternative app stores” on the iPhone and iPad. This change could launch as soon as iOS 17 next year.
According to a new report from Bloomberg, these changes will see Apple allow outside App Stores on the iPhone for the first time. The company is reportedly dedicating a “significant amount of resources to the companywide endeavor.”
This is described as a “major push to open up key elements of Apple’s platforms,” according to “people familiar with the efforts” who spoke to Bloomberg. “As part of the changes, customers could ultimately download third-party software to their iPhones and iPads without using the company’s App Store,” the report explains.
The decision inside Apple has been met with criticism from some employees. Some engineers, for example, are viewing this as a “distraction from typical day-to-day development of future features.”
Apple is applying a significant amount of resources to the companywide endeavor. It hasn’t been a popular initiative within Apple, considering that the company has spent years decrying the need for “sideloading” — the process of installing software without using the official App Store. In lobbying against the new European laws, Apple has argued that sideloading could put unsafe apps on consumers’ devices and undermine privacy.
Some engineers working on the plan also see it as distraction from typical day-to-day development of future features, according to the people. The company is aiming for the changes to be ready as part of an update to next year’s iOS 17, which would be in line with requirements.
This work is being spearheaded by Andreas Wendker, a software engineering vice president within Apple. Wendker reports directly to Craig Federighi. In addition to the engineering teams, Apple’s services team is also involved. Jeff Robbin, Apple’s “top engineering manager for its services,” is leading the effort on that side. Robbin reports to Eddy Cue.
Apple is considering “the idea of mandating certain security requirements even if software is distributed outside its store.” These apps could require verification by Apple, “a process that could carry a fee” for developers. Whether or not the company moves forward with this aspect of the project remains to be seen.
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