Apple announced plans to open its iPhone App Store in Europe to competitors on Thursday, a move that breaks a monopoly that helps it control the distribution of apps on its devices.
Apple did not make these moves voluntarily, as the changes were required under a new European law, the Digital Markets Act, which forces major technology companies to open their platforms by March of this year.
The new rules could threaten Apple's lucrative App Store fees, especially if developers like Spotify and Microsoft take advantage of new regulations that allow them to bypass Apple's 30% fee on in-app purchases and move on to launching their own app stores competing for iPhones.
But Apple also announced a new fee structure in Europe that includes an annual per-installation fee for popular apps that don't use Apple's App Store, raising the possibility that many big developers will end up paying a similar amount to Apple even if they take advantage of the new capabilities.
Apple said Thursday that it believes the new regulation puts its users at risk of scams, fraud and abuse, because apps that don't go through Apple's App Store are not reviewed for content and could contain malware. It also warned that some new browser apps that use an “engine” not made by Apple, which is enabled by DMA, could hurt a user’s battery life.
Developers in general are likely to celebrate, as many have been angered for years by Apple's fees and a strict app review program that repeatedly rejects app updates. While regulators around the world aim to get Apple to open up its platforms, Thursday's changes are the most radical. Yet it could provide a preview of what could happen if the United States implemented similar regulations.
The changes are limited to Europe and accounts registered in the EU, rather than changes to how iPhone app distribution works in the US. The changes will go live in the iOS software update in March.
“Developers can now learn about new tools and terms available for distributing alternative apps and processing alternative payment methods, new capabilities for alternative browser engines, contactless payments, and more,” Phil Schiller, head of the Apple App Store, said in a statement.