Apple tweaks its DMA compliance strategy in Europe

In what perhaps reflects ongoing backroom discussion between Apple’s App Store team and EU regulators policing the new Digital Markets Act (DMA), Apple has once again modified its approach to supporting third-party software sellers on iOS devices.

Starting later this spring, some EU developers will be able to offer iPhone apps directly from their websites. The second major change since Apple introduced DMA compliance suggests the company is more open to negotiation than some believe.

The idea here is likely to provide something like the parity of service you experience when downloading Mac software from developer websites, though there are some restrictions.

Web distribution, like on Macs

Apps offered through Web Distribution must meet notarization requirements to protect platform integrity, like all iOS apps, and “can only be installed from a website domain that the developer has registered in App Store Connect.” Apple said.

Developers who meet the criteria will be able to offer their software to iPhone users for direct download from their website, though they will have to pay Apple’s “Core Technology Fee” once the number of downloads exceeds one million.

Developers shifting less than a million downloads just need to be in the Apple Developer Program, which means they must respect Apple’s developer policies. Apple also waives the fee for non-profits, educational, or government entities.

The snag is that in order to achieve the right to offer their apps via Web Distribution, developers must already offer a relatively successful app.

Developers must prove themselves

That means they must already offer an app that generated more than a million installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year. They also need to have already been part of Apple’s Developer Program for at least two years.

In other words, the developer must already be known to Apple and should already have distributed enough apps that the iPhone maker can reasonably assume the developer in question can be trusted.

Apple has made no secret that it thinks the EU’s determination around side-loading of apps on iPhones will make users less secure, so it’s no surprise the company only wants to trust developers it knows.

Ultimately that means only those deriving the most success from its platforms pay an “Apple Tax,” no matter whether they distribute via Apple or through their own EU stores. The money taken from those broad shoulders helps shore up other parts of the overall ecosystem, and probably makes a profit — just like apps make a profit if they get sold.

Putting customers first

This also means developers must have a certain stature, likely reflecting another component to Apple’s approach – it wants developers offering apps directly to iPhone users to be sufficiently well resourced to handle the other challenges of app sales: regulation, privacy, security, law enforcement, and fraud.

It’s unlikely a smaller developer would be able to meet all those challenges effectively. Apple also insists that if it becomes aware of a problem it think threatens user safety, developers must respond swiftly when it contacts them to discuss a problem it identifies.

In other words, developers choosing to sell apps via their own website must take responsibility for everything to do with regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction. Apple simply provides the development tools, platform, and of course, the market opportunity, which the Core Tech fees reflect. Developers provide customer services and support.

Apple feels it needs this kind of compromise to ensure it has some power to remove developers or software from its devices if it is found to be malware-infested, privacy erosive, or otherwise unsafe or illegitimate.

A triumph or a trial?

The European Commission has also published Apple’s first DMA Compliance Report, dated March 7.

“Operating an alternative app marketplace requires significant responsibility and oversight of the user experience, including content rules and moderation processes, anti-fraud measures to prevent scams, transparent data collection policies, and the ability to manage payment disputes and refunds,” Apple warned.

In this report, Apple makes it clear that developers can request additional interoperability features. If developers do identify something they need that Apple thinks falls into the scope of the DMA — conceivably including the right to distribute apps from their own websites — Apple undertakes to design an effective system to enable it.

That’s important; it shows that Apple will continue to tweak its deal for EU developers moving forward, though it will always attempt to protect platform integrity.

There will be more changes

One future tweak confirmed by the Compliance Report is that Apple will make it possible to completely delete the Safari browser from iOS devices in the EU by the end of the year.

The report also tells us Apple is building a tool to export and import browser data between browsers on the same device. And by fall 2025, it hopes to introduce a user-friendly solution to transfer data from an iPhone to a non-Apple phone.

But the next big test for Apple’s DMA compliance attempts so far comes on March 18, when the European Commission is organizing its first workshop for interested parties to share feedback on Apple’s proposals so far.

You can guarantee the usual suspects will continue to complain about the company, while Apple will maintain that it seeks a compromise that also protects its platforms and their users.

Web Distribution of apps in the EU will go live when Apple publishes a software update later this spring. But Apple is quite clearly going to continue to tweak how it handles DMA compliance in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

After all, regulatory compliance isn’t set in stone. In the coming months, all parties involved in crafting these laws — Europe, Apple, developers, customers, and regulators elsewhere — will consider the impact of these changes so far and continue to adjust them. See this as Sideloading v.1.1, if you like.

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