Apple’s European App Store users face free market test

Apple is about to open its European App Store to app sideloading from non-Apple sources — a laboratory experiment that will be sanitized and unavailable outside the EU, at least for now.

Effectively, Apple’s new European customer experience will become experimental data for a new era of “openness.”

The experiment begins

Along with customers, the experiment will be closely watched by Apple, its competitors, and regulators. They must monitor what happens, as what transpires will certainly inform regulations as they are applied outside Europe – where others want to emulate the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

If critics are correct, support for app sideloading should usher in a brave new world of wealth and prosperity, opening a glorious world of user choice. Or, if Apple is correct, this openness will weaken platform security and expose customers to malware-laden and/or fraudulent apps and fly-by-night, credit card stealing fake app stores.

If, as is likely, elements of both arguments turn out to be correct, at the scale of hundreds of millions of iOS users who currently have a lot of trust in the platform, we’ll see a combination of results:

  • Some app developers/external payments companies will turn a profit.
  • Some customers seeking apps not currently sold on the App Store will be able to get those apps (from games to XXX).
  • We might see a little more price flexibility, though I’ve not yet come across a liberalized market in which prices have actually declined.
  • More fraud and malware attacks will arise against Apple’s platforms.

It’s possible none of these fears and predictions are correct and the introduction of external stores won’t change things much. We just don’t know.

We can take you there

What we do know is that whatever EU customers encounter across the next 12 months will be seen by the entire industry and regulators everywhere as a kind of litmus test.

If things go relatively well, it’s reasonable to expect Apple will be required to open up its store in every other market. If they do not, the company will point to those bad experiences and argue that a more nuanced approach is required, if opening up is  required at all.

Either way, European users are now the guinea pigs and should probably be told that if they do purchase apps from outside the Apple App Store and things go wrong, it will not be Apple Support they must contact, but the other app provider. Same deal with refunds. Good luck with that.


Many customers will consider this and decline to try downloads from outside Apple’s stores while they wait to see what happens.

For many, the benefits of Apple’s Walled Garden will outweigh the nebulous advantage of being able to make some other wealthy company with apps and a store even wealthier.

Some key app developers might try to persuade users to migrate to their own outlets, but not all of those attempts will succeed.  Many Apple customers will stick with Apple.

And Apple will continue to point out that not every one of its App Stores is the same;  the Mac does not currently dominate PC sales, for example, so why should its store be under the same constraints?

At this stage of the game, we’re just subject to decisions made by regulators who may or may not have the remedy right. Even so,  as a result of what happens in Europe, by this time next year we should have a more accurate insight into how customers will behave after Apple’s Wall Falls.

Just like a prayer

Hopefully, unlike another famous Cold War wall that fell and threw entire nations into economic chaos and drove the evolution of a criminal over-class, the new App Store + Sideloading experiment will be, as proponents claim, Manna from Heaven for Free Market Economies.

Apple users in Europe find out first.

Your mobile existence just got turned into global experimental data.

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Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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