If the latest report from Bloomberg is to be believed, Apple is going to dramatically open up the iPhone in 2023. If even half of the changes reportedly being considered come to pass, it will have major implications for how we all use our iPhones (and presumably iPads) in the future.
At the heart of the changes is the EU’s new Digital Markets Act, which goes into effect next year. It has strict provisions around the distribution of apps, payment systems, and much more to which Apple is going to need to comply. The changes include allowing the installation of apps distributed outside the App Store. That might include third-party app stores, or simply the direct download of apps from the web, or both. Apple is said to be considering strict security measures that will require apps to be verified by Apple in order to run, even if they are distributed elsewhere.
Apps may also be allowed to use third-party payment systems for in-app purchases. The Bloomberg report says Apple has not yet decided whether or not to comply with that aspect of the law.
There are other important changes being considered, too. Third-party web browsers currently have to use Apple’s WebKit rendering engine on iPhone and iPad (a restriction that does not exist on the Mac). The company is considering whether it will lift that restriction in iOS 17 to allow Chromium and other browser engines.
Certain other features may need to be opened up to third-party apps and services as well, such as more complete access to the camera and NFC for mobile payments. The Find My network might be opened up to outside trackers like Tile. The law also requires technology companies to allow users more control over default applications for certain functions and greater interoperability between messaging platforms, all of which could dramatically change iOS.
The changes are expected to come as an update to iOS 17, and are currently expected only to take effect in regions governed by EU law. In the U.S., it’s likely that apps will continue to be available only from the App Store. U.S. officials have pushed for similar legislation as the EU, but nothing has passed yet.
While Apple is undoubtedly not happy with having to give up so much control to comply with the law, it is moving quickly to do so, reportedly “applying a significant amount of resources to the companywide endeavor.” Non-compliance could be extremely costly for Apple, as repeated violations of the law can incur fines as big as 20 percent of a company’s annual global revenue. In Apple’s case, that would cost them over $70 billion, though it’s unlikely the company would pay the maximum penalty even if they are determined not to be in full compliance.