As if Epic Games’ epic lawsuit against it weren’t enough, Apple could soon be facing the biggest threat to its iOS App Store since the app store came online. The US Congress is preparing to debate antitrust six bills, one of which will put the iPhone’s closed app ecosystem under greater scrutiny. Those policies could force Apple to open up iOS to allow installing apps outside of the App Store, a.k.a. sideloading, a practice that Apple claims will not only put users at risk, it will also ironically harm developers and the app market in the process.
Apple may be feeling the mounting pressure and the real possibility of the US government forcing it to remove many of the policies that have made iOS a carefully manicured walled garden. It has, after all, just published a 16-page document that extols the work the company has done to protect iPhone users by keeping its app ecosystem behind a gated system. It is, in effect, telling lawmakers that it will be plunging US citizens into dangerous situations should it push through with its antitrust changes.
Much of this rhetoric has already been rehashed to death at this point. Apple uses a combination of praising the work it has done to protect users from downloading malicious apps and pointing out the security and privacy pitfalls of allowing users to sideload apps, just like on Android. Those range from downloading malware-ridden apps to kids bypassing parental controls and making unauthorized purchases, intentionally or otherwise.
Something slightly new to Apple’s message is the warning that sideloading apps on the iPhone would actually be detrimental to the app market rather than benefitting it. Its main premise is that the people will either be too wary of installing apps or will acquire apps from other sources, especially paid apps that they will be able to get for free elsewhere. Both situations will lead to a dip or even a dive in profits that iOS developers often gloat over their Android counterparts.
Not all users and developers, even those from Apple’s camp, buy those arguments, though. There have been several instances where harmful apps got past Apple’s stringent scrutiny, and there are even doubts and accusations that Apple may benefit from fraudulent apps given the 30% share it gets from in-app purchases. And then there’s that steep tax that has been one of the points Epic Games has been raising even before the great Fortnite drama. Suffice it to say, the coming weeks or even months will be a tense one for Apple as it uses all its lobbying and marketing power to keep its App Store from falling out of its grasp.