Devs call Apple’s new iPhone sideloading rules ‘malicious compliance’ and ‘ludicrously punitive’


Devs call Apple’s new iPhone sideloading rules 'malicious compliance' and 'ludicrously punitive'
Apple's new App Store rules for the European Union enrage some developers.
Image: danilo.alvesd/Unsplash License/Cult of Mac

A noted Apple critic used the terms “malicious compliance” and “hot garbage” to describe the elaborate rules the company laid down Thursday for allowing European iPhone users to sideload applications.

Those blasts came from Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, a company that’s locked in a legal battle with Apple over App Store rules. But other devs also cast aspersions on Apple’s framework for setting up App Store rivals. They pointed out that the new system comes with a huge financial obligation, and that it will make free apps almost impossible.

To be clear, though, not all developers are unhappy. Apple’s new rules also drew some compliments.

Sideloading iPhone apps is coming to the EU

The EU’s Digital Markets Act forced Apple to allow rivals to the iPhone’s App Store and enable sideloading of third-party software. On Thursday, Apple revealed the details that devs need to prepare for the huge changes coming in March.

Some of the developers going through Apple’s description found plenty to disagree with. A frequent argument from opponents of the plan is that Apple is technically complying with the rules of the DMA while still doing all it can to maintain control of the iPhone ecosystem.

“This plan does not achieve the DMA’s goal to increase competition and fairness in the digital market — it is not fair, reasonable, nor non-discriminatory,” said Rick VanMeter, executive director of the Coalition for App Fairness. “Apple’s proposal forces developers to choose between two anticompetitive and illegal options. Either stick with the terrible status quo or opt into a new convoluted set of terms that are bad for developers and consumers alike.”

Sweeney, a frequent critic of Apple, said on X, “Apple’s plan to thwart Europe’s new Digital Markets Act law is a devious new instance of Malicious Compliance.”

David Heinemeier Hansson, a Danish coder who created Ruby on Rails, also chimed in on the situation.

“At first glance, it could seem like Apple actually attempted some semblance of good faith compliance with the Digital Markets Act that goes into effect March 7 in the EU,” he wrote in a blog post about what he called Apple’s new extortion regime. “But once you start peeling the onion, you realize it’s stuffed with poison pills so toxic you can scarcely believe Apple’s chutzpah.”

In a post on X, Hansson called Apple’s plans “almost ludicrously punitive at a closer reading.”

Opening rival iPhone App Store will be hugely expensive

Under the new rules, installing an application onto an iPhone can’t be done directly, as is possible with a Mac. Apps must come from an alternative marketplace. And there’s a lengthy list of requirements for these.

For starters, a rival iPhone app store cannot solely offer one company’s products. It must offer “apps from other developers.”

But the rule that’s drawn the most ire is the one that says any company planning to open an alternative iPhone marketplace must provide Apple with a standby letter of credit of 1 million euros. This is to “establish adequate financial means in order to guarantee support for your developers and users,” according to Apple.

No more free rides for free apps

The new EU rules also include a Core Technology Fee, which drew significant complaints. This new fee requires developers to pay Apple half a euro each time an application is installed on an iPhone, no matter what the cost of the app is. It’s only for apps that generate more than 1 million installs a year, though.

“Free apps are going to be massively, disproportionately affected by Apple’s Core Technology Fee,” said developer Steve Troughton-Smith on Mastodon.

Companies hoping to evade paying Apple commission fees by directly distributing their applications aren’t happy that the iPhone-maker still expects a 10% commission on app sales, and 17% for sales of goods and services through apps, no matter how the software is distributed. If they use Apple’s payment system, the commission goes up by 3%.

Apple also reserves the right to audit third-party developers to be sure they’re turning over these commission fees.

Finally, the warning that users see when using a non-Apple payment system from inside an application was called a “scarecrow sheet” by DHH on X.

Non-Apple payment systems for in-app purchases come with warnings
Using a non-Apple payment system for in-app purchases comes with warnings.
Screenshots: Apple

Not every developer is unhappy with iPhone sideloading rules

While there has been plenty of griping about the rules for sideloading third-party iPhone apps in the European Union, not all developers are joining in.

Riley Testut, the creator of AltStore, the original alternative app store, told Cult of Mac:

“As a whole I view this as positive for the platform, because entirely new classes of apps can now exist on iOS for the first time ever, which I believe will push the platform forward.

“I also I think it’s very reasonable for Apple to require a substantial letter of credit for marketplaces, despite it significantly raising the barrier for entry. I’ve learned first-hand that running an alternative marketplace comes with a strong responsibility to protect users, so by requiring proof of credit, this ensures marketplaces are at least legitimate businesses.”

And Steve Troughton-Smith issued some praise as well:

“Whatever about the business side, the technical aspects of how Apple is enabling alternative app stores on iOS are quite amazing. There’s a foundation here that I think has great potential to enable whole new aspects of iOS.”

Huge iPhone changes are coming in the EU

Love it or hate it, the EU’s Digital Markets Act requires Apple to enable sideloading beginning in March. This will happen with the release of iOS 17.4, which is already in beta testing.

But just so there’s no confusion. this is something only residents of the 27 European Union member countries need to be concerned about. Alternative iPhone software marketplaces and sideloading iPhone apps are still forbidden in the rest of the world … at least for now.


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