App Store Versus The EU Commission, Take Two


Web Distribution, available with a software update later this spring, will let authorized developers distribute their iOS apps to EU users directly from a website owned by the developer. Apple will provide authorized developers access to APIs that facilitate the distribution of their apps from the web, integrate with system functionality, back up and restore users’ apps, and more. For details, visit Getting ready for Web Distribution in the EU.

In my original commentary from January, I said these policies should be seen as an opening gambit rather than a final word on the matter.

Surely driven by backchannel negotiations between Apple and the EU commission, Apple has rolled out significant amendments to these rules in the last couple of months. Today, it announced perhaps its largest concession yet.

The rules as originally written were specifically orchestrated by Apple to offer “sideloading” without offering sideloading. The rules prevented the obvious, straightforward, approach of letting a developer host a binary on their website for users to download directly to their device. Instead, A developer wanting to offer their software outside of the App Store was forced to partner with an intermediary, an alternative app marketplace in which to list their app, and then would have to somehow explain to their customers how to install said marketplace in order to install said app. It induced business relationships and a whole bunch of complexity that didn’t really have a justification to exist other than frustrating the process.

The new “Web Distribution” method makes all of that obsolete, and feels like a direct response to the criticisms raised by the likes of Spotify. Eligible developers will now be able to offer up their apps ‘directly’. Some Apple oversight and system permissions scare sheets remain, but the essence is Spotify will now be able to have a link on their website that initiates an install flow for the Spotify app. The obstacle of the viability of the Core Technology Fee remains, but that’s about it.

Whether Epic Games will be able to distribute Fortnite in this way is currently unclear. Apple’s rules say that a participating developer must be a “member of good standing in the Apple Developer Program” and “have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year”. Unless Apple makes an exception, as is, Epic doesn’t meet either of those requirements.