Apple to allow iOS app downloads direct from websites in the EU

March 12, 2024
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Apple is planning to make further changes in EU countries to allow some developers to distribute their iOS apps directly from a website. The new web distribution feature will be available with a software update “later this spring,” according to Apple, providing developers with a key new way to distribute iOS apps in EU markets without the need for a separate app store — as long as they’re willing to adhere to Apple’s strict rules.

While Apple is opening up iOS to more third-party apps here, these are still some key security protections around how apps are distributed via websites — namely, you’ll still have to work within the strict Apple app development ecosystem. “Apps offered through Web Distribution must meet Notarization requirements to protect platform integrity, like all iOS apps, and can only be installed from a website domain that the developer has registered in App Store Connect,” explains Apple.

It’s also not going to be a simple process to install these apps on an iPhone in the EU. “To install apps from a developer’s website, users will first need to approve the developer to install apps in Settings on their iPhone,” says Apple. “When installing an app, a system sheet will display information that developers have submitted to Apple for review, like the app name, developer name, app description, screenshots, and system age rating.”

So this isn’t going to be an open and free way for developers to distribute apps over the web to iOS devices in EU markets. “Apple will authorize developers after meeting specific criteria and committing to ongoing requirements that help protect users,” says Apple. Developers will need to be part of Apple’s Developer Program and be registered in the EU. They’ll also need to agree to a number of key undertakings, as outlined by Apple:

That’s a lot of hoops for developers to jump through, and it appears that Apple is limiting this to big developers only thanks to the 1 million installs requirement. Having a good standing developer account for two years may also rule Epic Games out of this particular distribution method. Epic Games is still hoping to launch its iOS game store in the European Union soon, though.

Apple currently allows developers to distribute their apps on third-party marketplaces in EU countries, but if those apps reach more than 1 million annual installs per year, they’ll need to pay that 50 euro cent fee for every additional installation and update. That same Core Technology Fee process is part of web distribution of iOS apps, too. Only nonprofit organizations, select educational institutions, and government entities in the EU are exempt from this Core Technology Fee.

Still, the ability for developers to bring their apps directly to iPhone users in the EU without having to go through the App Store or another third-party store will be useful for some willing to put up with the tight restrictions. There’s some obvious friction for end users, but with some third-party stores requiring fees, this allows iOS developers to avoid stores altogether if they’re willing to host their apps directly and abide by Apple’s rules and policies.

Apple is also changing its strict rules around how developers link to an external webpage to complete purchases for digital goods. Developers can now “choose how to design promotions, discounts, and other deals,” according to Apple. That means Apple’s own design templates are optional, instead of being forced on developers.



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