In the second of our series on Apple's DMA Changes, we look at Alternative App Stores. It is a follow on from our introduction to these changes
As part of Apple's January 25 press release, they announced plans to permit downloading apps from alternative app stores. This significant shift in policy could have wide-ranging implications for users, developers, and the app market as a whole.
How might this work?
Imagine visiting a site and it offers the "BuyNLarge App Store" an alternative to the traditional platform. This can be downloaded like any other app and run on your iPhone. We'll refer to this as the Alternative Marketplace. Now, you could launch "BuyNLarge" to browse and install their selection of apps instead of solely relying on the App Store.
Why would Apple do this?
Apple is responding to pressure from the EU, which has suggested that the company currently monopolizes app distribution on the iOS platform. This move could be seen as an effort to diversify the market and address these monopoly concerns.
Why would users want an alternative marketplace?
Apple creates and enforces its own rules for the App Store. An alternative platform might offer different guidelines, catering to niche markets or for example, having varied stances on "objectionable material." This flexibility could be appealing to certain users and developers.
The Potential Risks and Benefits
While alternative app stores could offer a wider range of content, they also present potential risks. Not all alternative stores will necessarily be used for nefarious purposes, but the possibility exists - Think "Adult app store" for example. Of course not all alternative markets will be like this: Big players like Amazon or Steam could, in theory, launch their own stores, such as a "Steam Store" for games. However, one of Apple's key selling points – the safety and curation of their App Store – may be somewhat diluted by this new approach.
What's in it for App developers?
While the official App Store is expected to remain dominant, alternative markets might attract developers by offering lower cuts on in-app purchases. High-volume developers, especially the "big" games, could benefit significantly. However, for most developers, the additional effort required to manage multiple store presences might outweigh these benefits.
Is there any precedence here?
In the early days of app stores, alternative platforms catered to jailbroken devices. These still exist, especially in the Android ecosystem, but often feature "cracked" versions of legitimate apps, which can be detrimental to developers.
Apple's oversight and control.
Apple is not entirely relinquishing control. They require that operators of alternative marketplaces obtain special entitlements to list their alternative marketplace apps on the official App Store. Those "BuyNLarge" app stores can't be developed by anyone and placed on a website. In addition, developers will still have their apps notarized by Apple, ensuring a degree of safety, security, and privacy. Apple retains the right to remove marketplaces that violate their rules.
Considerations for users and developers.
This new option comes with several caveats. Apple have stated that features like in-app purchase restrictions, universal purchase, and family sharing will not be supported outside the official App Store. Apple also won't assist with issues like refunds, subscription management, or fraud in these alternative marketplaces.
We anticipate that only major players will operate alternative marketplaces due to the financial and logistical challenges. For most of our clients, maintaining a presence on the official App Store will remain the priority. Users with alternative marketplace apps will likely still rely on the official App Store for most of their needs.
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