Should you side load apps now that iOS 17.4 allows it?

6 March 2024

The concept of app sideloading is not new, but its implications have taken on new weight in the context of iOS devices. Traditionally, Apple has maintained a closed ecosystem for its App Store, arguing that this approach is essential for ensuring security and privacy. However, the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) is set to challenge this status quo, potentially reshaping the digital landscape for one of the world’s most influential tech companies.

The DMA is a legislative framework designed to promote digital competition and curb the dominance of major tech entities, often referred to as “gatekeepers.” For Apple, this means a possible end to the exclusivity of the App Store on iOS devices, a move that could dramatically alter how users download and install applications.

The implications of this shift are varied. For consumers, the introduction of app sideloading could mean a broader array of app choices and potentially lower prices, thanks to increased competition. Yet, this openness comes with risks, particularly in terms of security. The Apple App Store’s rigorous review process, designed to weed out malicious software, does not extend to sideloaded apps, raising concerns about user safety.

Developers, too, stand at a crossroads. The ability to bypass the App Store could simplify the process of reaching users, but it also imposes new responsibilities for safeguarding against malware and maintaining user trust. Furthermore, navigating the regulatory landscapes of different EU member states could present additional challenges.

Apple’s response to the DMA and the prospect of enforced app sideloading is still being revealed. The company has long championed the privacy and security benefits of its walled garden approach, and any changes to this model will likely be designed to preserve those core values as much as possible. This could involve developing new security protocols for sideloaded apps or lobbying for specific regulatory concessions.

The broader impact of the DMA and app sideloading on the tech ecosystem cannot be overstated. This legislative move by the EU may inspire similar actions in other jurisdictions, prompting a global reevaluation of digital marketplaces and app distribution models. The long-term effects on innovation, competition, and the overall user experience remain to be seen, but the direction is clear: the era of digital monopolies is being challenged.

If you’re in the UK and wondering if this will be available for you, unfortunately it will not. It’s only going to be available in the 27 EU member states.

In conclusion, the introduction of app sideloading on iOS devices in the EU represents a significant pivot point for digital policies, consumer choice, and the tech industry’s future. Balancing the benefits of increased competition with the need to maintain high standards of security and privacy will be crucial. As the DMA rolls out and Apple adapts, all eyes will be on the European Union to see how these changes play out in practice, potentially setting a precedent for the rest of the world.

For me though, I think I’ll take security above anything else, and will likely stick to downloading apps via the offical App Store, unless I observe a good level of security via the side-loading of apps. I’d also recommend, where possible, that developers stick to the official App Store, as that will likely drive more downloads because of the above mentioned security and trust benefits.

I presume some developers will think differently, as they want to bypass Apples strict security checks, and possibly because they want to maximise their income, but I wonder what other Apple users will decide to do.

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