Apple reportedly opening iPhone to other app stores — this is big

iPhone 14 Pro on table with display facing up
(Image credit: Future)

Ready to be blown away? A new report says that Apple is working to open up the iPhone and iPad to third-party app stores, after more than a decade of iOS App Store exclusivity.

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman (opens in new tab) broke the news. In response to the EU's new Digital Markets Act (DMA), Apple is already allegedly planning to comply with the new law. The Cupertino company has long resisted the call to open up its mobile devices to third-party app stores, with many criticizing the phone maker for the App Store's stranglehold.

Several large entities, including Epic, have claimed that Apple's policy of taking up to 30% of a purchase with the App Store is anti-competitive and harmful. Apple's response since the iPhone's inception has always been that sideloading — the act of installing software outside of the official software center — is unsafe and could harm the user's privacy.

To a certain extent, that is true. If you don't know what you're doing, you can easily install malware on an Android device, since Google's operating system permits sideloading. (That said, malware exists in the Play Store, too.) Nevertheless, Apple's walled garden stance has drawn a lot of criticism from open software advocates. 

Gurman said his sources mentioned that this will be a Europe-first change. But we would be very disappointed if more open access to iOS apps didn't reach North America as well.

Bloomberg says that Apple has already devoted a lot of resources to this change, which goes into effect in 2024. He states that people familiar with the matter have said the company plans to have it all ready for iOS 17 when that software update arrives in fall 2023.

The Bloomberg report further states that Apple will continue to consider privacy and safety in this effort — i's not going to just open the floodgates. To combat unsafe apps, Apple is considering requiring basic security restrictions. One consideration according to Gurman is that all third-party apps stores will still need Apple validation, which might carry a fee. 

The Digital Markets Act mandates that companies like Apple allow users to easily change the default settings to suit their preferences, which might also impact third-party browsers and keyboards. (Alternative browsers like Chrome and Firefox on iOS still have to use Apple's WebKit browser engine.) This could also mean that Apple opens up key portions of the iPhone and iPad systems.

The DMA also requires allowance for third-payment payment processing within apps. Bloomberg's report said Apple has not determined if it will comply with this. However, the law also states that affected companies need to open their messaging services, including Apple's iMessage. What that would look like, however, Gurman's sources do not know.

Those sources have said that Apple still does not plan to incorporate RCS despite pressure from Google and others. The Bloomberg report says that Apple engineers are worried about the impact on iMessage's end-to-end encryption with the new law.

Finally, Apple has apparently discussed further opening up the Find My network to other services like Tile. The latter company has previously said Apple holds an unfair advantage and pushes people toward AirTags, though other key finders do work with Apple's Find My service.

This would all be huge news for the iPhone and iPad, though with some caveats. The dominance of the App Store is likely to remain, and Gurman said it's planned for just Europe for now, so don't jump for joy just yet. As stated previously, this change could be ready for iOS 17 when it and the iPhone 15 launch next year.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.