iOS 17.4 has a big change for apps in the EU that you can't get in the US

Apple App Store
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

For iPhone users with iOS 17.4, and iOS developers as a whole, downloading apps from websites instead of the App Store will soon be an option in the EU, but with some chunky caveats.

Apple outlines how this works on its "Getting ready for Web Distribution in the EU" page on the Apple Developer website. While it notes that this feature will be "available in a software update later this spring," it also lays out a number of rules developers will need to stick to in order to make their apps eligible.

To get authorization from Apple to distribute apps online, an app maker needs to be already enrolled as an Apple developer, be based in the EU, provide data transparency for users and agree to take care of any legal issues that may arise, to name a few for the requirements.

Most importantly, the developer must "have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year." Although it sounds like this will allow a developer to offer web distribution for a brand-new app (provided they've already made a successful app in the past year), this rule in particular could severely limit who can actually take advantage of this new rule.

And that's not to mention the hurdle that exists at the other end of the process. The web distribution guide also explains that individual iPhone users will also have to opt in to off-App Store downloads in their phone's Settings app to download apps from developer websites, possibly swaying less tech-savvy users back to downloading apps through the App Store.

Following the law

These guidelines, as well as allowing web distribution for apps altogether, is part of Apple's response to the EU's Digital Markets Act and its efforts to keep big tech companies from monopolizing the space. It's also the reason Apple's had to keep home screen web apps accessible, has made steps toward reconciliation between it and Epic Games, and may make swapping to Android phones simpler down the line.

For developers with enough momentum behind them, the web distribution route could be a legitimate alternative for their products and their customers, especially since using third-party app stores, another feature required by the DMA, will still mean giving some money to Apple. Even still, this is another instance of Apple complying with the law while trying to protect its own interests as much as possible at the same. We'll have to wait and see if the EU has anything to say about this as the system goes live in the next few months. 

Meanwhile, users outside the EU will have to continue downloading apps the old-fashioned way, unless their governments decide to enact similar legislation to the EU and force Apple's hand. 

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Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.