Apple is under pressure in the European Union as Digital Markets Act antitrust laws require the company to allow users to sideload apps for outside the App Store to increase competition. 9to5Mac found evidence in the iOS 17.2 beta code that the company is indeed moving toward enabling sideloading on iOS devices.
Update: Apple has published new documentation for the ManagedAppDistribution API on its website. website, confirming that it is primarily intended as an MDM solution. As we suggested in our report, it can still be used for other purposes. You can read the original article below.
What is sideloading
For those unfamiliar, the process of sideloading involves installing applications obtained from third-party sources rather than the official source. As for iOS, the official source (and the only one available to iPhone and iPad users) is the App Store. Apple has never allowed sideloading of apps on iOS because it would allow apps to bypass App Store rules.
However, last year the European Union passed the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a new antitrust law aimed at technology companies so that they do not use their advantages to undermine competition. One of the requirements of the DMA is that users can install any apps from third-party sources.
Previous reports suggested that Apple was doing covert work on iOS 17 to prepare the system for sideloading apps in Europe. In the iOS 17.2 beta, internal code assumes this is the case.
iOS 17.2 appears ready to allow alternative app stores
iOS 17.2 introduces a new public platform called Managed App Distribution.” While our first thought was that this API would tie into MDM solutions for installing enterprise apps (which is already possible on iOS), it looks like Apple is working on something more significant.
After analyzing the new API, we learned that it has an extension endpoint declared in the system, which means that other applications can create extensions of this type. Digging even further, we discovered a new, unused permission that gives third-party apps permission to install other apps. In other words, it will allow developers to create their own app stores.
The API has basic controls for downloading, installing, and even updating apps from external sources. It can also check whether an app is compatible with a specific device or version of iOS, something the App Store already does. Again, this could easily be used to modernize MDM solutions, but there's one more thing.
We also found references to region locking in this API, which suggests Apple may limit it to certain countries. . This doesn't make sense for MDM solutions, but it does make sense to enable sideloading in certain countries only when required by government authorities, such as in the European Union.
Earlier this year, 9to5Mac reported that Apple had developed a new system to restrict certain iOS features based on the user's location.
Apple spokesman Craig Federighi said: “Sideloading is a cybercriminal's best friend.” #8221;
When will this happen?
Theoretically, Apple is required to comply with DMA legislation by March 2024. The company even admitted Form 10-K that it expects to make changes that will impact the App Store's business model.
At the same time, Apple will also ask the European Union to include the App Store in the Digital Markets Act, which is not surprising. Apple will likely make every effort to preserve the iOS App Store. But eventually iOS 17 will be ready to sideload apps.