Apple's Walled Garden Is Crumbling
Written by Mike James   
Friday, 10 May 2024

Or is it? Depends on which side of the wall you are on. Apple is doing all it can to keep control and more importantly keep the revenuse from its App Store, but from the outside it seems to be losing ground.

Apple is really a one-product company. Without the iPhone it would be nothing much, but iPhone sales are falling. This is basically because new models offer little new and we are hanging on to our phones for longer.

Apple has long run a policy of lock-in for its users. Just try and send an iMessage to an Android phone. Perhaps the biggest lockdown is the App Store with its 30% take on all sales. This brought in $60 Billion in 2020 and is a welcome addition to Apple's revenue especially so when the iPhone market's future doesn't look as good as it used to.

So this is not a good time for any challenges to the App Store's monopoly, but this is exactly what we have been seeing.

In 2020 Epic sued Apple and Google over the 30% that was being charged without there being any alternatives. Epic lost the case, but did win a small concession that allowed devs to direct users to external sites to buy in-app items. Apple has implemented the changes, but in a way that makes complying with the direction look more like avoiding the consequences of complying with the direction.

Now the EU's Digital Markets Act, DMA, is forcing Apple to deal with the iPhone in the EU differently from in the rest of the world. And now we have news that the iPad is also deemed a "gatekeeper" and has to follow similiar rules to the iPhone and iOS. What all this comes down to is that third party app stores for iOS are allowable in the EU while the rest of the world just has to look on with envy. However, things are not quite as free as they appear. Apple requires any app store to pay 50 cents for every app install over 1 million.

"Apple provides conditions where many developers do not pay the CTF. Developers whose apps do not surpass one million first annual installs per year and nonprofits, educational institutions, and government entities with an Apple Developer Program fee waiver do not pay the CTF. The CTF is also not required for developers with a no revenue business that offer free apps without monetization. Additionally, small developers (earning less than €10 million in global business revenue) are provided with a 3-year free on-ramp to the CTF and won't pay the CTF for first annual installs that exceed the threshold within a 3-year period."

It is difficult to see how this will work out in practice, but we now have the first officially approved apps store in the EU - AltStore PAL.

"AltStore PAL — is launching TODAY as an Apple-approved alternative app marketplace in the EU. AltStore PAL is an open-source app store made specifically for independent developers, designed to address the problems I and so many others have had with the App Store over the years. Basically, if you’ve ever experienced issues with App Review, this is for you!"

To cover the CTF the store charges 1.50 Euro per year. To update the app you have to subscribe again, but in theory you don't get charged again. This may put users off, even though it isn't expensive. Users also have to be physically in the EU to install the app.

altPAL

Before you get too excited about extending the category of apps to ones that Apple bans on the official store, it is a condition that all Alt stores host apps that are suitable for ages 4+, so no NSFW apps are possible. It isn't clear if open source apps will be allowed as Apple still has to approve apps and it says it will protect the user against malware and other nasties.

At the moment the crack in the App Store wall looks very unappealing. There are only two apps in the AltStore PAL - a free Nintendo emulator and a Clipboard app. Given the current problems, specifically the CTF, I can't see many developers bothering with third party app stores and hence I can't see users queuing up to install them. Things might be different if the EU decides that Apple charging third party app stores to compete with its own is not playing by the rules. It might also be different when Epic Games launches its app store.

Is this be beginning of the end?

Only if more effective legistation can be brought to bear on slippery Apple.

appstoreicon

More Information

Introducing AltStore PAL

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Last Updated ( Friday, 10 May 2024 )