Sideloading coming to iPhone in the EU 'later this spring' — Apple unveils Web Distribution for iOS apps, but there are still some caveats

iOS 16 lock screen
(Image credit: Penfer / Unsplash)

Apple has today announced another major change to app downloads in the EU, direct web distribution, more commonly known as sideloading. 

Apple says it is "providing more flexibility for developers who distribute apps in the European Union (EU), including introducing a new way to distribute apps directly from a developer’s website." 

The changes, coming "with a software update later this spring," will let "authorized developers distribute their iOS apps to EU users directly from a website owned by the developer." The apps will be created by authorized developers using APIs "that facilitate the distribution of their apps from the web, integrate with system functionality, back up and restore users’ apps, and more." For users, it will mean residents in the EU can download apps directly from the websites of software vendors, rather than through an app store, just like macOS. 

Sideloading on iPhone

Apple's effective introduction of sideloading to the iPhone is a massive app store change, arguably more seismic than its alternative app marketplace plan. Apple says that developers who want to take advantage must meet "specific criteria" and commit "to ongoing requirements that help protect users." 

Apple has made two further changes. From today, alternative app marketplaces can offer a catalog of apps exclusively from that developer, for instance, Meta (Facebook) could create an app marketplace that only features WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook. 

Apple is also letting developers design their own in-app promotions, discounts, and deals used to direct users to make transactions on their websites, and has provided design templates to link out to web purchases.

The news follows tweaks Apple has already made to its initial plans to comply with the DMA, announced earlier this year. 

As with app marketplaces, to qualify for Web Distribution on iPhone, developers must be enrolled in Apple's Developer Program and "Be a member of good standing in the Apple Developer Program for two continuous years or more." They must also "have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year." The latter requirement will disqualify smaller and first-time vendors, indicating this is a change brought in largely to benefit bigger entities. 

Vendors must also agree to "Be responsive to communications from Apple regarding your apps distributed through Web Distribution, particularly regarding any fraudulent, malicious, or illegal behavior, or anything else that Apple believes impacts the safety, security, or privacy of users," as well as publish transparent data collection policies. Apple's Core Technology Fee also applies to apps downloaded via Web Distribution, with developers required to pay €0.50 for each first annual install over one million. 

When downloading apps from a website, users "will first need to approve the developer to install apps in Settings on their iPhone," and will be presented with a system sheet displaying the app name, a description, screenshots, and an age rating. 

The biggest winners will likely be large apps such as Spotify. However, Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, might be left out in the cold. The rules state that to be eligible for Web Distribution developers must "be a member of good standing in the Apple developer program for two continuous years," a requirement for which it would not currently qualify. Furthermore, the company's developer account was terminated until very recently, precluding it from the one million app download threshold. 

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Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9