Wednesday, March 13, 2024

DMA Compliance: Web Distribution of iOS Apps in EU

Apple (MacRumors, 9To5Mac, Hacker News, Slashdot):

Web Distribution, available 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. Apple will provide authorized developers access to APIs that facilitate the distribution of their apps from the web, integrate with system functionality, back up and restore users’ apps, and more.


Apps offered through Web Distribution must meet Notarization requirements to protect platform integrity, like all iOS apps, and can only be installed from a website domain that the developer has registered in App Store Connect.


If you’re interested in using Web Distribution, please review the requirements to qualify. Later this spring, the Account Holder of your Apple Developer Program membership can request access for Web Distribution.


Be enrolled in the Apple Developer Program as an organization incorporated, domiciled, and or registered in the EU (or have a subsidiary legal entity incorporated, domiciled, and or registered in the EU that’s listed in App Store Connect).


Be a member of good standing in the Apple Developer Program for two continuous years or more, and have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year.

I see this as potentially more attractive than App Marketplaces because you don’t have to depend on another middleman. But it’s far from true sideloading. Most developers will not even be eligible, and you still have to pay the Core Technology Fee (CTF).

Benjamin Mayo:

The rules as originally written were specifically orchestrated by Apple to offer “sideloading” without offering sideloading. The rules prevented the obvious, straightforward, approach of letting a developer host a binary on their website for users to download directly to their device. Instead, A developer wanting to offer their software outside of the App Store was forced to partner with an intermediary, an alternative app marketplace in which to list their app, and then would have to somehow explain to their customers how to install said marketplace in order to install said app. It induced business relationships and a whole bunch of complexity that didn’t really have a justification to exist other than frustrating the process.

Tom Warren:

That’s a lot of hoops for developers to jump through, and it appears that Apple is limiting this to big developers only thanks to the 1 million installs requirement. Having a good standing developer account for two years may also rule Epic Games out of this particular distribution method.


Let’s list the additional changes that would make this offer something less than sideloading but still ultimately be somewhat palatable.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

It looks like Apple is rapidly finding out all the ‘and/or’s in the DMA were ‘ands’ not ‘ors’. Apple had bet their entire compliance plan on those being ‘ors’.

It seems like they’ve been working on this for a while but hoped they wouldn’t have to ship it.

Jason Snell:

Apple suggested that it made these changes after consultation with developers, which, okay, sure. But let’s be clear: this is very obviously the result of European regulators nudging Apple and telling the company that it hadn’t gone far enough and wasn’t honoring the spirit of the DMA.

And now we can fully see Apple’s strategy of incremental compliance, brought into action: The company announced the minimum possible and then waited to be told what else it needed to do. Now it will begin modifying those policies, as required, in order to satisfy regulators while still doing the minimum required of it, presumably hoping that it won’t get nudged by the regulators all that often.

Dave Wood:

The funny thing here is that for nearly 2 decades, Apple has driven the cost of apps down to pretty much zero. Normal users don’t want to pay for apps, and expect them to all be free. But now Apple wants to charge developers €0.50 per install!

Dan Moren:

These rules also mean that many small and independent developers likely won’t be able to opt in to web distribution—that one million threshold is still pretty high. Do those shops deserve to be restricted from developing their apps on the web?

Sarah Reichelt:

I’m not in the EU but I’m hoping for side-loading everywhere for distribution of in-house apps. This one million installs is a ridiculous requirement.

Thomas Clement:

So still not possible to make a small app and share it with friends and family :(

David Meyer (via Hacker News):

The EU’s Digital Markets Act has been in place for less than five days, and its enforcers have already pushed Apple into two humiliating U-turns. If Apple has been trying to test how much it can throw its weight around in its increasingly hilarious hissy fit over the new Big Tech antitrust law, it’s had its answer now.

Michael Love:

The requirements around this are onerous, but I actually view it as a positive sign because now instead of requiring Apple to allow sideloading and having Apple hem and haw about how tricky that is, the EU just has to tell Apple to drop the minimum download count and fee.

And the whole business about requiring at least 1M installs but then charging you after 1M installs is clearly designed to both lock out smaller developers and make this financially onerous for big ones, so I’m hopeful they do make those adjustments (and in the meantime am going to start paperwork on an EU subsidiary).

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple’s new clutch at malicious compliance is its requirement to “Be a member of good standing […] for two continuous years or more, and have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS in the EU in the prior calendar year.”, which it has applied to web-based sideloading.

I’m sorry Apple, but my rights under the DMA don’t disappear if I have less than a million EU users on the App Store, or if I have an ‘individual’ developer account. This restriction simply won’t work.

Drew McCormack:

One thing you can say for sure about Steve Jobs is that he loved to keep things simple. 30% tax on sales. Apps, books. Simple. The latest efforts to handle DMA would make him squirm. You seriously need a decision tree to understand all the options.


Update (2024-03-14): xroissance:

It takes 15 clicks to install an app from the web using the newly proposed Apple flow. Here’s the journey[…]


I’m amazed how Apple has intricately woven 15 actions into what appears as two straightforward sentences. The complexity hidden within simplicity often goes unnoticed.

John Gruber:

The eligibility requirement of having an app with over 1 million annual installations in the EU is a high barrier. The intention, obviously, is to limit web distribution to ostensibly trustworthy developers. But it’s sort of a catch-22: the entire feature is by definition intended for developers who want to distribute their apps outside Apple’s App Store (or anyone else’s EU app marketplace) — but the only way to qualify is to have at least one very popular app in the App Store or an app marketplace.

If this change is at the behest of the EC, via back-channel feedback, the EC is seemingly only concerned with large developers. And to me it makes no sense that this change — a huge one — came from anywhere but back-channel communications with the EC.


That it will only be available to longstanding developers with at least one million-EU-downloads app may well be completely compatible with the DMA. There’s nothing at all in the DMA about the interests of small or indie developers.


So my gut feeling is that we’re seeing Apple adopt changes in response to unofficial feedback from the EC. If so, that suggests that the things Apple isn’t changing — like the Core Technology Fee — are either OK with the EC, or, if not, that Apple is willing to fight for them.

Riley Testut :

IMO the funniest thing about these Web Distribution requirements is that I’m not eligible to distribute @delta this way…but I AM eligible to distribute an entire app store

Mark Meador:

When Apple said sideloading would lead to a bad user experience, it apparently meant that it would make it a bad user experience.

Tim Sweeney:

Compare this freak show of executive-mandated bad design to the App Store, where amazing designers make installs as easy as possible.


If developers are scared into silence while Apple and Google have literally hundreds of lobbyists employed by dozens of front organizations secretly advocating for their positions and giving money to political candidates, how do smartphone users and app developers have a chance?

David Barnard:

I genuinely think it’s lost on Apple just how scared developers are of them and of App Review. And then how that shapes the entire mobile app industry.

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There is zero justification for a per user install fee if I’m serving apps from my own web server. I could see the case for a small fee for app notarization, but that’s about it.

Old Unix Geek

xroissance@twitter said that it takes 15 steps to actually install said app, including two scans of one's face with FaceID. Hard to imagine people who can't drag and drop an app from a DMG to /Applications actually doing this.

And this costs a million installs -- i.e. at least $500K for Apple.

So after a year, you're probably back to the AppStore because no one managed to install your app.

Again, this is Apple thumbing their noses at the EU.

Now that the US is setting the precedent (TikTok) that you can be banned or forced to divest if the US legislature doesn't like you, I guess the same could apply to US companies that do not obey EU laws, or Chinese laws for that matter. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

I can't help but look at how Google has handled this and how simple and straightforward everything is there.


Almost all the changes Apple has made to its compliance plan, so far, are merely policy changes. Marketplace providers no longer necessarily need to obtain a million-dollar stand-by letter of credit. Developers who opt into the new EU rules can now change their mind and go back to the original business terms. Corporations with multiple developer accounts can opt into the new rules on an account-by-account basis, instead of all-or-none. Companies can create marketplaces solely for their own apps. All just policy changes. And all of those policy changes quite likely are the result of direct feedback from developers. It’s easy to imagine that Apple never considered that a company with multiple developer accounts might want only to move some of those accounts to the new business terms. I don’t see why Apple would begrudge any of these changes, even an iota. They can be filed under “Sure, we just didn’t think of that.”

Bullshit on the bolded. "Oh, we just didn't think about how these poison pills we deliberately inserted to make alternate marketplaces as onerous and irreversible as possible would affect developers, until they told us."

The official spin so far:

1 Poorly written law is causing confusion - Bullshit. Malicious compliance is the culprit, see Android and sideloading

2 This is aimed at US companies - Bullshit, the definition of a gatekeepr is clear and has obviously hit the mark spot on

3 This will make iOS less secure - Kind of true. I mean sure, the app store is full of scams and hacks, but pure side loading would probalby allow those Israeli hackers to do even worse things.

4 But refunds, subscription cancellation! - True, Apple are quite good at this. Sure, there are plenty of scammy apps on the app store but it's possible to get refunds at times, and cancelations are okay. At the same time, do a quick google and you'll find plenty of parents who didn't get any money back after their kids spent a ton on Gems in silly match three games for their iPads.

But this should NOT be on Apple. There must be better consumer laws for everyone.

Gruber almost always had the worst takes on anything Apple related. But that tracks. Miguel De Icaza is the other "Technologist" who almost always has the worst takes on these things. Good news! He chimed in on the PWA fiasco and was significantly incorrect.

I am not understanding how charging a fee for an app you don't host, market, or process my payments for makes any sense. How many installs of iTunes were there on Windows back in the day? Maybe Apple should have paid $0.50 an install?

I generally think that the problem with the CTF is not that it exists. I actually think Apple could justifiably charge a license to use the iOS SDK, I think the problem is that it is based on a per-install metric rather than a per user metric. If you were charged 0.50 per user that might make some sense as that is a sensible licensing policy where the more users you have the more you pay for the SDK. As it stands the CTF is a such a bad deal for popular apps that are paid up front that I think that Apple might be forced to remove the CTF all together.
If Apple needs a per download fee to run the App Store that is something that should only apply to apps in the app store

I actually think Apple could justifiably charge a license to use the iOS SDK

They already do, it's $99 a year for the privilege.

Old Unix Geek


It might be reasonable to charge for the "technology" if using it were optional and truly of value.

It's no longer optional: unlike the days of yore, one cannot write directly to the hardware, but must instead use Apple's APIs. In the very old days, we used to ignore the APIs because they were slow and buggy. Instead we wrote directly to the hardware. Hardware manufacturers didn't like this because every time they wanted want update the hardware, they broke software compatibility. Getting people to use their APIs was of economic benefit to them... not so much to the 3rd party software developer.

In my opinion the APIs are of debatable value. They're buggy, so we have to discover, understand, and then work around those bugs, wasting our time. Not only that, but Apple wants us to report their bugs to them for free, again moving economic value from us to them. But it's actually worse than that. The "tech" Apple produces can have negative value. For instance, if one develops OCR technology and has an iOS app using it, and then Apple develops their own OCR technology and makes it available by API, suddenly one has lost any competitive advantage to the myriad copycat apps, even if one's OCR technology is better than Apple's, because most people go for cheaper rather than better. The situation would be different, if the copycats had to license Apple's OCR engine for a fee, while those who used their own technology didn't, but on iOS you have to pay the "technology fee" whether you use said "technology" or not. So you're basically subsidizing the competition.

I see a lot less innovation among 3rd party developers than I used to, and I think one reason is the fear of being Sherlocked by Apple. I certainly have considered writing a number of apps, which were then made into Apple Apps or APIs. I no longer believe developing for the platform makes any sense as an indie. If you find a nice market, Apple relieves you of it. Nowadays, when I do work on Apple platforms, it's only as a hired gun.

The underlying problem is the distribution of power. In the olden days of yore, there were many platforms (computer manufacturers/OS's) and few 3rd party software developers. Lack of software could kill a computer. As a result, platforms really cared about 3rd party software, and did not expect to be paid. Now the situation has changed. There are too many software developers, and too little competition among platforms. So the platform owners expect to be paid vast sums for access to their kingdoms. They use the excuse that "oh we provide all this tech". But that's just an excuse since all that "tech" is of no value unless it can be used by users, and the platform's direct customer paid for it already. The truth is simply that Apple is trying to double dip.

So, either we need a lot more competition among platforms or we need more regulation, or ideally both, so that the competition survives. Alternatively, software will continue on its current path of becoming crappier and crappier... becoming thin wrappers on Apple provided functionality.

"I actually think Apple could justifiably charge a license to use the iOS SDK"

I feel like this is the wrong question. The actual question is: does it benefit anyone? Does it benefit developers? No, they're paying for something that is free on other platforms. Does it benefit users? No, it makes software slightly more expensive and limits the amount of software available. Does it benefit Apple? No, people buy their devices because of the software they can run on them, and a higher barrier to entry means less software.

It's just dumb all around.

Ah so Apple is experiencing a bureaucracy that doesn't care with rules they randomly enforce? Such a shame.

Apple could so very much make this seem like a win (because for customers it actual is), but instead they stomp their feet like little kids.

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