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Sorry, but allowing third-party iPhone app stores is a bad idea

Sorry, but allowing third-party iPhone app stores is a bad idea

Apple has always been known to have tight control over both hardware and software, such as the iPhone and the iOS that powers it. However, it appears that the EU continues to become more and more involved in regulating Apple’s most popular device, the iPhone.

So far, the EU has set a deadline for Apple to replace the Lightning port with USB-C by 2024, and recently raised the possibility of opening up iOS to allow sideloading and alternative third-party app stores. While this may seem like a good thing at first, I’m not so sure it’s entirely true. At the very least, it will lead to some complications.

The App Store is a safe and reliable place

App Store shown on an iPhone 14 Pro against a pink background
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

One of Apple’s biggest selling points is security. Because it controls both hardware and software, it can be very picky about what it allows on the digital storefront of the App Store. While it’s not perfect, and there are certainly some flaws with the app review process, for the most part it’s the only place users can go to download and install apps and games. Additionally, all payments through these apps go through Apple, which is already a trusted name, rather than a third-party company that you may or may not be familiar with.

If Apple is going to allow 3rd party app stores, some sort of security measure needs to be added to ensure it’s a verified source, right? I’m thinking maybe something like how it’s currently done on macOS when you open an app that wasn’t directly from the Mac App Store. But even then, one can simply bypass any security measures and just allow it, which can have bad consequences if it’s not a legitimate source.

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Also, what about payments? I have no problem paying through Apple for apps because I trust it, since you don’t really see Apple in the news for data breaches. But if third-party app stores become a thing and you give them your credit card information to pay for an app, game, or subscription, you could be at risk if that company has a data breach at some point.

I like to use Apple’s own App Store because it is a safe place to download apps and pay for them if necessary. I’m not sure I have the same confidence in third-party app stores.

Option for exclusive apps

App Store illustration on screen

Some might argue that “no one is forcing you to use a third-party app store.” Well, yes, for now, but that could always change in the future. For example, Meta has many very popular apps, such as Facebook and Instagram. What if Meta created its own app store for iOS, pulling all of its current apps out of Apple’s App Store and putting them all in its own store? You would no longer be able to update your apps and would be forced to use Meta’s own app store to get the latest version of Instagram with new features.

Other companies may also want their own exclusive apps, and may even pay other developers to pull their apps from the App Store only to put them exclusively on a third-party app store, like Epic. This will create competition, but also force users to have multiple app stores that they may not want – I certainly don’t want to have three or four different app stores on my iPhone just to keep using certain apps. Or what about companies like Blizzard, Activision and EA that make you use their own launchers for all the games you want to play?

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One of the reasons people like iOS is because of its simplicity compared to Android. But telling a non-techie that you need multiple app stores just to keep their apps up to date, or one app isn’t available on the App Store because it’s “exclusive” to another, just adds a layer of unnecessary complexity.

This may very well be an unlikely scenario, after all, but imagine if it comes to fruition. With third-party app stores likely to come, anything is possible.

Sideloading app piracy

The Instagram app in the Google Play Store on an Android smartphone.
pixel6propix / Unsplash

When jailbreaking iPhones was more popular, I remember one of the most common reasons for jailbreaking was to pirate certain popular apps because they were premium, paid apps. While I don’t have a problem supporting developers who create software that has become an indispensable tool in my everyday life, unfortunately not everyone likes to pay for apps, and that’s where piracy comes in.

Sideloading apps on iOS can lead to higher levels of piracy, because again, not everyone feels that a developer’s hard work is worth the money. However, I see a lot more apps these days that are free to download, although you have to pay a subscription fee or make an in-app purchase to unlock all the features, rather than paying for apps up front. The market for apps in general has changed, so maybe app piracy won’t be as big as it was in the early days of jailbroken iPhones. Still, sideloading apps leaves the backdoor open to piracy, and I’m just not a big fan of that.

It’s not all doom and gloom

While I have my concerns about Apple allowing third-party app stores, it probably won’t be too bad. It will open up the platform a little more, and give users greater freedom in how they choose to use their iPhone or iPad. We could finally get emulator apps and play all our old favorite games to our heart’s content!

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And who knows? Maybe one day we’ll get the iOS adaptation we deserve.

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