Apple should be required to let iPhone users sideload apps, Biden admin says
The Biden administration wants major changes to the Apple and Google mobile app models, saying the companies "act as gatekeepers over the apps that people and businesses rely on" and enforce policies that "have the potential to harm consumers by inflating prices and reducing innovation."
An analysis of the market and recommendations for lawmakers and regulators were issued today=
The NTIA concluded that "consumers largely can't get apps outside of the app store model, controlled by Apple and Google," and that "Apple and Google create hurdles for developers to compete for consumers by imposing technical limits, such as restricting how apps can function or requiring developers to go through slow and opaque review processes."
One of the recommendations would require that mobile platform operators allow users to sideload applications, which would be a big change for Apple in particular. Company executives, including CEO Tim Cook, have repeatedly spoken out against pushes to require sideloading on the iPhone and other iOS devices. Voluntary measures probably won't solve the problem, the NTIA said, arguing that "new legislation and additional antitrust enforcement actions are likely necessary to boost competition in the app ecosystem."
While noting that Apple and Google "manage their app ecosystems differently," the NTIA said the companies "created unnecessary barriers and costs for app developers, ranging from fees for access to functional restrictions that favor some apps over others." The "incentive structures created by the current policies and practices of Apple and Google leave any alternative distribution models with significant disadvantages and limited functionality," the NTIA said.
"Above all, these setbacks mean that app developers and alternative mobile app stores are not afforded the opportunity to compete on a fair playing field--whether with each other or with the products and services offered by the gatekeepers," the report said. "All of these factors translate to potential losses for consumers: prices that are inflated due to the fees collected by gatekeepers, innovation that is hampered by policy decisions to limit access to smartphone capabilities, and the loss of choice of apps that are not featured or even accessible for smartphone users."
NTIA: "Prohibit restrictions on sideloading"
The NTIA urged US lawmakers and regulators to prohibit restrictions on sideloading, though it acknowledged security risks from unintentional installation of malicious software. "While still preserving appropriate latitude for privacy and security safeguards, legislative and regulatory measures should prohibit restrictions on sideloading, alternative app stores and web apps," the NTIA said.
Congress should enact laws requiring the major platforms to allow or provide "a readily accessible means for users to download and install third-party apps or mobile app stores, including through means other than the Google Play Store and Apple's mobile app store, while allowing for reasonable privacy, security and safety precautions (e.g., to prevent malicious software from being installed unintentionally)," the NTIA said.
App sideloading isn't very difficult on Android, though a How-To Geek guide notes that users should be careful about where they obtain sideloaded apps for security reasons. Apple's iOS has always been more locked down, but Apple reportedly plans to support sideloading and third-party app stores by 2024 in response to new European Union regulations.