back to article What a surprise! Apple found a way to deliver browser engine and app store choice

Apple has debuted version 17.4 of its iOS & iPadOS, and by doing so made them compliant with European law. The release notes for the OS update are a masterpiece of understatement, because they scarcely mention the big changes required by the European Union's Digital Markets Act: allowing choice of browser engine and access to …

  1. shazapont
    Mushroom

    I welcome that walled garden... have you seen the mess outside?

    I won't be recommending that any of the people who call me to ask if they should be responding to that SMS message from Fedox, that inviting email from Amazen, that missed call from the NatWost, and what the hell are Passkeys, if they should change their App Store...

    The opaque nature of scams make every deviation and distraction another pain-point for everyone. Don't trust anyone. Not ever the gatekeepers, because everyone wants their cut. And whilst my grandmother is trained to exercise extreme caution and never click that link, it just takes one well-crafted misrepresentation to hook her in...

    I hope it's difficult to change the Store and not a simple rose-coloured **Welcome** click.

    1. abend0c4 Silver badge

      Re: I welcome that walled garden... have you seen the mess outside?

      I don't think there's any architectural requirement that the place that checks* the integrity of software should also be the place that the platform owner creams off revenue. Though Apple does seem to have done a good job of conflating them in the minds* of its users.

      *Of whatever extent they may be.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: I welcome that walled garden... have you seen the mess outside?

        Why should Apple pay to keep your phone safe from apps where apple didn’t benefit from the sale?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: I welcome that walled garden... have you seen the mess outside?

          Because OS security is on OS writers, because people will probably buy their phones less if Apple intentionally weakens OS security, and because there are provisions in the DMA that forbid degradation, including security degradation. The result of this is that the sandboxing on apps will hold for ones installed outside Apple's store just as they do for ones installed from it. The doomsday scenarios, where an app outside the store instantly obtains root access and gathers every bit of information ever entered into the device are hyperbole.

    2. Martin-R

      Re: I welcome that walled garden... have you seen the mess outside?

      Having just finished cleaning up my mum's PC again (she installed some supposed-PDF viewer by accident), I have to agree - let's keep the walled garden secure. If you want to be able to sideload stuff or use different app stores, just use Android and leave my mum's iPad in peace

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I welcome that walled garden... have you seen the mess outside?

      As somebody who doesn't like Apple as a company, and doesn't like their products (but sometimes have to use them), I'm rather appalled by the EU's attitude. If people want to give their business to a company that deliberately operates a very closed eco-system, then (a) they should be able to, and (b) the difference between IoS and Android offer customers differentiation and choice.

      If EU (or other) bureaucrats have time on their hands there's plenty of far better competition issues that need attention.

  2. Spazturtle Silver badge

    Hopefully there is someway to permanently disable the ability to install 3rd party app stores, preferably with a hardware fuse. Otherwise iOS devices have lost one of their main attractions and users have less choice than before.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Megaphone

      The vast majority of Android users don't install third-party app stores or sideload apps. They install apps exclusively from Google Play.

      I'm sure it will be the same on iPhones.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Given the infection rate of Android phones we see on our guest network when we enable the scanners it appears we have the less intelligent people around then - we don't see this with iPhones.

        There's also the phishing problem where people are lured to these more dodgy places, and the phishing is getting more and more intelligent (sadly). One trick we saw was a client mailbox getting breached, the email analysed and emails sent from there with salient parts replaced with malware and token theft links. For iOS they have to somehow convince people to install MDM on their phones, even Testflight is no longer a viable vector for malware.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          re: it appears we have the less intelligent people

          The one's who think they can go AC and post made up shit?

          Yeah, very intelligent.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re: it appears we have the less intelligent people

            Some of us have responsibilities - maybe do some research for yourself before you declare something in conflict with your own cult BS?

            1. Phones Sheridan Silver badge
              Trollface

              Re: re: it appears we have the less intelligent people

              "do some research for yourself"

              I.e. go watch someone elses YouTube video!

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: re: it appears we have the less intelligent people

                God no. 5 minutes worth of video to state something that fits on half an A4 just to get some Google credits irritates me.

                No, I have actual stats. From the network systems, from the various security surveillance systems - the works. I rather believe data we have generated ourselves because it's (a) our data and (b) applicable to us (it's quite possible others see other metrics for their specific environment).

                1. Rich 2 Silver badge

                  Re: re: it appears we have the less intelligent people

                  Children ,children!!!!

                  Just STOP - this isn't slashdot

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: re: it appears we have the less intelligent people

            "The one's who think they can go AC and post made up shit?"

            Don't you just hate it when ACs start to slag each other off.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: re: it appears we have the less intelligent people

              Why do you assume they're separate people? Always possible they're terribly indecisive and are changing their mind after each post, or that they are suffering a split personality disorder.

              And of course, you can't be sure that I'm not one of those opposing personalities, or a third one in the same mind.

      2. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Yes but the fact that is it possible is enough of a worry in itself. For example you now need to worry that your kids might install a 3rd party app store to bypass parental controls, or your elderly mother might click on a disguised advert and follow the instructions to install malware.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Which involves changing stuff in the settings app. Easy enough for us to do, but there is sufficient friction to stop a normal person from doing it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            .. for various variants of 'normal' :)

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "normal" tends to differ between kids and adults. Kids are far less inhibited to try something..

            1. Lurko

              "normal" tends to differ between kids and adults. Kids are far less inhibited to try something..

              I observe that the word "free", often accompanied by an exclamation mark, or even the concept of getting more than you're entitled to is entirely adequate to part adults from their already tenuous grasp on common sense and behave like an irresponsible kid. Look at the growth of the various forms of authorised push payment fraud.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            On iPads, it's easy to restrict the installation of software - look in Settings, Screen Time, Restrictions. My kids can't access the Apple app store, much less install anything else.

        2. MonkeyJuice

          If you can bypass parental controls by installing a 3rd party app store then your operating system has bigger problems...

          Also, it's quite common use said parental controls on elderly parent's phones with their consent, particularly if they have dementia.

        3. doublelayer Silver badge

          "you now need to worry that your kids might install a 3rd party app store to bypass parental controls"

          The parental controls can lock down some settings. It can already be used to restrict people from installing things from Apple's store. If they haven't let it block enabling other stores, it's deliberate. My guess, not having tried, is that parental controls can be used to block that setting equally well.

          "or your elderly mother might click on a disguised advert and follow the instructions to install malware"

          Sort of a worry, but I'm already worried that my elderly friends* might click on a disguised advert and follow the instructions to hand over their banking details, which they already can do, and that seems to be the more common request of such things. I guess we're back to trying to teach them not to, but maybe this will actually be a benefit to your relatives because you won't assume they're secure when they never were.

          * My mother, on the other hand, generally knows what she's doing and has a good level of suspicion, at least partly because I've given out lots of warnings about scams. If your warnings about how they work are not a) detailed and with examples and b) common enough that people would like you to stop, you may get better results by improving them.

    2. Lazlo Woodbine

      How has access to additional app stores made it that "users have less choice than before"

      Having less choice would only be the case if Apple had shuttered their own App Store in the EU, this doesn't appear to be the case...

      1. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Previously they had the choice of buying a locked down platform or an open platform. Now they can only buy an open platform.

        1. Zibob Bronze badge

          Rrrriiiiiiiiggghhhhtttttt.

          So before we had the "choice" of a locked down system, and an open system that allows you to lock it down.

          Now we "only" have the option of 2 systems.that can be locked down, or open.

          You will note there were 3 choices in the first statement, and 4 in the second... Yes... Somehow to you 4 is less than 3.

          1. Spazturtle Silver badge

            Except you can't lock them down as tightly as iOS was before, and many users won't know how to anyway.

            1. katrinab Silver badge
              Megaphone

              To lock down iOS as tightly as before, you do nothing. Doing nothing is what people who don't know any better would do anyway.

              1. Spazturtle Silver badge

                And how does that stop your kids from installing a 3rd party app store? Or your elderly mother following the instructions from a scammer who has called?

                1. Lazlo Woodbine

                  You stop your kids by not giving them access to an expensive mobile phone.

                  The most danger a kid will be exposed to on a phone is from 24/7 online bullying on anti-social media. Don't give them a phone that has access to Meta et al and you'll keep them 100% safer than if they have an iPhone...

    3. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Obviously a phone bought by an Italian living in Italy all his life and used in Italy should have access, and a phone bought by an American etc. shouldn’t. So there must be a switch somewhere. That could be exposed in the UI.

  3. Richard 12 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    I see the blind fanboys are out already

    The option to use another store is just that, an option.

    I suppose you also think that Walmart should be the only store in town, and all the others should close?

    1. Mishak Silver badge

      What about the app developers?

      Will they "force" current users to switch to a new app store by making their offerings unavailable through the Apple App Store?

      Just to be clear - I think choice is great, but not if the "choice" is forced on people.

      1. Dave K

        Re: What about the app developers?

        They could do that, if they don't mind losing about 98% of their customers. Alternative app stores have been around on Android for ages, yet there's no issues at all with app availability in the Play store.

    2. Dave K

      Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

      Precisely. Improve choice and out come the paranoid crazies, terrified that the impending death of iOS as a safe platform is nigh, just because there's now a bit more choice for those who explicitly seek it.

      Let's get one thing straight for the paranoid: Apple absolutely will make it as difficult, convoluted and hidden as possible to install another app store (and that's fine). You'll only end up with an alternative if you clearly, explicitly and deliberately go looking for it, and I'm sure attempting to install one will result in dire warnings from iOS. The average, simple home-user will just continue to toodle along as always with the official Apple App Store and Safari. The world (and the walled garden) will not come crashing down overnight, turning iOS into a crazed, lawless free-for-all anarchy. It will be just fine.

      If it helps, my parents-in-law are in their 70s/80s and are not IT/tech literate in any way. They've both used Android phones for many years now and I have had absolutely zero issues with them "accidentally" getting another app-store installed, even though the capability has been there for years for them. They just install a few apps they know/need from the Play store, and that is that.

      In short: Chill out people, take a deep breath - it'll be fine. However for those of us more technically minded to fiddle, this is good news!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

        I'm looking at this from the perspective of having to keep people safe. Opening the door further for the innocent* is IMHO not a helpful move.

        * Yes, innocent, not ignorant. Not everyone is a paranoid security specialist :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm looking at this from the perspective of having to keep people safe.

          And trusting a single corporation with all your photos, messages and historic internet use is keeping them safe is it?

          Grow up.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: I'm looking at this from the perspective of having to keep people safe.

            In fact, let's take that a step further:

            And trusting a single any corporation with all your photos, messages and historic internet use is keeping them safe is it?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I'm looking at this from the perspective of having to keep people safe.

              .. aaaand we're back to Google.

              Whose main source of revenue is the acquisition of personal data, with a sideline of offering services to get more of it.

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: I'm looking at this from the perspective of having to keep people safe.

                Which makes it a Good Thing that on Android there's an alternative to the Play Store.

    3. scaley

      Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

      I don't know how Macbooks cope without the store to protect them ;-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

        First of all, a better, less colander-alike OS built on principles that were sound from decades ago. Next, less feuturitis where rubbish gets added because someone has to sell a new version (well, slower, they need to sell hardware but you generally get about a 7 year run if you push it). Last but not least some judicious use of tools from, for instance, Objective See..

    4. simonlb Silver badge

      Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

      All the law is saying is that they need to provide a choice to the end users. Whether the users take advantage of those newly available options is entirely up to them. What was blatantly complete bollocks was the way that Apple were adamant it was going to be really, really difficult so they weren't even going to try and do it, when in reality it wasn't and they've now rolled out these exact changes less than three weeks later.

      From the Reg article https://www.theregister.com/2024/02/16/apple_web_apps/: "Addressing the complex security and privacy concerns associated with web apps using alternative browser engines would require building an entirely new integration architecture that does not currently exist in iOS and was not practical to undertake given the other demands of the DMA."

      It's the gratuitous use of weasel words like these which put Apple in a bad light and make them look stupid. Do Apple seriously think they can avoid making changes to their software to comply with an EU wide regulation by saying, "We had a look at it, but the computer said no!"

      1. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge

        Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

        > All the law is saying is that they need to provide a choice to the end users.

        Suppose I’m a baker and I make pastries with jam in them, and I’ve used the same brand for years. Is the EU now going to force me to allow punters to turn with their own jam for me to put inside said pastry? I can’t see that going down well.

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

      Aren't we fortunate here in the UK that Brexit has saved us from having the big, bad EU force a choice on the poor Apple users.

      1. MonkeyJuice

        Re: I see the blind fanboys are out already

        YAY. taking back control ftw

  4. Archivist

    My phone, my life.

    Before my life was controlled by my phone - banking, billing, health etc, I craved for 3rd party apps. Now my phone is more than just a plaything that happens to make calls, security is #1 for me.

    I know malware has and will slip through the official store, but less than somewhere unsupervised. I doubt I will use any 3rd party stores.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: My phone, my life.

      "Before my life was controlled by my phone"

      I think I can see where your problem lies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My phone, my life.

        I can see clearly now, the brain has gone? Wasn't that a song a while back?

        :)

      2. Archivist

        Re: My phone, my life.

        True, but not my choice. Try to do anything now, and and internet communication is necessary, whether by phone or computer.

        Banking

        Healthcare

        Bills

        Bookings

        Entertainment

        Transport

        Income

        Savings

        I think it's more than just my problem.

    2. Lazlo Woodbine

      Re: My phone, my life.

      I'm not aware that anyone is forcing users to use other app stores, it's a 100% certainty that they won't be pushing alternative markets out with the update, so users will have to go and look for them.

    3. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

      Re: My phone, my life.

      I actually have very few apps installed on my phoned... aside from one for accessing Mastodon and a few messaging apps signal/telegram/whatsapp (the last one for family who refuse to use anything else), amazon, ebay, netflix and a couple of apps for my heating and solar/battery system.... banking apps, google wallet and the kindle app (for my own books, not bought through amazon)

      I check what permissions are required before installing, don't install stuff filled with ads or that need excessive permissions, I use the duckduckgo privacy app to block tracking and so forth from other apps... I have a music app for listening to music (no streaming for me) and an app to connect to my Emby mediaserver.

      It's a pretty small number of apps when I look at what others have... most have at least 6-10 times as many... and most of them aren't used but still allowed to track and harvest their data.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My phone, my life.

        Don't forget to install a firewall. I have a pedometer app that's pretty good, and the Google Play Store entry says it doesn't share any info with anybody. My firewall actually makes this true - it prevents the connections to half a dozen tracking and "analytics" servers that the app attempts. Just 'cos it says it in the app store doesn't make it true.

  5. dharmOS

    What about browser choice in the UK?

    Without opening any UK post-EU, does this mean us in Old Blighty get a free browser choice or not?

    I really want a non-gimped browser that handles PWAs on iOS, like it does on MacOS. The developers at MS for Windows 10 and 11 recognised a long time ago that nothing worthwhile would come out as Win UWP apps, so the PWA mode in Edge is excellent. I would like to come off the native iOS app addiction (/installation) and use PWAs as I do on Win 11. Also, hundreds of MB download and installed to use a one-time app seems pointless.

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. CodefaceFossil

    I fear that browser choice in 2024 just equates to being pestered to install Chrome. No more pressure to test on non-Chromium browsers.

    1. dharmOS

      If the "cost" of pestering is an open browser is one that runs PWAs (Blink or Gecko rendering engines on iOS) , rather than being purposefully slow to implement standards (iOS Safari/Webkit) in order to defend an App Store that brings in $29 billion, I feel that is worth it.

      The native and often unnecessary app creation should come to an end. We are not on 3.5" 480x320 screens like the original iPhone 1-3.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        What “standards” are you talking about?

        1. dharmOS

          These:

          https://www.w3.org/TR/appmanifest/

          and these:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_web_app

  8. b1k3rdude

    Yes, colour me surprised indeed.

  9. raiderfra

    I feel this really is an unintentional retrograde step for consumers by the EU. They are following their aspiration to offer consumers more choice but are in reality reducing choice. There already is a mature Android based market with a wide range of devices with varying degrees of freedom for consumers to use.

    What is now missing in the marketplace is a “walled garden” device which gives the consumer the choice to buy a device where they have the reassurance a tightly monitored App Store and OS brings.

    Consumers should be allowed that choice.

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