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Meta, formerly known as Facebook, is gearing up to transform its platform into a replacement for the traditional app store. This move comes in the wake of the European Union’s Digital Markets Act, a game-changing antitrust legislation that will compel all platforms to facilitate the distribution of apps through alternative digital stores. The impact on Apple, in particular, is set to be substantial.
In a statement to The Verge, a spokesperson from Meta revealed the company’s keen interest in assisting developers with app distribution through the Facebook app. The vision is to enable users to seamlessly discover and download apps directly from Facebook, bypassing the need to navigate through the App Store on iOS or the Google Play Store on Android.
For Meta, this represents a significant opportunity to tap into a new market. The company has faced challenges following Apple’s implementation of measures to enhance user privacy, which have made it more difficult for apps to track users. As a substantial portion of Meta’s revenue is derived from advertising, these changes have had a substantial impact on its business model.
While Facebook Ads already allows advertisers to promote apps, users are presently redirected to the respective app stores for their respective operating systems. By offering apps directly from Facebook, Meta believes it can drive increased app downloads, which would benefit both developers and the platform itself.
While it remains to be seen how this will work in practice, as Apple has yet to announce sideloading in iOS, the Android platform already supports this feature. However, apps distributed through the Google Play Store still need to adhere to various regulations. Presumably, Facebook will only be able to distribute apps through an alternate version of its main app, available outside the confines of the official app stores.
To entice developers and differentiate its platform from the App Store and Google Play, Meta has indicated that it will not initially take a cut from the sales of participating apps.
Enforcement of the new legislation, expected to take effect by spring 2024, will compel Apple to allow developers to distribute their apps outside of the App Store on iOS. This will also enable developers to establish their own app stores for iPhone and iPad—a prospect that excites not only Meta but also Microsoft.
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The Digital Markets Act also includes provisions prohibiting companies from mandating developers to use their own payment systems. Currently, both Apple and Google require developers to comply with this requirement when distributing apps through the App Store and Google Play.
Speculation had been rife that Apple might introduce sideloading with iOS 17, but no official announcements have been made thus far. It is conceivable that Apple may delay implementing these changes until the eleventh hour. Furthermore, it is unlikely that sideloading will be available in countries that are not part of the European Union.
In an interview, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software, recently affirmed the company’s commitment to complying with decisions made by the European Union. This suggests that Apple will adapt its practices in accordance with the requirements set forth in the Digital Markets Act.