Apple to allow iOS app installs from websites, but small devs don’t qualify

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App icons displayed on an iPhone screen.

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Apple will let European app developers distribute iPhone and iPad applications to users directly from a website, instead of through an app store. It’s the latest app-installation option announced by Apple as it seeks to comply with new European rules, but this one will only be available to developers who had an app installed by over 1 million users the previous year.

In an announcement today, Apple said it plans to introduce “a new way to distribute apps directly from a developer’s website.” The Web Distribution option will become available after a software update “later this spring,” letting 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,” the company said.

New developers or those who didn’t rack up at least a million downloads in the EU last year won’t be eligible. To qualify for Web Distribution, a developer must 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,” Apple said in a post describing how the option will work.

Apple has indicated elsewhere that fewer than 1 percent of developers meet the annual-install threshold. The “two continuous years” requirement could also rule out Epic Games, whose iOS developer account was temporarily rescinded by Apple in a recent dispute.

Websites and third-party app stores

Under the new system announced today, apps distributed from a developer’s website “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,” Apple said.

Users will need to approve a developer in the iOS settings before downloading apps from that developer’s website. “When installing an app, a system sheet will display information that developers have submitted to Apple for review, like the app name, developer name, app description, screenshots, and system age rating,” Apple said.

In January, Apple announced it would let EU developers offer iOS apps from “alternative app marketplaces.” Third-party app stores will be able to offer apps from a variety of developers, similar to the official App Store.

Another change announced by Apple today is that the new alternative app marketplaces will be allowed to “choose to offer a catalog of apps solely from the developer of the marketplace.” That means if a developer wants to offer an installation platform for only its own apps, it can create its own marketplace or use the Web Distribution method. It appears that only the Web Distribution method includes the requirements to have two continuous years in the Apple Developer Program and a million first installs in the previous calendar year.

Apple is also making one of its earlier requirements optional. When an EU app developer “direct[s] users to complete a transaction for digital goods or services on an external webpage, developers can choose how to design promotions, discounts, and other deals,” Apple said today. “The Apple-provided design templates, which are optimized for key purchase and promotional use cases, are now optional.”

New fee applies to app stores and Web Distribution

EU-based developers who accept Apple’s new business terms will pay reduced commissions of 10 percent or 17 percent for apps distributed on Apple’s App Store. Developers can also avoid Apple’s commission by distributing apps outside Apple’s App Store.

But Apple will charge a Core Technology Fee (CTF) for app installs whether they are delivered from Apple’s own App Store, from an alternative app marketplace, or from a developer’s own website. The first million installs each year are free, Apple says:

Membership in the Apple Developer Program includes one million first annual installs per year for free for apps distributed from the App Store, alternative marketplaces, and/or Web Distribution.

Developers will pay a CTF of €0.50 for each first annual install over one million in the past 12 months.

Apple says it estimates that, due to the 1 million-install threshold, “less than 1 percent of developers would pay a Core Technology Fee on their EU apps.” Nonprofits, accredited schools, and government entities can apply for fee waivers.

Spotify, Epic Games, Deezer, and other companies recently complained about the Core Technology Fee and other terms, alleging that Apple is not complying with Europe’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). “These fees will deter app developers from providing seamless in-app experiences for consumers, and will hamper fair competition with potential alternative payment providers,” a letter from the companies to EU officials said.

Apple last week said it has listened to feedback from thousands of developers and made several changes in response. One change announced last week will let developers create alternative app marketplaces without a standby letter of credit.

There are still various terms and conditions imposed by Apple that third-party app stores must follow. The DMA took effect last week, and European regulators are examining the changes made by Apple and other companies designated as “gatekeepers” to determine whether they have complied with the new rules.

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