A Gate in the Walled Garden
Supposedly, under pressure from new regulations from the EU, Apple is implementing a sideloading capability for iOS. While this seems like an absolutely positive evolution, it’s also food for some deeper thought.
iOS has been a closed ecosystem from the start. In the very beginnings of the iPhone, it was not even possible for third parties to publish apps. Webapps would pave the way towards the future. However, as soon as Apple realized the enormous profits that could be made by providing the App Store, that all changed. Apple has kept a very close eye on their walled garden of apps ever since.
Myself, having a Linux and free software preference at the time, thought this was very limiting. Why buy a device that locked you out from installing whatever you want? However, after using Apple products for some time now, there are some advantages to this approach:
- There is a single source for all apps, the App Store. The process of installing apps, and especially of keeping them up-to-date, becomes very straightforward.
- Apple curates their App Store, and makes sure there are (mostly) no malicious applications in it. This protects end users that are not very proficient in the digital world.
- Apple also uses its power over the App Store to protect users against predatory apps (like Facebook) by implementing policies. Some policies protect you against companies hoovering up your data, other policies nudge developers towards implementing technical improvements such as “Login with Apple” and Passkeys.
An argument that was often brought forward to make sideloading possible, is that none of the advantages go away for users that don’t want to sideload. Giving technical users sideloading capability supposedly does not affect all other users. They can keep using the curated App Store and still enjoy the above benefits. However, when we apply some second order thinking, this is not necessarely the case:
- Many developers, when given the option, will prefer to make the app exclusively available outside the app store. This might turn out cheaper for them, and make them less dependent on Apple. This might make it more complicated to find apps, but also to keep them up-to-date. Even for users that don’t want to side load at all.
- Those external apps could very easily be malware, as they won’t be screened anymore.
- Sideloaded apps won’t need to comply with any policies, and will have free reign to implement whatever privacy violating behaviour they deem fit.
All in all, it’s a return to the status quo from before the smartphone era. I do believe that the net effect is still positive, and we will gain more from it than we lose. However I can’t deny it’s convenient to have Apple’s curated walled garden available. I’m curious how this will play out in the future.
#App Store #iOS