EU Mandates iPadOS Sideloading and App Store Alternatives within 6 Months


In a significant move, the European Union (EU) has declared that iPadOS, Apple’s operating system for iPads, will now be categorized as a “gatekeeper” under the Digital Markets Act (DMA). This decision, announced by EU regulators, means that iPadOS will soon be subject to the same regulations as iOS, the operating system for iPhones.

The EU’s investigation into whether iPadOS qualifies as a gatekeeper began in September 2023, coinciding with similar determinations made for iOS, Safari browser, and the App Store. As a result, Apple has been given a six-month deadline to ensure full compliance of iPadOS with the DMA obligations.

Despite the technical differentiation between iOS and iPadOS introduced by Apple in 2019, the practical similarities between the two operating systems are striking. Both share the same software build numbers, receive updates simultaneously, and primarily rely on the same App Store with Apple-imposed restrictions.

With this mandate, iPadOS will soon support alternate app stores, app sideloading, and third-party browser engines, akin to the recent changes implemented for iOS in the EU. While apps distributed through alternate app stores or third-party websites will still need to adhere to Apple’s rules, the ability to access alternate app stores and browser engines could significantly enhance the functionality of iPads, especially as laptop replacements.

Furthermore, ongoing investigations by EU regulators into Apple’s compliance with DMA regulations suggest that more changes may be forthcoming. Any alterations made by Apple to iOS in response to these investigations are likely to extend to iPadOS as well.

While these developments directly impact users in the European Union, the broader implications of Apple’s compliance efforts under the DMA may influence its policies globally. Recent changes in App Store rules, such as the acceptance of certain retro game console emulators, could reflect Apple’s efforts to adapt to regulatory pressures and may eventually impact users worldwide.