The EU has decided to open up iPadOS

The EU has given Apple just six months to open up iPads in the same way it’s been forced to open up iPhones in Europe. The decision follows an EU determination that the iPad — which leads but does not dominate the tablet market — should be seen as a “gatekeeper.”

Apple will not have much time to comply.

What’s really interesting, as noted by AppleInsider, is the extent to which the decision to force Apple to open up iPadOS seems to have been made even though the EU’s lead anti-competition regulator, Margrethe Vestiger, says the company doesn’t actually meet the criteria for enforcement. 

It doesn’t meet the threshold, so we’ll do it anyway

“Today, we have brought Apple’s iPadOS within the scope of the DMA obligations,” said Vestager.  “Our market investigation showed that despite not meeting the thresholds, iPadOS constitutes an important gateway on which many companies rely to reach their customers.”

This triumph of ideology is just the latest poor decision from the trading bloc and comes as Apple gets ready to introduce new software, features, and artificial intelligence to its devices at its Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June. 

With that in mind, I expect Apple’s software development teams need Europe’s latest decision about as much as the rest of us need an unexpected utility bill. That said, I imagine the challenge has not been entirely unexpected.

Sour grapes?

To some extent you have to see that Europe is playing defense.

Not only has it lost all advantages in space research to Big Tech firms such as Space X, but the continent has arguably failed to spawn a significant homegrown Big Tech competitor. This leaves Europe reliant on US technology firms, so it’s clear the EU is attempting to loosen the hold US firms have on digital business in Europe by using the Digital Markets Act is being applied.

The EU isn’t alone; US regulators are equally determined to dent the power Apple and other major tech firms hold. Fundamental to many of the arguments made is the claim that consumers will see lower prices as a result of more open competition, but I’m highly doubtful that will happen.

So, what happens next?

Apple will likely attempt to resist the EU call to open up the iPad, but will eventually be forced to comply. Meanwhile, as sideloading intensifies on iPhones, we will see whether user privacy and safety do indeed turn out to be compatible with sideloading.

In an ideal world, the EU would hold off on any action involving iPads pending the results of that experiment. It makes sense for regulators and Apple to work constructively together to protect against any unexpected consequences as a result of the DMA before widening the threat surface. 

Perhaps user security isn’t something regulators take seriously, even though government agencies across the EU and elsewhere are extremely concerned at potential risks. Even in the US, regulators seem to want us to believe Apple’s “cloak” of privacy and security is actually being used to justify anti-competitive behavior. 

Do the benefits exceed the risks?

Experientially, at least, there’s little doubt that platforms (including the Mac) that support sideloading face more malicious activity than those that don’t. Ask any security expert and they will tell you that in today’s threat environment, it’s only a matter of time until even the most secure systems are overwhelmed. So it is inevitable some hacker somewhere will find a way to successfully exploit Apple’s newly opened platforms.

It stands to reason that ransomware, adware, and fraud attempts will increase and it is doubtful the EU will shoulder its share of the burden to protect people against any such threats that emerge as a result of its legislation.

For most consumers, the biggest benefit will be the eventual need to purchase software from across multiple store fronts, and to leave valuable personal and financial details with a wider range of payment processing firms.

The joy I personally feel at these “improvements” is far from tangible.

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Apple, Apple App Store, iPad, Mobile