Apple will allow alternative app stores to be used on its devices purchased in the EU from March.
Currently, anyone with an iPhone can only download apps from the firm’s own App Store.
Apple has always maintained that its rules protect users’ security.
But it has been accused of creating a monopoly, giving customers and developers no choice but to go through its own channels, and charging developers up to 30% commission.
It has meant that developers who either fail to meet Apple’s standards for being on the App Store, or do not wish to pay its fees, are excluded from the millions of people who use Apple gadgets.
The changes will not apply in the UK at this stage – although the UK’s Digital Markets Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, is likely to put Apple’s practices under similar regulatory scrutiny.
Epic, the maker of Fortnite, famously withdrew its hit game from the App Store after disagreeing with its policies. It has not been available on the App Store since 2020, although it is possible to play it via the web.
In theory this move could mean that iPhone users in Europe would be able to restore the Fortnite app via a different app marketplace.
The move comes as the EU’s Digital Markets Act comes into effect. The aim of the new law is to regulate the largest companies that are gatekeepers to services such as search engines and app stores to make the market fairer for established companies and smaller firms.
Apple also said it would further open up browser choice, so that EU users will be able to opt out of using the firm’s Safari web browser from the very first time they open it.
But it warned that while it was setting high standards for all new alternative apps and stores, it believed the move would create additional security risks for customers, and increase their risk of being exposed to malware, fraud and scams hidden within apps from other places.
“The changes we’re announcing today comply with the Digital Markets Act’s requirements in the European Union, while helping to protect EU users from the unavoidable increased privacy and security threats this regulation brings,” Apple said.
The US tech giant sells premium-priced products, with the promise that they offer an extra layer of security.
Android apps can already come from a wider variety of stores. However, as a result, malware is far more common on Android devices than Apple ones.
The purpose of both the new EU rules and UK proposals are to try to maintain open and competitive markets where lots of companies can successfully operate alongside each other.