Apple CEO Compares Phones That Allow App Sideloading to Cars With No Airbags or Seatbelts

Tim Cook also reveals he owns cryptocurrency but that Apple has no plans to adopt it right now

Tim Cook - Apple CEO

To Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, letting iPhone users “sideload” apps — that is, install them from sources outside the tech giant’s App Store — would be tantamount to making a car that didn’t have airbags or seatbelts.

For Apple, “It’s just too risky to do that,” Cook said about the prospect of allowing app sideloading on iPhones, speaking in a prerecorded interview that streamed Tuesday at the New York Times’ DealBook Online Summit. “It wouldn’t be an iPhone if it didn’t maximize security and privacy.”

Cook asserted that “people have that choice today” if they want to sideload apps: “If you want to sideload, you can buy an Android phone… If that’s important to you, then you should buy an Android phone.”

In a whitepaper released last month on sideloading, Apple claimed, “Supporting sideloading through direct downloads and third-party app stores would cripple the privacy and security protections that have made iPhone so secure, and expose users to serious security risks.”

Critics have dismissed Apple’s anti-sideloading rhetoric, pointing out that other operating systems — including not just Android but also Apple’s macOS — allow anyone to download and install software from third-party sources. Instead, Apple’s refusal to allow iOS users to use apps that aren’t distributed by the App Store is designed to reinforce its virtual monopoly in the ecosystem, according to the company’s critics.

Apple’s App Store policies have drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators, and was the target of a lawsuit filed by “Fortnite” developer Epic Games. In the Epic case, a judge in September barred Apple from preventing developers from promoting other forms of in-app payment in their iOS apps. However, the court did not find evidence that Apple’s App Store represents a monopoly. The judge also ruled that Apple’s termination of Epic’s App Store account was “valid, lawful and enforceable” because the games company was in breach of its contract with Apple. Epic is now appealing the ruling.

The Epic lawsuit was in large part triggered by App Store’s standard 30% fee for in-app payments, and Apple’s requirement that app developers use the in-app payment system exclusively for iOS.

Cook, in the DealBook interview, claimed that for 85% of the apps in the App Store, the company collects no commission fee at all. For “the vast majority of developers” that do pay a commission, that cut is 15% (under Apple’s small developer program for those whose annual app revenue is $1 million or less). He also noted that Apple collects 15% of subscription revenue from apps starting in the second year.

“[App Store] commissions have only fallen. They only go down,” Cook said.

Cook was interviewed by the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin, who asked the Apple CEO about estimates that internet advertising platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Snap lost $10 billion in revenue because of Apple’s change with iOS 14.5 to require users to opt-in to ad tracking.

Cook, who has served as CEO of Apple for 10 years since the death of Steve Jobs, responded that Apple isn’t making the decision about turning off ad-tracking — it’s simply giving users the choice.

“Privacy is a basic human right,” Cook commented, as he’s said before. “What we’ve been all about is putting the power with the user… I’m getting great feedback from users about having the choice.”

Meanwhile, Cook was asked about his thoughts on cryptocurrency. He said Apple has no plans at the moment to accept cryptocurrencies for payments — and that he wouldn’t invest the company’s cash holdings in crypto. But, Cook said, he personally owns cryptocurrency, which he believes is “reasonable to own… as part of a diversified portfolio.”