Since iOS was first released, it’s largely been described as a “walled-garden” system with subpar support for third-party apps or features. Now, it’s starting to look like that may change in iOS 14.
A recent report, as well as additional context from broader larger technology industry news, could point toward iOS 14 as the real start to Apple lowering its walls. Here’s what you should know.
A Bloomberg report from February 2020 claims that Apple is considering letting users set third-party apps as their default email and web browsing clients on iOS and iPadOS.
That’s a significant change to the way things are now. Currently, the default browser and email clients are Safari and Mail, respectively. And there’s no way to change that. Many users and third-party developers have found ways around those walls. Google’s apps, for example, will open other Google apps by default.
But when using many other apps and system services, there’s no way for Google Maps users to get the same type of tight integration that Apple apps offer.
As another example, Messages. Bloomberg reported last year that Apple was mulling a similar change that would allow users to send messages via Siri from third-party messaging apps by default. Later, Apple may add similar functionality to phone calls.
Apple’s walled-garden philosophy extends to other platforms, too. Users can’t play music from Spotify on HomePod without clever workarounds. The more recent Bloomberg report says that Apple will change that in a firmware update released alongside iOS 14.
This may be the most significant lowering of the walls around the garden, but it isn’t the first sign that Apple is moving in that direction. From opening up the NFC chip in iPhones to adding Spotify support to Siri, Apple has been slowly giving third-party apps more freedom on its platforms.
And that’s a good thing for everyone involved.
Why lower walls are good for users
Apple ships about 38 different apps with its iPhones and iPads that provide a “great experience right out of the box.” But, of course, what apps you like largely comes down to personal preference.
Even Apple notes that there are “many successful competitors” to its own apps on the App Store. It’s just that, up until now, users would be getting second-class integration with iOS along with the better app features.
Giving users a choice is always going to be a better move. And with Apple slowly moving away from hardware, there’s no longer such an imperative for Apple to keep users on its own systems and services.
In fact, letting users take advantage of their preferred web browsers, email clients and streaming services will likely keep them on iOS.
Many iPhone owners aren’t Apple-exclusive. Letting them choose their own email clients and other services opens the door for better cross-platform integration. The move is going to be a good one for every iOS user across the board.
Why lower walls are good for Apple
At first, you may think that giving more freedom to third-party apps and users may not bode well for Apple. After all, Apple’s own apps may fall by the wayside amid stiff competition.
But look at the current technology industry environment. Apple, as well as other major tech firms, are under increased scrutiny for alleged anticompetitive practices.
The European Union has launched an official antitrust investigation into Apple favoring its own apps over third-party competitors. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the green light for an App Store monopoly lawsuit.
And, of course, there are several prominent presidential candidates on the campaign trail who have made breaking up large tech companies a part of their platforms.
Even if everyone stops using Mail, Apple will likely benefit even more in the end. That may be especially true since Apple is slowing moving toward a service-based business. As we’ve learned from services like Spotify and Netflix, the more third-party platforms you play nice with, the better a service will do.
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.