On iOS and iPadOS 14, Apple is allowing users to set default email and browser apps. There has been extensive news coverage and discussion around which apps are supporting this new feature, but no one’s really explained what it means or why it’s important, so let’s dive in.
Apple is constantly shrouded in this dark cloud of “antitrust violation” and market dominance. It’s this idea that Apple’s control and ownership of the software and services that run on billions of devices around the world give it an unfair advantage over competitors. The App Store which Apple calls a safe and trusted place to obtain 3rd party apps has become the larger focus of that cloud.
In specific, there are concerns that Apple’s own services and apps on its products such as Apple Music, or Safari, get more system integration than 3rd party apps. Competitors have claimed that users will want to use Apple’s own apps/services because it has a deeper integration into the operating system itself.
For example, previously Siri was limited to only interact with Apple Music. Subscribers would be able to utilize the virtual assistance to play songs, playlists, and more. Spotify and others who compete with Apple Music claimed that Siri’s integration was unfair since Apple did not provide that feature to them, giving it an upper hand. Due to pressure, Apple did cave and open up Siri to Spotify.
In February of this year Bloomberg reported that Apple was considering allowing users to set default app options for email and browser apps. As Bloomberg explained at the time:
The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry.Bloomberg
6 months later, that report came true with the introduction of default apps on iOS 14. The announcement at WWDC 2020 was unfortunately swept under the rug due to more headline-worthy features such as widgets or the “iPadifcation” of the Mac. Either way, Apple opening the door to allow 3rd party apps to become default apps eases significant concerns of possible antitrust violations.
While the door is open, it’s not fully open. Apple still doesn’t allow users to set a default map app, constraining users to use Apple Maps instead of Google Maps or Waze for the system default. Apple’s Craig Federighi says that it’s restricted to simply email and browsers since those were the two most requested. It’s hard however not to feel that Apple is purposefully not allowing users to divert away from Apple Maps as the default given it competes directly with Google Maps.
Apple’s stock Mail app and Safari don’t have long-term benefits for the company, meaning that losing a portion of its users who use the apps won’t matter. Those two stock apps are merely complementary to Apple products instead of businesses within themselves.
In regards to Apple Maps, Apple continues to invest in better satellite imagery, Street View, and new guides in iOS 14 that are attempting to give it an upper vs. Google or others. Apple Maps to the tech-giant is a business of its own, budling the pathway for Apple Glasses and potentially the Apple Car, hence its long-term benefit to keep its users constrained. That’s not to say that Apple won’t allow users to set a default map app in the future, but it’ll likely come at the cost of having a seamless experience with future products.
Let’s however rejoice in what Apple has given us. Now apps such as Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft’s Edge can be set as the default browser app, in practice, that means clicking a link will no longer automatically open in Safari, but instead your browser of choice. The same goes for email, by pressing a “mailto:” link, your iPhone or iPad will not open Apple’s Mail app, but a 3rd party app.
For a company that is known for being tough and sometimes resistant to change, even if it’s limited to just browsers and emails, it’s a step in the right direction.