I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Apple.

I love the hardware and Apple’s attention to details in iOS. And, I also love the quality of apps that developers have created.



Hate the Apple walled garden that limits how I use my iPhone on a daily basis. I’m not allowed to change my default browsers. Every time I click an e-mail address, I’m forced into an inferior iOS e-mail client. And not to forget to mention Apple’s tight OS restrictions, which makes the customization of things limited compared to Android.

iOS 14.0.0 concept
iOS 14.0.0 concept

Rumors around suggest that Apple is weighing improving some of these Apple restrictions in the new iOS 14. This could be an amazing opportunity for Apple to lower its walls a bit. And this just as regulators in the US and Europe started asking questions about how Apple exerts controls over its mobile platform.

Default apps



Bloomberg reported recently that Apple is seriously considering allowing Chrome and Gmail to be set as default on the new iOS 14. 

It’s not that big of a change, but it would have a huge impact on app devs who compete with Apple’s built-in apps. On the other hand, Windows and Android allow third-party apps to be set as default. But not Apple.

Over the last decade, competitors have created richer e-mail clients that integrate with full-featured calendar apps and such. They can also be viewed in more extensible browsers that sync across a lot of platforms, excluding Apple. Meanwhile, iOS still forces you into Apple’s often-inferior apps – like Mail.

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Why is this all happening just now?

Regulators in Europe as well as in the US are examining Apple’s overall mobile platform and influence. And, now more than ever, it’s an ideal time to relax default Apple app restrictions.

The EU has reportedly been preparing to launch an Apple investigation after Spotify filed a complaint about Apple. The complaint was pretty simple – Apple is favoring its own music with restrictions on rivals. And, furthermore, Apple’s requirements that iPhone users have to purchase the app through its official App store charges developers 30% commission.



Spotify accuses Apple of anti-competitive practices
Spotify accuses Apple of anti-competitive practices

Apple’s defense on Spotify pretty much stated how hard it is to compete with the iPhone maker on a platform where Apple sets the rules. Developers who tend to avoid Apple’s fees are forbidden to tell their clients how they can pay outside of the App Store. This means that other apps are also impacted by this, including Netflix. Netflix users are not allowed to link the subscriptions to heir website without letting Apple know about it.

But, the complaints go well way beyond Apple’s cut. Tile, a Bluetooth tracking company, testified in a congressional antitrust hearing that Apple is undercutting competitors on its platform. It is rumored though, that Apple is launching a competitor to Tile’s Bluetooth tracking, and the board of Tile has accused Apple of using iOS to favor its own interests.

“Apple is acting as a gatekeeper to applications and technologies in a way that favors its own interests,” said Daru. “You might be the best soccer team, but you’re playing against a team that owns the stadium, the ball, and the league, and can change the rules when it wants.”

 



Apple has some very frustrating restrictions

Apple’s reluctance to allow iPhone owners to choose their own default apps has created a frustrating situation. It got to the point that developers have to use workarounds in a lot of different ways. Apps like Outlook let you set Google Maps or Chrome as defaults. But others like YouTube open links in Chrome if it’s installed. Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc. register their links on iOS as an Apple-sanctioned workaround due to a lack of default app options.

So, if you click them from other apps, it sends you to a native iOS app. But, you can’t set those links to open up a third-party app. That’s the bottom line.

A list of Apple's native apps that are default...by default
A list of Apple’s native apps that are default…by default

Even after all these workarounds, I still find myself thrown into Safari more often than not. If a friend or family send me a link of cute puppies, it opens up the link on Safari. And if I press an e-mail, it sends me to the Mail app, which I don’t even have configured. And Siri is still the default and only digital assistant I can call for. Alexa, Google Assistant, or Cortana are all restricted down to working only within their apps.

If by chance, Apple relaxes those default app rules, it would definitely improve the overall iOS experience for may users. But, it does depend on how far it’s willing to go. Note that Apple’s restriction goes far deeper than just apps – they’re often related to security needs. Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and others have to user Safari’s WebKit-based engine in their apps. That’s all because Apple doesn’t allow rival rendering engines on their iOS.



Why?

This all allows Apple to control the security and updates of how web content is rendered on devices and their apps. Third-party apps have been limited forever in the manner of how they can interact with messages in iMessage or phone calls.

Another way that Apple might lower its walls is by overhauling its Apple Store Policies. Google, Nvidia, and Microsoft are also dealing with those challenges when launching their products on iOS. It took almost a year for Apple to approve Valve’s Steam Link app! Even though it primarily streams games from your home PC, but still.

Apple initially rejected it because of “business conflicts”. But it was very likely related to the app allowing an iOS user to access the Steam app within Apple’s ecosystem. And, Microsoft is also testing the limits of these App Store policies with its xCloud beta, while revealing it’s having to limit its app due to the policies.

Apple did relax some of its past iOS rules, which could hint how the company’s operating system might evolve in the future. Apple created a CallKit to allow VoIP for apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Messenger to integrate into the phone dialer of the OS. You can now easily make Whatsapp or Facebook calls and they even show up in the built-in call history.

The unlevel playing field

Third-party app devs have been accusing Apple of stealing ideas and building them themselves forever now. Apple’s built alternatives to Bitmoji, Moment, IFTTT, Google Photos features and a lot more are like that. It even has a name now – “Sherlocking”. This is a reference to Apple’s Sherlock desktop search tool back in 2002 that was already available in a popular third-party Watson app.

Sometimes, Apple’s native alternatives arrive just right before it cracks down on third-party apps. Apple built screentime controls into iOS, which appeared days before it started cracking down on third-party apps. They did offer similar functionalities, so to speak. Apple later backed down from these changes, but the timing did not look great at all.



Apple requesting permission to user location
Apple requesting permission to user location

Also, Apple faces a lot of questions about restrictions on its platform that doesn’t always apply to its own apps. Apple recently started cracking down on a location and Bluetooth features on iOS 13. This offers you reminders that third-party apps are using your location while you’re using them. Even though this feature has only privacy in mind, it doesn’t appear for its own apps like Find My.

The pop-ups have turned into a nuisance for many because you always have to tap “Always allow” every few days. And this all happens despite you telling iOS that you want an app to always access your location. Google, on the other hand, is introducing somewhat similar restrictions to Android apps, but the same policies will apply to its own apps too.



Apple does bend the rules elsewhere in iOS too – by using push notifications to promote Apple Music, TV Plus and Carpool Karaoke Show. To state Apple’s rules: “…should not be used for advertising, promotions or direct marketing purposes”. Oops.

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