After years of forcing users into its default email and browser apps, Apple has quietly announced that it will let third party apps be set as defaults in iOS 14. Wall Street Journal reporter Joanna Stern pointed out the change, which was buried in a "new features" screen, on Twitter.
Just the beginning? — As the company comes under increased scrutiny around antitrust issues — particularly in regards to how it manages its App Store and relationships with developers — this move could ease tensions around what access it gives competitors to its platform. Apple is already slated to fight a battle in the EU over its policies on App Store purchases and its tariffs, and just last week was embroiled in a very public fight over new email client HEY.
The new feature — which thus far has only been detailed for web browsers and email clients — has been widely available on Android since its inception, and has been a roadblock for many developers trying to make a more significant dent in Apple's monopoly over core experiences on iOS devices. It's likely that the choice to allow default app changes will set a precedent for other experiences, such as maps and navigation, music applications, and possibly even messaging.
Apple Music sucks but has bigness on its side — Spotify CEO Daniel Ek recently speculated Apple would make such a change, saying in an interview that the company was likely to further open up its platform after it gave his streaming music service access to Siri and Apple TV.
Ek arguably instigated the EU's antitrust investigation against Apple, arguing the combination of tariffs and the company's Music app being installed by default on all iOS devices put Apple ahead of its competition from day one and allowed Apple Music to grow to 60 million subscribers despite widely being considered a lesser app to Spotify. Today's update doesn't indicate users will be able to change the default music app.
The pressure being dealt by everyone from Spotify to Facebook and even Microsoft — which said Apple's monopoly behavior is worse than its was in the 90s — may be forcing Apple to make some concessions before regulators come down hard. It'll be tough to undo the gains the company has already reaped from its behavior, however.
Selling on privacy — Apple likely hopes its strong privacy protections in default apps like Safari will be enough to sell customers on using those over third-party apps like Google Chrome. The company has been investing heavily to reach feature parity with third-party services, announcing updates to Maps today including cycling directions and electric vehicle routing to help users find chargers along their journeys. Apple often says that it's not in the business of selling user data like other companies, so it leaves trip history and other sensitive information on-device.
The developer beta of iOS 14 is available today, with a public beta for all customers coming available sometime in July.