Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Linked by Dan Moren

Bloomberg: Apple may allow third-party default apps

Writing at Bloomberg, Mark Gurman reports that Apple may be investigating changing a long-standing practice and allow users to change default apps for email and web browsing in iOS 14:

The web browser and mail are two of the most-used apps on the iPhone and iPad. To date, rival browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox and mail apps like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook have lacked the status of Apple’s products. For instance, if a user clicks a web link sent to them on an iPhone, it will automatically open in Safari. Similarly, if a user taps an email address — say, from a text message or a website — they’ll be sent to the Apple Mail app with no option to switch to another email program.

Power users especially have been clamoring for just such a move for many years. Third-party apps have definitely suffered from not being available as the default, as they are on macOS, for exactly the kind of reasons that Gurman describes above. Even for those who use Chrome or Gmail, there are gaps in the system that still find you shunted to Safari or Mail.

It’s notable in particular that email and web browsing are singled out here, since there are other categories—calendars and contacts, for example—where default app options could also be valuable. The report also suggests that third-party music apps may be available as the default via Siri on iOS and on the HomePod, which could also help bolster those features for Apple while simultaneously giving a leg up to those competing music services. Spotify, of course, famously complained about this treatment while launching a lawsuit that is still pending, though it seems to have been more of a negotiation tactic than anything, since the music service is mentioned prominently in Gurman’s report.

Personally, I’m all in favor of opening up default apps. While it does add complexity to iOS, it’s something that most users can continue to safely ignore—and, let’s be honest, they will—while giving more options to the minority who would use it. It would help Apple sidestep some of these pesky legal challenges, and consumers would benefit from greater competition in those arenas. Win-win-win.