Apple details guidelines for web browsers and email clients with new default app option on iOS 14

We have already provided an early look at how you’ll be able to change default apps on iOS 14, although Apple itself hasn’t disclosed details about this new feature. This week, however, the company has shared the documentation of the new API with more details on how it will work and the guidelines that developers need to follow.

iOS users have never been able to set third-party apps as default. While you can install Chrome, Spark, and other apps on your iPhone or iPad, the system will always open Safari and Mail when you tap a URL or email address. Apple announced this year that users will finally be able to replace these apps with others from the App Store with iOS 14.

Apple says there are some requirements that developers need to be aware of in order to get their apps approved on the App Store with the option to replace Safari and Mail.

The system invokes the default web browser in iOS whenever the user opens an HTTP or HTTPS link. Because this app becomes the user’s primary gateway to the internet, Apple requires that web browsing apps meet specific functional criteria to protect user privacy and ensure proper access to internet resources.

Apps intended to be set as default apps must use a specific entitlement, but the company emphasizes that developers must request an individual permission by sending an email to Apple. Otherwise, the app will be rejected on the App Store.

For web browsers, the app needs to offer basic features of a regular browser such as a text field for entering URLs and searching, as well as curated lists of bookmarks. Apple also explains that web browsers with the default app option can’t be built using UIWebView, which was deprecated last year. Instead, developers must use the new WKWebView.

These apps must redirect the user to the websites they expect, in addition to presenting alerts for suspicious content or other problems. “Apps that redirect to unexpected locations or render content not specified in the destination’s source code don’t meet the requirements of a default web browser,” says Apple.

According to the documentation, Apple will also reject apps that access personal data unnecessarily. Web browsers with access to HomeKit, Health data, and always-on location services will be rejected. Most of these rules also apply to third-party email clients with the default app option. In this case, the app needs to provide a way to send and receive messages from any email address.

The company will review each app to determine if it meets all the requirements to use this new API in an attempt to prevent apps that aren’t actually browsers or email clients from being set as default apps.

Once you have a compatible app installed on your iPhone or iPad, you can set it as a default web browser or email client through the Settings app on iOS 14. Since each app must be reviewed and approved by Apple, don’t expect to have access to the new Default Apps feature before the official release of iOS 14 to the public this fall.

You can read the full documentation about the Default Apps API on Apple’s website.

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