A Bloomberg report says Apple is considering allowing iPhone and iPad users to choose third-party default iOS apps for things like email and web-browsing.
Currently, you can use third-party apps, of course, but as we explained earlier, you can’t set them as the defaults.
It is not possible for the user to tell iOS that it prefers the third-party browser over Safari; any tapped links will open in Safari every single time. Similarly, there are many competing email apps in the App Store but shortcuts to composing a new email will only ever show the system Mail compose sheet …
If Apple does go ahead with this, it will likely be reluctantly. The driving force behind it is probably not to increase customer choice, but instead to address antitrust issues. As we’ve noted before, the company is coming under increasing pressure on this front.
Apple is facing antitrust investigations on a number of fronts. In addition to Congressional hearings, the Department of Justice has its own investigation; the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the legality of a deal between Apple and Amazon; a number of US states are carrying out wide-ranging antitrust inquiries of their own; there are a number of cases in other countries; and a slew of lawsuits.
The Department of Justice has recently been proactively reaching out to third-party app developers as part of its investigations, and Apple is likely now aiming to find ways to head off legal action.
But in my view, letting people choose their own default iOS apps would be a win-win for customers and the iPhone maker alike.
Customers would obviously win because we get greater freedom and control over our devices. But I think Apple would win too. Not just by making it less likely to face legal proceedings, but also by winning the goodwill of those who want to choose their own apps without making the slightest bit of difference to mass-market customers.
There are only two types of users likely to bother to change their default apps:
Techies tend to have their own preferences. They may consider one app technically superior to another, or may just prefer the user-interface or philosophy behind a third-party app.
Pros may want to set their own default apps because they want more power. For example, they may want something like FiLMiC Pro to be their default camera app.
Both are niche markets. The percentage of iPhone owners who fall into these categories is pretty small, so Apple’s own apps wouldn’t be losing many users.
But techies and pros are hugely influential. Keeping them happy is a good investment on Apple’s part, because they are the people from whom everyone else seeks advice on what to buy. Keep them in the Apple ecosystem and you keep their friends and colleagues too.
And look at the Mac. The same two demographics – techies and pro users – change their default apps; everyone else continues to use the standard ones. For every Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere Pro user on the Mac, there are a thousand iMovie users.
So in my view, Apple should be embracing the opportunity here to give greater choice to the small minority of users who will appreciate it, secure in the knowledge that everyone else will continue to use the built-in apps just as they do today.
That’s my view; what about you? Do you think it’s a no-brainer for Apple to do this, or do you think it could be risky? Please take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments.