Lately, news outlets have been screaming about a court case regarding Apple’s App Store. If you’re not familiar with the matter, Apple has been accused of creating a monopoly with the App Store by blocking any third-party stores or apps from being installed on iOS devices, as well as charging a 30% tax on everything sold on iOS devices using apps, something companies like Spotify have been very vocal about.
The court case has been going on since 2011, but it finally seems like it may reach a conclusion, and let’s just say that Apple is in a lot of trouble. We saw Google being hit with an anti-trust case by the EU commission a few weeks ago, due to them forcing Android phone manufacturers to sideload Google Apps on their devices if they wanted access to the Google Play Store, which manufacturers obviously did. Now, when you first set up an Android phone in the European Union, you will be greeted with a screen asking you what browser you’d like to install and what other apps you’d personally prefer to use due to Google losing the case.
Now, Apple is in an even worse situation as there are virtually no alternatives to the Safari browser. Apple has been preventing engines other than their own WebKit from being published on the App Store. Every browser you see on iOS is just a glorified WebView powered by Apple’s Safari. If you were wondering, that’s the reason Firefox for iOS doesn’t support extensions; because it isn’t really Firefox. Why is it so much worse for Apple than it is for Google then? Because Google at least let people change the apps and didn’t block competing browser engines from the market, which Apple is doing. It’s something the court may pay attention to and fine Apple even heavier if the outcome of the case ends up being negative for the Cupertino giant.
In regards to other apps, none of the stock iOS apps made by Apple can be replaced with alternatives properly. Sure, you can always install Outlook, but when you click email addresses in other apps, they will instead open up Apple Mail. Even if you uninstall some of Apple’s apps, you won’t be greeted with your preferred app. Instead, a prompt asking you to go and re-download Apple’s own app will show up. Apple simply does not provide an option to change the default preferences for apps as every other operating system has for the past 30 years.
What about security?
So why is this court case a good thing? And why should you want Apple to lose, even if you’re a die-hard fruit fan? It’s because of freedom. You as an end-user will only gain from opening up iOS. If you’re thinking of bringing up security as an argument, don’t. Because it isn’t one.
Security in iOS wouldn’t change in the slightest. It would be just as robust and solid as it has always been. Apple just doesn’t want you to know that. Regular users will simply stick with the App Store and not download apps from outside sources, just like it has always been on Android. Almost every case of big security scandals surrounding the Android ecosystem has been about infected apps on the Play Store, not users downloading apps from outside of it. This would likely be the case with iOS as well.
What does this mean?
If Apple loses this case, they will have to open up iOS to allow you to change the default apps to your actual preferred apps, but not only that. Browsers like Kiwi Browser and Firefox could finally implement Chromium and Gecko engines respectively and allow users to install extensions on their mobile browsers. Doesn’t that sound beautiful?
iOS has always been hindered by not letting users use their devices as they want. Apple users, while often having higher quality apps, they suffered in terms of features as workarounds were needed to fit Apple’s requirements. Spotify is a perfect example, a party very vocal about the issue. Subscription to Spotify via the App Store was phased out in 2015 due to costs of operation which were caused by Apple’s 30% cut. This forced Apple customers to have to subscribe via the website, something unfavoured by people paying via the phone bill payment feature in the App Store.
Another example is Outlook having to manually add support for opening links in third-party apps, such as Google Maps, Waze, Microsoft Edge, Chrome and more. It’s not officially supported, but if developers are willing to co-operate, or if their API’s are opened up, other developers can try to circumvent Apple’s restrictions. In a perfect world, this default app screen wouldn’t exist inside Outlook itself, it would exist inside of iOS settings system-wide. And we are close to that timeline where it’s actually possible.
The death of jailbreaking?
While it may be a huge blow towards Apple’s tightly-controlled ecosystem, they could also benefit from losing the case. Of course, they would rather not, but if they do, fewer people will have a reason to jailbreak their devices, letting Apple have more control over the end-user experience for those people, just like Apple always wanted. A move like this would make jailbreaking mostly obsolete as a lot of the jailbreaking features users want would end up being available as simple apps where possible.
While I don’t see the core jailbreaking community fading away anytime soon, a lot of casual jailbreakers would turn their backs on the community, especially if iOS 13 is as big of an upgrade as we expect it to be. Most jailbreakers only want some simple and minor changes to the OS, like a less intrusive volume HUD or changing the default mail app. Apple losing the case in addition to iOS 13 would be a dream come true for a lot of people, including myself.
People might assume that just because Apple would be forced to open up iOS that would mean everything would suddenly turn into Android. No, it won’t. Apple still won’t allow custom themes, likely won’t allow changing the homescreen at all (but that’s up for debate depending on what the court order says), overlays won’t be possible, so no Facebook Messanger bubbles like on Android, and much more will stay just the way you like it. It would still be iOS, just a little bit more friendly. Think of it as your workplace switching from a standard uniform to letting you wear your regular clothes.
Apple losing the court case benefits developers by letting them sell products via the App Store platform without having to charge an additional 30%, something that has been pushed onto users in the past. In addition to that, Apple would be forced to open up iOS for third-party apps that have been blocked from the App Store, like Steam Link and numerous apps from smaller developers that haven’t had their voices heard. This is phenomenal for end-users as it allows for a more competitive market on the iOS platform leading to not only more customisation but also more robust products from different companies as none would have the advantage of owning the platform. In short, Spotify will get better, so will Apple Music, you will be able to install Steam Link and firstname.lastname@example.org will open up in Gmail or Outlook, not Apple Mail.
That’s a good thing.