Apple’s iPhone needs an overhaul. a new law could help
Apple’s walled garden around its technology is as synonymous with the iPhone maker as it is with the iPhone itself. This is how Apple tricks consumers into buying expensive headphones, watches, and speakers that work perfectly with that rectangular slab in their pockets, and ultimately what locks people into Apple products.
It’s been great for Apple’s business, but not always so great for consumers. Today, a European law forces the company to loosen its grip on its products. This could ultimately lead to a more dynamic experience on the iPhone as developers create more feature-rich apps for the platform that capitalize more on Apple’s technology.
The change, long resisted by Apple, could also be a boon for the company.
Many of Apple’s more than 1.2 billion iPhone users appreciate how the tech giant has kept things simple over the years. But in doing so, the company has moved away from more important innovations. In an increasingly saturated market for mobile devices, the once-amazing iPhone began to feel monotonous and sales faltered.
The situation isn’t helped by the way Apple has blocked developers from accessing many of the iPhone’s app programming interfaces, software tools that would help them expand the capabilities of apps to make them more appealing. .
But according to Bloomberg News, Apple is now laying the groundwork to allow outside app makers to use some of the company’s most closely held iPhone technologies, including its camera and a communications chip that enables contactless payments. This means iPhone users could soon be tapping to pay for things using their banking and finance apps, rather than just Apple Wallet.
Also in Apple’s plans: Companies will be able to access the iPhone’s Find My Network system to create their own AirTag rivals. Makers of web apps and web browsers like Google’s Firefox and Chrome won’t be forced to use Apple’s browser engine, which they’ve long complained about. This might make their services less clunky on iPhones.
Apple’s decision to allow alternative app stores on its iPhones and iPads, the same way Alphabet’s Google allowed non-Google app stores on Android devices, would also give consumers a broader range of application choices.
It wouldn’t be the first time Apple has won big by being forced to open up. Steve Jobs objected to the idea of having apps on the iPhone that weren’t created by Apple itself, fearing they would infect the device with viruses or “pollute its integrity.” according to Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson. When Apple’s co-founder changed his mind, it paved the way for a thriving market for third-party services, ushering in the phrase “There’s an app for that.”
Today, using non-Apple apps to do everything from making travel plans to checking the news to shopping and watching TikTok videos is something iPhone users hold dear. for granted. And that’s a big part of what made the iPhone one of the most popular consumer products in history.
The European law fueling the changes at Apple is the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which aims to tackle the monopolistic practices of big tech companies. In Apple’s case, it draws on several ongoing EU investigations into the company’s alleged abuses of dominance, including over music streaming apps and the use of Apple Pay for purchases made in the App Store. These cases are why the DMA includes rules that specifically affect Apple, according to Anne Witt, an antitrust specialist at EDHEC Business School, Augmented Law Institute, in Lille, France.
Apple is wisely preparing to cooperate with the legislation, having learned of Microsoft’s notoriously painful tussles with US and European antitrust officials in the early 2000s over how it integrated Internet Explorer into Windows. Microsoft was forced to allow other browsers like Firefox and Opera on Windows, which opened up the platform to third-party software.
Making its core products more interoperable likely helped Microsoft grow its then fledgling cloud business, where integrating with other existing systems and building stronger relationships with other technology partners would be critical to its success.
Consumers also benefited. Without this litigation, “we might be living in a world of software made only by Microsoft,” says Witt, and the parent meta-platforms of Google and Facebook might not even exist. Now the same is happening for mobile operating systems.
For all its bragging about the walled garden’s value and safety, Apple has also pushed back the opportunity for newer, more interesting experiences on its platform. Being forced to open up a bit could be a blessing in the long run.