Apple’s walled garden around its technology is as synonymous with the iPhone maker as the iPhone itself. This is how Apple gets consumers to buy expensive headphones, watches, and speakers that work perfectly with that rectangular tile in their pockets, and ultimately what locks people into Apple products.
This has been great for Apple’s business, but not always great for consumers. Today, a European law forces the company to loosen its iron 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 take more advantage of Apple’s technology.
This change, which Apple has long resisted, 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 avoided bigger innovations. In an increasingly saturated market for mobile devices, the once-amazing iPhone began to seem mundane and sales faltered.
The situation is not helped by the way Apple has blocked developers from accessing many of the iPhone’s application programming interfaces, software tools that would help them expand the capabilities of apps to make them more attractive. .
But according to Bloomberg News, Apple is now laying the groundwork to allow outside app makers to use some of the company’s most tightly controlled iPhone technologies, including its camera and a communications chip that enables contactless payments. This means iPhone users could soon pay for purchases using their banking and finance apps, rather than Apple Wallet.
Also in Apple’s plans: Companies will be able to access the iPhone’s Find My Network system to create their own rivals to AirTags. Makers of web apps and web browsers like Google’s Firefox and Chrome won’t be forced to use Apple’s browser engine, something they’ve long complained about. This could make their services less cumbersome on iPhones.
Apple’s decision to allow alternative app stores on its iPhones and iPads, in the same way that Alphabet’s Google has allowed non-Google app stores on Android devices, would also provide consumers with a broader range of application choices.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Apple has won big thanks to its forced opening. Steve Jobs opposed the use of applications on the iPhone that were not created by Apple itself, fearing that 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, paving the way for 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 to watching TikTok videos is something that iPhone users take for granted. And that’s a big part of what made the iPhone one of the most successful consumer products in history.
The European law driving the changes at Apple is the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which aims to combat monopolistic practices by big tech companies. In Apple’s case, this builds on several ongoing European Union investigations into the company’s alleged abuse of dominance, including music streaming apps and the use of Apple Pay for purchases. made in the App Store. These cases explain 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 from Microsoft’s famously painful struggles with U.S. and European antitrust authorities 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 helped open the platform to third-party software.
Making its core products more interoperable likely helped Microsoft grow its then-nascent cloud business, for which integrating with other existing systems and building stronger relationships with other technology partners would be critical to its success.
Consumers have also benefited. Without this litigation, “we might live in a world of software made only by Microsoft,” Witt says, and the parent meta-platforms of Google and Facebook might not even exist. Today, the same thing is happening for mobile operating systems.
For all its praise for the value and safety of the walled garden, Apple has also postponed the opportunity for new, more interesting experiences on its platform. Being forced to open up a little could be a blessing in the long run.