Apple has faced quite a bit of scrutiny lately over the way it runs the App Store. Developers have complained about everything from the cut Apple takes of in-app purchases, to the app review process, to the fact that the company gave developers less than 24 hours notice that it was releasing the final version of iOS 14 to the public, forcing them to race to get their updated apps approved.
And, of course, there’s the Epic battle. That’s not a superlative, the company is literally in a battle with Epic, the developer of Fortnite, which has only heated up as the two companies start to fight it out in court.
Now, the European Union is proposing a new law that would impose a series of restrictions on Apple and other tech giants (like Google), the most striking of which is that it would prohibit device makers from installing their own apps by default when there are competing options available. That’s according to a report from The Financial Times (warning: paywall).
I think we’ve seen this one before. Anyone remember how the browser battle worked out? Oh yeah, it basically transferred the monopoly over the way we access the internet from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to Google’s Chrome. I’m not sure we can score that one as a win for the antitrust champions.
Then again, that’s probably part of the point. The FT report says that regulators are pursuing the rule-making process after previous attempts to curb behavior through antitrust cases have largely been seen as unsuccessful.
The EU is traditionally far more aggressive when it comes to antitrust enforcement than on this side of the Atlantic. This, however, takes that to an entirely different level, and it should have everyone worried. What happens “over there,” very much affects the experience and the choices companies make over here.
I think you can certainly make the argument that putting first and third-party apps on equal footing in this way might be good for competition in general. It would certainly be good for apps like Spotify, which competes against Apple Music, an app that’s installed on every single iPhone worldwide.
I think a more important question, however, is would it be better for users? Can you imagine unboxing an iPhone, turning it on, and having to go through the process of configuring the most basic functions like, installing an email app, a messaging app, or even a camera app? I suspect most people will simply say, “Uh, just give me the one that works on this device,” as in, the one Apple put there.
The subset of users that would prefer an app like Spark for managing their email already know where to find it. The fact that an iPhone comes with an email app doesn’t change that. Is Spark a better app? In my opinion, it is, but only because of how I use email. For most people, the default Mail app is probably the best decision. Making them go through a process to come to that conclusion is a terrible user experience.
That’s entirely the opposite of why people choose Apple in the first place. I would guess there is a very large subset of iPhone users (probably a majority), for which that’s the very reason they buy something made by Apple: Because they’re fine with the default apps.
And if you aren’t, Apple has started making changes like allowing users to change their default email and browser apps. On the other hand, forcing them to go through the process of choosing isn’t a better experience, and honestly, it’s probably not that much better for developers either.
Because, when the overall experience gets worse, the residual effect isn’t that consumers choose your app. The logical conclusion is simply that they get frustrated by the entire experience, which reflects poorly on everyone from platform to developer.
Sometimes you really should be careful what you ask for.