Apple may loosen its grip on default iPhone apps, report says
Some changes may also be coming to Apple's HomePod speaker.
Shara TibkenFormer managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
The change would let you replace Apple's Safari browser and Mail app with rivals such as
Chrome browser and
Outlook mail app as your default apps, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter. Currently, iOS defaults to many of Apple's own apps. For example, if you're sent a web link in a text message, clicking on that link will automatically open it in Safari.
Apple is also reportedly considering opening its
smart speaker to third-party music apps.
The changes, which are still under discussion, could appear as soon as this year in Apple's expected iOS 14 software as well as a corresponding HomePod software update, according to Bloomberg. Apple hosts its annual developers conference in June, and it's likely it could talk about the changes during its keynote presentation.
Watch this: How to use the new Apple Maps
Apple didn't respond to requests for comment.
Apple's services segment is one of its fastest growing and most important businesses, and the App Store, in particular, has been vital to that rise. The company has long tightly controlled what apps are allowed in its store, banning any that don't comply with its values (porn isn't allowed, for instance), and Apple takes a cut of each app or subscription sale.
Apple's services push
Apps are what helped turn the iPhone into more than a phone. They're what get users hooked on their devices. But Apple has been facing scrutiny -- from everyone from regulators to software makers -- over the way it runs its App Store. While people with Macs can circumvent the Mac App Store and download software from web browsers, Apple's App Store is the only way to purchase apps for iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches.
"It sounds like a small evolution for Apple ... to open up," Blix co-founder Ben Volach said in an interview. "But it's very far from allowing real competition to actually happen."
He noted that there are multiple layers a user has to go through to select a non-Apple app. If users want to access, say, Google Chrome instead of Safari, they have to seek out the app in a store that highlights Apple's offerings instead of rivals, download it from the App Store and then specifically select it when web browsing. Currently, clicking on a link in something like iMessage would still load Safari. It's that third layer, the default choice, that Apple is considering changing.
Instead, Blix would like users to have options like setting what apps are preloaded on a new iPhone. They could choose Chrome, or BlueMail, from the start, he said.
"There are many ways in which Apple can open up to true competition," Volach said.
Originally published Feb. 20, 7:02 a.m. PT. Update, 2:17 p.m.: Adds background information and comment from Blix.
14 hidden iPhone features in iOS 13 you need to know about