Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Apple's 'walled garden' walls will get even higher with iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and MacOS Big Sur

The tech giant is building long-requested features into iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and MacOS Big Sur that tie the devices together, giving people fewer reasons to try competing options.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
5 min read

Apple's making changes to its iOS software to answer long-standing requests.

Angela Lang/CNET
Advertiser Disclosure
Advertiser Disclosure
This advertising widget is powered by Navi and contains advertisements that Navi may be paid for in different ways. You will not be charged for engaging with this advertisement. While we strive to provide a wide range of offers, this advertising widget does not include information about every product or service that may be available to you. We make reasonable efforts to ensure that information in the featured advertisements is up to date, each advertiser featured in this widget is responsible for the accuracy and availability of its offer details. It is possible that your actual offer terms from an advertiser may be different than the offer terms in this advertising widget and the advertised offers may be subject to additional terms and conditions of the advertiser which will be presented to you prior to making a purchase. All information is presented without any warranty or guarantee to you.

The tech industry often refers to Apple's ecosystem of devices as a "walled garden," an idyllic world of tech where each of the company's devices work together because Apple controls intricate details of how they work. In a few months, that wall will get a bit higher.

Sometime this fall, the tech giant will release iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and MacOS Big Sur, the software that powers its iPhones , iPads and Mac computers, respectively. The company has added new features to the software, which will be free to existing device owners, offering both convenience and an even greater pull to bring you even deeper into Apple's world. 

The "Sign In with Apple" feature, introduced a year ago, will more closely connect with apps to allow you to create accounts, sign up for new apps and log into existing apps using your Apple ID. Apple's also got a virtual car keys feature that creates a digital key to unlock and start your car with just your phone. And if you want, you can share those car keys with friends through Apple's encrypted iMessage service. 

Speaking of messages, that app has new features too, making group chats more appealing by offering threaded conversations as in Facebook and Slack, as well as the ability to grab someone's attention by writing their name.

"Today, the world is counting on all of us and on the products and experiences that we create to move forward," Apple CEO Tim Cook said Monday during the livestreamed keynote at his company's Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC for short. "We have not stopped innovating, doing the work that will enrich people's lives for years to come."

Watch this: WWDC 2020's biggest announcements

Apple's efforts to tighten the connections among its services is nothing new, but the announcements the company made in June bring that interoperability to a level users haven't experienced before. Apple's efforts to control the experience on its devices has helped it to build well-regarded software to power popular devices like the Mac computers, iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches . But increasingly, you need to either go all-in on Apple devices, or risk missing out on many of the key benefits. 


This could be your next car key.


At the same time, governments around the world have been questioning the ways the company wields that power, potentially shutting out rivals. The European Union has opened two investigations into how Apple treats outside developers. Apple also hasn't made key popular technology, like the iMessage encrypted chat service, available to phones powered by Google's Android software.

Apple may blunt that scrutiny a little bit by quietly opening up two key elements of its iOS software. Starting this fall, the company will allow you to change the default email and browser on your iPhone. Apple never mentioned the capability during the keynote, though, with the revelation coming in one of the presentation slides. Instead, Apple focused on all the new features its phones will have.

"Apple has always wanted to build this world that people want to live in," said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst now at Technalysis Research. What's unclear is whether Apple's latest features are enough to convince people to commit to only Apple. 

The number of people who have iPhones, iPads and Mac computers is small, O'Donnell said, noting that many more people have an iPhone and a computer made by different company. But as Apple continues adding features that competitors have had for years, such as small apps known as widgets on its home screen, or threaded conversations in its messages app, more people might be wooed over to the company's side.

"You do spend so much of your time with these devices," he added.

Read more: iPhone's radical new home screen changes aren't on by default. What you need to know

Not just features

The biggest news out of Apple's WWDC 2020 event in June wasn't the new features for its iPhones, but rather the changes coming to the company's Mac computers. 

Apple said that starting in the fall, it will begin selling computers powered by chips with designs similar to those in the iPhone and iPad. These chips, the latest of which have names like A13 Bionic, initially appeared in the first iPads in 2010. Apple said its chips today are more than 100 times faster than those original chips.

Beyond that, by building its own chips for its computers, Apple is able to fine-tune its software even more to provide an optimal experience.

"Most important, this means that iOS and iPadOS applications will be able to run natively on MacOS in the future, making it easier for Apple's 23 million developer partners to create applications across all Apple products," Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty wrote in a note to investors after the announcement.

For consumers, this means the opportunity to bring some of the apps they already use on their iPhones onto Macs, giving them incentive to look at other Apple hardware. 

Mobile future

For years, industry watchers have wondered whether Apple would eventually marry its ultra-portable iPad tablet with the MacBook laptop. Apple has routinely dismissed the idea, despite positive reviews for Microsoft's Surface laptops, which popularized the idea of a computer-tablet hybrid.

Apple WWDC 2020 event

See all photos

But with iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and MacOS Big Sur, Apple's effectively married them anyway. By making its new Mac computers capable of running iPhone and iPad apps, few things are left separating the Mac from its mobile cousins. The Mac has more storage, and it's designed to perform more advanced tasks like professional video editing and graphics design, but other than that, a touchscreen and some extra ports, they're not that different anymore.


Apple's more tightly connecting its phones, computers and tablets.


Apple even made this point by rebuilding its Maps app on the Mac using its iPhone and iPad app as its base. The company did the same with its Messages app. "It's a full-fledged Mac app that runs natively and is designed in a way that's true to the Mac," Apple software head Craig Federighi said during the company's presentation.

For Apple, tying its devices even tighter together, and building that wall ever higher, is just the latest way to guarantee as good an experience as it can.

"From the very beginning, the Mac redefined the entire computer industry. The Mac has always been about innovation and boldly pushing things forward, embracing big changes to stay at the forefront of personal computing," Cook said. "We haven't stopped innovating."