Apple looks set to open its walled garden in 2023

At Apple, it seems likely that 2023 will be all about security, and a new report explains why: The company may even start removing some bricks from the walls around its garden.

It may open for browsers, payments, app stores

A Bloomberg report says Apple is looking to open up some of its key private APIs to external competitors, adopt external payment systems, and possibly allow third-party app stores to sell software to users.

This tide of change appears designed to bring the company into line with various regulatory decisions, including the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

Changes include:

  • Allow browsers that use browser engines other than WebKit.
  • Opening its NFC implementation to other payment systems.
  • Provide access to more camera controls.
  • Potential extension of the Find My network to more third-party accessories.
  • Support for iOS apps distributed outside the App Store.

Bloomberg says the changes are led by Andreas Wendker, vice president of software engineering, and Jeff Robbin (who developed SoundJam), the company’s vice president of consumer applications, and could appear as soon as iOS 17.

These can be seen as direct responses to the many waves of regulation the business faces. Allowing a little more leeway on its platform should mitigate many of the allegations made against Apple, which should give it more wiggle room as it moves into future areas of hardware, software and services by reducing its platform lead.

But there is a risk, which is that they could erode customer security and user experiences. Will accessing third-party payment providers and app stores lead to an increase in malware?

How will Apple deliver?

A lot depends on the execution.

We don’t know how Apple will enforce these changes, but in conjunction with its focus on security, I think what its teams are attempting to do is strengthen platform defenses in preparation for regulation-driven insecurity.

This suggests that the company’s security teams will be deeply involved in planning to remove some of the platform’s security elements. The introduction of third-party app stores, for example, can leave users more exposed to accidental malware infections.

Apple will likely require third-party stores to take responsibility for user safety (the report suggests), and I think it will likely evict those vendors who can’t maintain certain agreed-upon security service level standards. (Because that’s what I would do.)

Think of it like a department store: if one of the concessions fails to maintain service standards, they lose their booth. It should be the same in the digital world.

I also imagine that Apple will not be secretive (why should it?) explain to its customers that the highly secure Apple experience they have become accustomed to still exists.

This means that using third-party apps, stores, browsers and services will likely become an enabled or disabled option in Settings. After all, no one in lockdown will want to risk installing apps from an unfamiliar third-party app store.

I expect Apple to hope that simply providing these options is enough for regulators to see that it has taken steps to open up its ecosystem to competition.

Some critics will inevitably want more

That won’t be enough for critics, who will argue about how Apple provides those permissions. They won’t want Apple to point out the added security you might enjoy by declining third-party services, even if it does.

(I’m not saying every third-party service is a nest of malware, by the way, just acknowledging that in the Android world, at least, many stores outside of Google Play appear to be less vetted at best.)

While critics will make these arguments, I think Apple’s making it possible to run alternate environments as a user’s choice will be enough to bring the company into line with what regulators want.

Once its platform is open, it will be up to those who want to tap into that bounty to get consumers to come play, not Apple. It will be up to them to get the large audience of underprivileged consumers who claim to exist on their side.

It will be interesting to find out if the consumers they claim to advocate really exist outside of a few angry Tweets.

The result?

I doubt Apple’s moves will generate seismic change. People who are truly committed to using third-party solutions will, but to achieve major changes in consumer behavior, these third parties will need to deliver levels of consumer satisfaction and quality that far exceed those provided by Apple.

Most users will stick with the “pure” Apple experience most of the time, even though some competitors may eventually spawn some really cool ideas.

At the end of the day, with this move, Apple will resolve many of the criticisms regularly leveled against it, easing the sting of much of the ongoing regulatory activity it now faces. This is important, because doing so means the App Store and Services arms will get better operational security in the medium term as they prepare for new hardware and new service launches in what most now expect to be years difficult.

In other recent changes, Apple recently expanded the number of price points it allows developers to charge for apps. The company again this week introduced Emergency SOS via Satellite in four European countries and made its long-awaited Freeform collaboration software available to all, which we’ll explore tomorrow.

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