Apple looks poised to open its walled garden in 2023

Apple may embrace external payment systems, additional browser engines, and possibly permit third-party app stores on iOS, report claims.

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At Apple, it seems likely 2023 will be all about security, and a new report tells us why: The company may also begin to remove some bricks from the walls around its garden.

May open up for browsers, payments, app stores

A Bloomberg report claims that Apple is looking to open up some of its key private APIs to outside competitors, embrace external payment systems, and possibly permit third-party app stores to sell software to users.

This tidal wave of change seems designed to bring the company in line with various regulatory decisions, including the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

The changes include:

  • Permitting browsers that use browser engines other than WebKit.
  • Opening its NFC implementation to other payment systems.
  • Providing access to more camera controls.
  • Potentially extending the Find My network to more third-party accessories.
  • Supporting iOS apps distributed outside the App Store.

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

These can be seen as direct responses to the many waves of regulation the company faces. Enabling a little more latitude on its platform should mitigate many of the accusations made against Apple, which should give it more wriggle room as it enters future hardware, software, and services areas by reducing its platform advantage.

But there’s a risk, which is that they may erode the customer security and user experiences. Will access to third-party payment and app store providers lead to an increase in malware?

How will Apple deliver?

A lot depends on execution.

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

This suggests the company’s security teams will be deeply involved in planning around the removal of some elements of platform protection. The introduction of third-party app stores, for example, may leave users more open to accidental malware infection.

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

Think of it like a department store — if one of the concessions can’t maintain standards of service, they lose their booth. It should be the same in the digital world.

I also imagine Apple will make no secret (why should it?) explaining to its customers that the highly secure Apple experience they have become accustomed to still exists.

That means that use of third-party apps, stores, browsers, and services will likely become options enabled or disabled in Settings. After all, no one in Lockdown Mode is going to want to risk installing apps from an unknown thirdparty app store.

I expect Apple hopes that simply providing these options will be sufficient for regulators to see it has taken steps to open its ecosystem to competition.

Some critics will inevitably want more

This won’t be enough for critics, who will argue about how Apple provides such permissions. They will not want Apple to stress the additional security you may enjoy by declining third-party services, even though this is the case.

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

While critics will make those arguments, I think the fact Apple makes it possible to run alternate environments as a user choice will be sufficient to bring the company into line with what regulators want.

Once its platform is open, it will be the job of those who want to exploit that largesse to convince consumers to come to play — not Apple. The onus will be on them to bring the vast audience of disadvantaged consumers they claim exists on side.

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

The result?

I doubt Apple’s moves will generate seismic change. People who are really committed to using third-party solutions will do so, but to achieve any major changes in consumer behavior, those third parties are going to have to deliver levels of consumer satisfaction and quality that vastly exceed those Apple provides.

Most users will stick with the "pure" Apple experience most of the time, though some competitors may eventually generate ideas that are truly great.

At the end of the day, with this move, Apple will resolve many of the criticisms regularly leveled against it, blunting the sting of much of the ongoing regulatory activity it now  faces. That’s important, because doing so means its App Store and services arms will gain better medium-term operational security as they prepare for new hardware and new service launches across what most now expect will be difficult years.

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

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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