I am an extremely long-time Android user. The last time my main mobile device was Apple-made was when I was rocking a jailbroken, second-generation iPod Touch in 2008. But I’ve been testing out the new iPhone SE 2020 and my commitment to Android has been waning. And now, an upcoming iOS 14 feature that was stealthy announced at this year’s WWDC might be the straw that breaks this camel’s back: the ability to set third-party apps as your default for browsing and mail.
Initially reported by Bloomberg’s historically on-point Apple reporter Mark Gurman, long before Apple’s WWDC keynote today, the feature is a small one, but one that speaks directly to my interests. Basically, instead of forcing you into Apple’s default mail app when you try to send a message, or into Apple’s Safari browser when you click a link in another app, Apple will let you swear off its default apps entirely and set the defaults to be things like Gmail or my browser of choice, Firefox. It’s another step down the path that the historically walled-garden Apple has been walking down for years, following in Android’s footsteps by, for instance, finally allowing third-party keyboards back in 2014.
I originally swore off Apple devices for the same reason I jailbroke my old iPod Touch: I found Apple’s walled garden approach to software annoying in practice and offensive in principle, so I opted for Google’s far more hands-off approach to customization and third-party apps. But more than ten years down the road — post-Snowden, post-Cambridge Analytica, post-endless high-profile privacy scandals of all sorts — my priorities have substantially shifted. I’ve become much more interested in the protection of my personal information than I am in some abstract commitment to app choice. And privacy is something that Apple is kind of uniquely suited to provide.
Apple’s ever more explicit focus on privacy (which you have almost certainly noticed as Apple pushes it harder and harder) isn’t necessarily altruistic. It’s an outgrowth of the company’s business model. Apple’s business is based around selling services and hardware. Google, by comparison, fundamentally makes a lot of its money by targeting ads, and while it insists that it does not sell your data, the reality is more complicated than that. Apple’s software features increasingly lean towards on-device processing that make sure your data doesn’t need to leave the phone. What’s more, iOS features that let you hide your email are increasingly appealing to me, along with the company’s steadfast opposition to helping law enforcement get through its encryption.
But the way the iPhone, for now, still pressures you into Apple’s own browser and email apps has always stuck in my craw, both philosophically but also practically, as a pretty committed Firefox user. It’s kept me from making a big jump that is otherwise more and more appealing with every passing day. It may not be a huge deal for everyone, but it might be what convinces me to finally bite the bullet and make a big change.
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