Potentially yielding some bitterly-contested ground, Apple is thinking about allowing its users to replace their default essential apps like Safari, Mail, and Apple Music with third-party apps, Bloomberg reports. [Muted golf clap.] This comes less than a year after the Supreme Court paved the way for app-related antitrust lawsuits, ruling that iPhone users could sue Apple for using its App Store monopoly to drive up prices with its 30 percent commission on sales.
There’s no indication in the Bloomberg report that Apple will be opening the gates to the AltStore any time soon, nor does this seem designed to bolster independent developers. Sources tell Bloomberg that Apple is thinking about allowing third-party music apps like Spotify to run as a default on its HomePod speaker and for Siri commands, which are currently set to Apple Music. That’s a timely consideration, a year after Spotify lodged an antitrust complaint in the EU over App Store’s walled garden, while Apple faces a House of Representatives antitrust probe which has also looped in Spotify, against a backdrop of widespread government scrutiny of tech giants’ monopolistic practices.
Allowing users to switch their defaults and opening up the HomePod also wouldn’t solve the root of those complaints, which is the App Store. As Spotify has complained, the App Store charges developers a 30 percent commission on sales through Apple’s payment system–in Spotify’s case, that means Apple would gobble up a chunk of Spotify’s premium $9.99 monthly membership rates while Apple quietly collects its own equally-priced Apple Music subscription in full. (Spotify users can also download the app directly through their browsers. Spotify is currently the top-downloaded music app in the App Store.) If developers like Spotify opt not to use Apple’s payment system, they said, Apple bars Spotify from emailing customers who use Apple and “routinely blocks our experience-enhancing upgrades” which have including “locking Spotify and other competitors out of Apple services such as Siri, HomePod, and Apple Watch.”
Apple rebutted that Spotify was the top Watch Music app download and that “Spotify is free to build apps for—and compete on—our products and platforms, and we hope they do.”
So Apple gets to pull another “who, me?” the next time Spotify testifies at an antitrust hearing, while still operating as a cutesy-cartel. Plus, giving consumers more options wouldn’t be so terrible for the flailing HomePod, Bloomberg points out.
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And maybe we can have Google Chrome instead of Safari. It’s nice to have choices.
Bloomberg reports that Apple could implement the changes as early as this year with iOS 14, if it chooses. Apple has not responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment.