But it really wouldn’t be the groundbreaking change some believe it to be.
If you go back and re-trace the history of iOS over the last decade plus and think about its progression in context, then Apple offering users the ability to change default apps really would be a major shift for the operating system. Along with Springboard’s still static screens of app icons, this is one of the last foundational concepts of iOS that hasn’t shifted or changed to this point. That makes Apple even considering making a change a very important moment for iOS.
In my personal opinion, it is a good thing, as well. It has been a very slow progression for Apple’s mobile OS, though one that has increased in speed since iOS 7. Since then, Apple has shown an increasing willingness to move beyond things that were once considered to be sacred cows of the platform. They have added real multitasking, opened up inter-app interaction with extensibility, allowed the use of external storage, and even set the iPad free with multi-window support and its own version of the OS. They also gave power users a way to move beyond simple, surface interactions with their devices with Shortcuts. More on that in a moment.
All that said, while Apple opening up the ability to use Fantastical for your calendar, Firefox as your browser and Spark as your email client is great, it honestly doesn’t do that much for iOS in terms of functionality. Not today, after some of the changes that have already been made. That is why I say this is more of a symbolic gesture on Apple’s part.
As for me, I guess I would use this feature if it comes, but I really don’t need it at this point. I am already using third-party apps for many things and I don’t have any trouble making that work. I still use Safari as my web browser because it actually works well for me, I used to use Chrome, but it became quite a battery hog, so I ended up switching back. I also use Notes as my default notetaking app on iOS. It’s very easy to use, I’ve never had any issues with syncing to iCloud and with the features Apple has added over the years, I can do all of the basics tasks that I need from a notes app. Other than Safari and Notes, I also use the stock Calculator app, Reminders for some personal and family stuff, Apple Music for music and streaming and Apple Maps on occasion, but that’s about it.
Beyond the above, I moved on from most of Apple’s apps years ago. I use Pocket Informant as my calendar and for all work tasks, Spark for email, Google Maps for most of my navigation needs, Box for most file syncing, Overcast for Podcasts and CARROT Weather for my weather tracking. Since I am a Windows user, I also use Dashlane for my password management, rather than relying on Keychain.
The fact is, I have so few issues with any of this that the ability to set any of the above as default apps really doesn’t matter much to me anymore. I would do it to work around the couple of hangups that I still encounter, but on the list of things I would like to see added to or changed in iOS, this is pretty low. Other than setting meetings with invites, which has to be done in the stock Calendar app, I can do anything else in Informant. If I click on something in iOS to set it as an appointment, it comes up in Calendar to save, but still shows up in Informant after I do. That’s really the worst of it.
As for Google Maps, thanks to the magic of Shortcuts, I don’t have any issues getting directions without jumping through extra hoops. I can use Siri to trigger a shortcut for directions that goes directly to Google Maps or Waze, rather than Apple Maps. I can do the same with an alternate browser, using a link in the share sheet to open a URL somewhere other than Safari. I can also add a task to Informant directly through Siri using a shortcut. Really the only area where I can see everyday users benefiting would be those who prefer Spotify for music. Being able to set it as a default app would definitely have some tangible benefits for them.
I realize that Shortcuts is geared toward iOS power users. That said, does anyone think less technical users are going to be switching default apps right and left? Unless they are prompted by the system or the app to do so, the majority of iOS users will never make use of such a feature. Switching default apps is something that tech fans and power users have been wanting for a long time, but likely won’t be a big deal to many.
All that said, I am still very much in favor of this happening. Even if it is just a symbolic victory, Apple opening up access to change default apps for iOS would mean they are listening. Whether that is to users or to regulators talking about forcing them to change how they control iOS and the App Store, the result would still be a positive. Even if features like app extensibility and Shortcuts have given us ways around most of the complication that used to be involved in replacing Apple’s apps, this last step is still a big one.
Now if Apple will just revamp Springboard while they are at it, THEN I will be happy. It’s time for both of these holdovers from the early days of iOS to finally change with the times.