Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
You have become the very thing you swore to destroy
Those harmless bureaucrats at the EU are rapidly gaining a reputation as a gang of ruthless corporate enforcers: You’ve got to take your hat off to anyone who can make Apple do something it doesn’t want to. News emerged late last week that Cupertino, having received the political equivalent of a cease-and-desist letter last summer, is dutifully mass-producing USB-C EarPods ahead of the iPhone 15 launch this fall. Lightning’s days are numbered, as the company falls into line with new regulations mandating the use of a common charging port.
Rationally we’ve known this was coming for a while, but it still feels like a surprise to see Apple give in so easily. As watertight as the regulations may be, and as strong as the political consensus appears, many of us assumed the notoriously stubborn corporation would find a loophole or lobby for a repeal. We’re simply not used to seeing the company lose.
But maybe that’s starting to change because USB-C is merely one in a growing list of concessions Cupertino has been making in response to discontent about its methods. It grudgingly launched a Self Service Repair program, having previously bullied customers into getting their kit fixed at authorized partners. It lowered fees on the App Store and allowed developers to use alternative payment systems. And most momentous of all (although possibly only in Europe), the company looks set to allow third-party app stores on the iPhone as of the launch of iOS 17.
The striking thing about these concessions is that they push Apple down one specific path: the one that leads towards Android, the antithesis of everything the iPhone stands for. Android (to simplify things quite a lot) is about letting the user do what they want, and hang the consequences; iOS is about crafting the perfect experience and asking the user not to interfere. Both philosophies have their advantages and their disadvantages, and I like that customers get to decide which appeals to them.
With regulators smelling blood, however, the two platforms are likely to converge as Cupertino loosens its grip. Want to use an Android cable? Sure thing, says Apple, with gritted teeth. Want to install apps from unofficial sources? Go for it. Want to bypass Apple’s payment systems entirely? You just made Craig Federighi cry, but be my guest.
The key for Apple, I think, is to absorb Android’s worthwhile qualities while keeping the ones that made the iPhone special. Customer choice can be empowering, but it can also lead to insecurity: so Apple needs to resist the temptation simply to demonize sideloading (easier said than done), and instead find a way to make it as safe as possible. A user-designed interface–an area where Apple has yielded more and more ground in recent years, from widgets to the customizable lock screen and this year’s expected custom App Library folders–probably won’t be as effective as one created by a UX professional. But the UX professional can create easy-to-use and attractive building blocks and set simple rules that keep things manageable. Choice, in other words, but with a few discreet handrails.
Above all, though, I’d like Apple to stop treating this as a war, and its software partners, and even users, as the enemy. The principle behind Apple’s success is simple: It set out to make great products that customers love. That’s what this is supposed to be about, not fighting tooth and nail to protect passive revenue streams. If you want iPhone owners to use the official App Store, don’t spend your time scaring them about malware on rival stores, make your own store a wonderful experience. (Getting rid of search ads would be a good start.) Instead of speed-limiting non-MFi charging cables, raise the quality of the official ones. In short, try to use the stick a bit less, and give us a taste of the carrot.
And with that, we’re done for this week. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter or on Facebook for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next week, and stay Appley.