Five ways Apple is opening up its products with iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur

Nobody would credibly argue that Apple is a very open tech company, but the walled garden is at least getting a few new gates this fall with the release of its new operating systems (iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and macOS Big Sur).

Apple is making it possible for more outside devices and software to work with its own technology, and that’s going to make the Apple ecosystem stronger. Here are five ways Apple is embracing the outside world with its fall operating system releases.

Safari WebExtensions API on macOS

Currently, Safari extensions are built using Apple’s own proprietary tools. They’re installed via the Mac App Store, but there’s no browsable category for it. You can get to a list from Safari or direct web links, but browsing around find great extensions is difficult.

safari big sur tabs Apple

Big Sur features a number of Safari improvements, but support for a popular extensions standard is one of the most important.

In macOS Big Sur, Apple is adding support for the WebExtensions API, a cross-browser development method that is currently used by the Firefox browser, and is very similar to the developer interface for Chrome extensions. That means most Firefox and many Chrome extensions will be very easy to bring to Safari. But unlike Firefox or Chrome, Safari will allow you to specify which sites an extension can access.

This is likely to result in a flood of great new browser extensions, so Apple’s making a dedicated category in the Mac App Store. Browsing for and discovering new extensions should be a much better experience.

Set default email and browser on iPhone and iPad

To date, you haven’t been able to set default apps on your iPhone or iPad. While Apple still has a long way to go to make iOS or iPadOS truly open with replacing Apple apps with others, it is taking a great leap forward by allowing you to set default email and web browser apps.

When you click on a link today, it opens Safari. In iOS 14, you can install Firefox or Chrome (for example) and make links open in the browser of your choice by default. Its worth noting that, on iOS and iPadOS, third-party browsers still use the Safari page rendering engine for security purposes.

The same goes with tapping on an email address to choose to send an email to one of your Contacts. That always opens the Mail app today, even if you have other email apps installed and prefer one of them. With iOS and iPadOS 14, you can change the default to Gmail, Outlook, Spark, or whatever other app you want.