Siri and Spotify is nice and all, but here’s why Apple should let us customize iOS default apps

iOS 13 is just a few weeks away, and Spotify fans might be in for a treat. Thanks to the launch of SiriKit, The Information reports that the Apple Music competitor is in talks with Apple to let users control Spotify music playback with Siri without jumping through any AirPlay hoops, which could change iOS in a big way.

But I say, why stop there? On Thursday, 9to5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy responded with a strong editorial arguing that Apple should let users set Spotify as the default music player for all of iOS. But if Apple lets users choose the default music player, then it should let users choose the default apps for email, navigation, and web browsing. Allowing such customization may end up bringing more people into the fold.

Apple will be forced to tackle this issue if it decides to play nice with Spotify. The Spotify controversy exists partly because so many people prefer Spotify over Apple Music, so the service has a strong foundation for an argument. But it’s far from the only example of a competing app that many iPhone users prefer over Apple’s offerings. Many prefer Google’s iOS versions of its services, while still preferring the security and overall experience of an iPhone or iPad over what they’ll get on a Pixel or any other Android device.

A wealth of options

Google Maps is particularly popular despite Apple’s admittedly impressive and dogged efforts to make Apple Maps more appealing. In 2016, a survey from the Fluent firm claimed that as many as 69 percent of iPhone users consider it their favorite mapping app. Even so, those users have to take extra steps to open the app when they could just ask Siri for directions if Google Maps were the default.

Many users also prefer Google’s Gmail app over Apple’s native Mail app; others prefer Microsoft’s Outlook or Edison Mail. Some prefer using different apps for different purposes: I, for instance, prefer the Gmail app for personal messages and Mail for work. And there are so many possible options for default web browsers on iOS, ranging from Chrome and Firefox to the Brave Privacy Browser.

Importantly, though, I don’t think Apple has any reason to fear some massive abandonment of its apps. Many iPhone owners are quite content using the preloaded apps, as the persistent preference for Apple’s Notes app over more robust options continues to show.

Apps like Google Maps, Gmail, and Waze stand out because they’re free on Apple devices, which means they’re not as “dangerous” to Apple as Spotify. Both Spotify and Apple Music have subscriptions, so Apple stands to lose something if too many people end up preferring Spotify. And I don’t see how letting users choose whether Apple or Google’s service as the default email app hurts Apple. If anything, this freedom to choose would attract buyers who’ve shied from Apple’s phones, precisely because they insist on forcing you to use Apple’s stuff with Siri.

The curation advantage

Letting users choose the default apps shouldn’t even clash with Apple’s commitment to privacy and security. After all, one of the big attractions of using an iPhone is Apple’s vetting process for the Apple Store, which generally ensures that whatever you download won’t kill your device. Apple sometimes lets sketchy garbage slip under its radar (intentionally or not), but these incidents usually stand out precisely because they’re so rare. If Apple is worried that some apps aren’t good enough to be defaults, it could maintain some control by limiting the apps that users can set as defaults to a few trustworthy options.