Apple WWDC 2020 app library closeup

It wasn’t mentioned during the Apple WWDC 2020 keynote, but it’s a big and important feature all the same. iOS 14, which is scheduled to reach the public in the fall, will allow people to set default apps for email and the browser. This is huge. Here’s why.

The way iOS works now, Apple Mail and Safari are set as the system default apps for sending email and browsing the web. This means any time you click a link to send an email or open a web page, the link opens either Mail or Safari. For those who prefer or primarily use third-party apps, this is a monstrous kick in the shins. It prevents real user choice.

As it is now, Apple's default apps restrict user choice. iOS 14 will set users free, at least a little.

For example, I switch between Google’s mobile Gmail app and Microsoft’s mobile Outlook app to manage my personal and work email accounts, respectively. Each has features and behaviors I prefer to Apple’s native email application. Let’s say I’m browsing the web and come across an email link for a professional who I need to email. Clicking the link doesn’t take me to Outlook. It opens Mail, which, I’m sorry to say, I haven’t even bothered to set up on my iPad because I think it’s so bad. To be fair to Apple, there is a workaround. You can set up Mail as a send-only account for instances such as this. It’s a hack and a hassle. Moreover, the experience of jumping into Mail when you’re used to Gmail or Outlook is a jarring experience.

The same goes for browsing the web. While I personally do much of my iOS browsing in Safari, I do use Google’s Chrome browser for certain tasks. It would be nice to be able to send links to Chrome sometimes rather than Safari.

iOS 14 resolves this headache. “With iOS 14 you can set a third-party app as the default email or browser app systemwide,” says Apple on its website. Wa-hoo!

Will we see more default apps?

Apple WWDC 2020 iOS apps

This is a nice first step, but of course we’d like to see Apple go further. Prime examples here would be the default apps for music and mapping. Right now, Apple Music and Apple Maps are the default apps for those experiences. It would be excellent for users to be able to opt for Spotify or Google Maps.

Same goes for functions such as mobile payments, calendaring, and productivity apps. Imagine being able to use Google Pay on an iPhone, or Microsoft Outlook for your corporate calendar, or, when you open a .docx file, see Word instead of Pages launch. Eventually, we’d like to see apps such as the camera, messaging, the keyboard, and more become open to the default apps settings.

This is a nice first step, but of course we'd like to see Apple go further.

Apple has not indicated that it will expand the offering, at least not yet. Until it does, email and mobile browsing aficionados have reason to rejoice. Everyone else will have to wait.

iOS 14 is just reaching developers in beta form this week. Apple will launch a public beta for iOS 14 in July. The full launch of iOS 14 is expected in September or October.

Next: Apple WWDC 2020: Everything revealed, including iOS 14, end of Intel-based Macs

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