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Apple may be forced to make a massive change to how iPhones handle photos

The EU claims Apple is not complying with the DMA.

Published onApril 2, 2024

Apple iPhone 15 Pro camera housing close
  • A comment made by European Commission head Margrethe Vestager could require Apple to do a massive rewriting of iOS.
  • Vestager’s remark suggests that iPhone owners should be able to uninstall any app and change the default, including the Photos app.
  • The Photos app is system-level software that’s integrated throughout the entire OS.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) has had major implications on how Apple’s products operate in the EU. For example, Apple was forced to give iPhone owners in the EU the ability to install and use third-party marketplaces on the platform. A recent remark from European Commission head Margrethe Vestager could now fundamentally change how iOS handles photos.

The European Commission recently published remarks from two of its leaders Margrethe Vestager and Thierry Breton in regards to noncompliance with the DMA. Spotted by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, Vestager brings up how Apple has failed to fully comply with the regulation.

In the remark, Vestager states:

Under Article 6(3) of the DMA, gatekeepers have an obligation to enable easy uninstallation of apps and easy change of default settings. They must also display a choice screen. Apple’s compliance model does not seem to meet the objectives of this obligation … Apple also failed to make several apps un-installable (one of them would be Photos) and prevents end-users from changing their default status (for example Cloud), as required by the DMA.

The remark suggests that Apple should make it so that any app on its platform is uninstallable. And the passing mention of the Photos app, hints that Vestager believes this app should be uninstallable as well.

As Gruber points out, this would not be an easy task for the company as the Photos app is system-level software. It would require Apple to perform a massive rewriting of the operating system. According to Gruber:

Photos is not just an app on iOS; it’s the system-level interface to the camera roll. This is integrated throughout the entire iOS system, with per-app permission prompts to grant differing levels of access to your photos.
Vestager is saying that to be compliant with the DMA, Apple needs to allow third-party apps to serve as the system-level image library and camera roll. That is a monumental demand, and I honestly don’t even know how such a demand could be squared with system-wide permissions for photo access.

Although Vestager mentions the Photos app, it’s unknown if the European Commission will force Apple to make this specific change. If it does, it wouldn’t be surprising if Apple started questioning whether to stay in the EU or not.

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