Google is slowly cracking “open” iOS
With yesterday’s launch of Chrome for iOS, Google has again highlighted an increasingly-relevant limitation in iOS. You see, unlike Google’s Android, iOS does not allow users to select a default app for particular tasks. For example, the stock iOS Mail app is the only default email client. Likewise, Safari is the only default browser.
Apple’s refusal to allow default third-party apps has largely flown under the radar, most likely due to a lack of popular and well-designed alternatives to the stock iOS apps.
The landscape is rapidly changing, however. Within hours of launching, Chrome for iOS became the number one application in the App Store. Likewise, Google Drive for iOS has reached the fourteenth spot. The Gmail iOS app, which has been available for some time, is regularly in the top one-hundred.
As pointed out by John Gruber, there appears to be no sound reasoning for disallowing default third-party apps in iOS. By simply releasing well-designed apps for its most popular services, Google is steadily increasing the pressure on Apple to “open” up iOS to default third-party apps. The pressure to allow default third-party apps will increase substantially if Google releases a Maps iOS app in response to Apple adopting an in-house maps solution in iOS 6. It will really get interesting if Google releases their Siri competitor, Now, as an iOS app, which according to The Verge, is quite intriguing and useful.
It’s easy to figure out why Apple doesn’t want default third-party apps. It would cede control of the iOS experience to third-parties. Imagine a Google user with an iPhone replacing most of the core apps with Google counterparts. An iPhone homescreen with Chrome, Gmail, Drive, Docs, Calendar, Contacts, Music, Maps, Listen, Now, and Google+ is Apple’s worst nightmare. Unhappy iPhone users who would like to use Google services in a more integrated manner and can’t are also Apple’s worst nightmare. It’s a tough position for Apple to be in and Google is largely responsible for putting it there.