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Pros and cons of opening iOS to third-party developers

Tony Bradley | May 30, 2013
Some users may be salivating over the possibility that Apple will make iOS more open, but there are potential negative consequences as well.

Speaking with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the All Things D conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted that the future of iOS might include opening the platform to third-party developers. If it happens, it will be a dramatic shift for the Apple mobile OS, and it will have both good and bad repercussions.

Apple is known for its "walled garden" approach to controlling the iOS experience. Walt Mossberg asked Cook about Facebook Home, and whether or not Apple might consider allowing that sort of customization of iOS, or interaction at that level from third-party apps.

Cook responded, "On the general topic of opening up APIs, I think you'll see us open up more in the future, but not to the degree that we put the customer at risk of having a bad experience. So there's always a fine line to walk there, or maybe not so fine."

Cook acknowledged that there are certainly users that want more flexibility to customize their mobile device, but he stressed, "We think the customer pays us to make choices on their behalf. I've seen some of these settings screens, and I don't think that's what customers want."

Cook is right: There is a fine line to walk, and opening iOS will present a Pandora's box that might appease some users while alienating others.

Benefits of opening iOS
Would it be nice to have apps like Facebook Home for iOS? Maybe. I'm sure there are people who use iOS who wish they could make their iPhone or iPad more unique with widgets and custom overlays.

Customizing iOS at that level is somewhat frivolous, though. The real benefit of opening up iOS to third parties through APIs will be the opportunity to choose your own default apps.

There are plenty of alternate map apps, Web browsers, clocks, notes, reminders, and other apps. iOS is tied inherently to its own apps, though. Ask Siri to set an appointment or reminder, and it will use the iOS Calendar or Reminders app. When someone sends you an address, tapping it opens the default Maps app. By the same token, if someone texts a URL to you, tapping it will open the site within the default Safari browser.

I love the VIPOrbit app. I think it's a superior way to manage my contacts, calendar, and communications. But, there's no way with the current iOS to assign VIPOrbit as the default source of contact or calendar information, so it requires a manual effort on my part in order to use it effectively.

Businesses could operate more effectively and efficiently if Apple provided third-party developers with API access to interact at a deeper level with iOS, especially if alternate apps could be designated to replace core functions.


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