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Apple May Be Required To Implement Drastic iPhone Change, Report Says

In the last few days, Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s European Commissioner for Competition has remarked that Apple could have to make a very big change to the iPhone: the capability for removal of the Photos app.

That would be remarkable, and would follow on from the game-changing updates Apple has had to make to iPhones in the European Union. And while the changes are only EU-specific just now, it’s clear that multiple governments, including the White House, are watching closely to see which aspects of the Digital Markets Act they want to emulate.

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In comments last week, spotted by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, Verstager referred to “the objective of the DMA to open closed ecosystems to enable competition at all levels.” She said, “Apple… 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.”

This is dynamite, suggesting that Apple’s apps which are not removable, should be.

As Gruber says, there aren’t many apps which users can’t uninstall: “Settings, Camera, Photos, App Store, Phone, Messages, and Safari.”

Gruber goes on: “Vestager makes clear in her remarks what wasn’t clear in the EC’s announcement of the investigation: they have a problem with Photos. If they follow through with a demand that Photos be completely un-installable (not just hidable from the Home Screen, as it is now), this would constitute another way that the EC is standing in as the designer of how operating systems should work.”

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It’s as though Verstager sees Photos as just an app. As Gruber says, 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. This is product design, not mere regulation.”

Gruber goes on to suggest that since Apple could be in line for massive fines from the EU, there could come a point when it would be more cost-effective to get out of Europe. I think that’s unlikely, and would be costly to the European economy, which the EU would recognize.

Even so, it’s a curious position that Apple suddenly finds itself in. I suspect this new demand will be quietly dropped rather than compromising the way the iPhone works. We’ll see.

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