The best Apple rumor right now is Gmail

Technology

Apple rumors have heated up in the past week, following the usual spring tradition. Apple doesn’t always have a keynote in the first quarter of the year, but when it does it’s a good time for it to update or announce products that aren’t necessarily central to its business. But the leaks and innuendo so far don’t have the air of inevitability that often accompanies Apple rumors yet, so I wouldn’t block off your calendar just yet.

But if you Want To Believe, the current best guesses point to something happening towards the end (or on the very last day) of March. Or somethings; the iPhone SE 2 (aka the iPhone 9), AirTag location beacons, Apple-branded over-the-ear headphones, an updated iPad Pro with a big square camera module, and even updated MacBooks with the better keyboard have all been rumored. Getting all of that at once would make for a Homer Car of an event — too many things unrealistically crammed into one package. So if this event even happens, I’d expect only a subset.

All of those rumored products are fairly straightforward. What has me thinking is a couple of other Apple rumors that are custom-designed to appeal to my particular obsessions.

The first is that Apple’s first ARM-based Macs may start showing up as early as next year. I am writing about this on an ARM-based Windows machine, the Surface Pro X. The software hassles I’ve dealt with are enough to keep me from recommending it to anybody, but it’s been useful for me to live with those hassles as part of my job.

I’m not suggesting Apple will face exactly parallel issues if it ever releases an ARM-based MacBook, but I’m guessing they will be in the same ballpark. And while I’d like to express confidence that Apple will navigate the issues of app compatibility, developer relations, emulation, and performance well, recent history with the Mac gives me pause.

Catalina, the latest version of the OS, is widely derided right now. Catalyst, the system for getting iPad apps on the Mac, has also not worked out especially well so far (to put it mildly). Apple’s recent software track record for the Mac makes it hard to give the company the benefit of the doubt that it can gracefully handle a processor transition.

I didn’t even lead with the easy criticism of the Touch Bar, the keyboards, or the recently-ended long dark night of the Mac Pro. Those things aren’t strictly relevant to an ARM transition, but they are examples of other hassles that have drained the reserves of goodwill that Mac users might otherwise feel towards a big shakeup.

I’m not saying Apple isn’t up to the task of switching Mac laptops over to new processors, but I am saying it is going to need to show its work early and often if it’s going to engender enough trust to bring users along for the ride.

Second, Mark Gurman at Bloomberg reports that Apple is considering allowing apps like Chrome and Gmail to be set as iOS defaults. I have been waiting for Apple to do this literally since the day the iPhone was able to run native third-party apps in the first place.

It seemed completely hopeless until, well, this report. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that many governments around the world are looking more closely at anti-trust and monopolistic practices.

Many of Apple’s default apps are very good. But on a whim, I have compiled a list of apps, services, or OS functions I would switch to a third-party default if I could, just off the top of my head: Safari, Messages, Calendar, Photos, Maps, Clock, Contacts, FaceTime, Reminders, Music, News, Notes, iCloud Drive, iCloud Keychain, Books, Podcasts, Voice Memos, and Siri. (Bonus though I may not use it: give third-party smartwatches fuller access to the OS.)

Whew — that list is much bigger than I expected it to be when I started it.

In some cases, Apple’s own iPhone apps are actually best of breed, so don’t take my list as a judgment of quality. Safari on the iPhone is easily the best mobile browser and iMessage offers secure messaging as the default, for just two examples. And I also recognize that the concept of “default app” gets fuzzy in some of these cases. Some of these functions also have replacement APIs, but they can range from pretty good (password managers) to pretty bad (third-party keyboards).

Anyway, the main reason I would want to switch away from most of the Apple apps and services I mentioned is that there are alternatives that work better across multiple operating systems and the web. It makes it easier for me to use the computer I want instead of being locked into Apple’s hardware ecosystem.

Plus, I can’t help but note that Android, Windows, and even the Mac all make it much easier to replace services and apps that ship with the OS with something you like better from a third party.

When Apple says that some of these default lock-ins are for user security and safety, I believe that’s at least partially true. I also believe that the fact that they make it somewhat more of a hassle for me to also use a Chromebook or a Windows computer is a feature of this system, not a bug.