Over the weekend The New York Times reported that Apple has been quietly removing apps that help users manage their device usage. Apple has made a point of helping users spend less time staring at their screens by introducing the "screen time" feature last year, and now it appears they are cracking down on apps offering similar functionality.

There's no question that we spend a lot of time on our phones. Apps that help users monitor and regulate the amount of time they and their families spend on their devices have become more popular as awareness grows over the potential negative impacts of starting at a screen over long periods of time. Apple appears to recognize this and Screen Time is meant to show users how much time they spend on various activities.

In reality, Screen Time is at best a basic reporting feature but lacks the ability to give users real control over their usage. Developers like OurPact have created apps specifically designed to give parents more control over their young children's phones, but Apple has objected and removed them from the App Store.

The official response from Apple is that the apps were removed because "they put users' privacy and security at risk." The bigger question is whether Apple's recent actions are an example of using their control over the app ecosystem to crush competing apps. This isn't the first time Apple has been accused of anti-competitive behavior with regard to its App Store, and they still don't allow some types of apps that directly mimic specific iOS features like the dialer. 

Here are two reasons why this matters:

User privacy

Apple has made a huge point of giving users control over things like privacy, which makes sense considering they manufacture the devices that facilitate all kinds of personal interactions. At the same time, our smartphones know where we are, who we communicate with, and often what we're doing. 

Apple's response makes it clear that some developers have been able to use that information in ways Apple never intended. Presumably, none of the apps involved had nefarious purposes, but that may not always be the case. These apps explicitly used functionality designed for managing work devices, which means that your employees and your business are directly affected by the access these apps have to private and proprietary information. 

Seamless experience at a cost

The other reason, which most of the reporting has touched on, is that Apple exerts a tremendous amount of control over the daily interactions of millions of people. Because of their extraordinary size and market position, they are able to create affordable technology that's easy to use, but there's another cost. That size means they are able to dictate what you're able to use on your device, and what developers are able to design for their customers.

The seamless integration of hardware, software, and services makes for a great overall user experience most of the time, but also means that they make decisions that directly impact your life and your business. Apple claims to make these decisions for your benefit, even if it means shutting out the competition. The question you should be asking is for what benefit are you willing to give up control over making those decisions yourself.  

Published on: Apr 30, 2019
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