By John Gruber
WorkOS is a modern identity and user management platform.
Earlier this month, Craig Federighi delivered a keynote address at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s just 20 minutes long, including the introduction, and worth watching. His sole topic is sideloading — why Apple doesn’t support it on iOS, and why Apple thinks it would be a (very) bad idea for the E.U. to mandate support for it.
If you get a sense of déjà vu watching it, that’s probably because Apple released a white paper making the case against sideloading back in June, which I annotated extensively. Federighi largely sticks to the same points, so I won’t repeat my entire thoughts on them here. I just re-read that piece from June, and it stands up well.
A few quick thoughts, though:
I found Federighi’s talk to be more compelling than Apple’s June white paper, despite the fact that in general, I’d rather read something than watch or listen to someone speak. I think part of it is that Apple has further refined its case against sideloading, boiling it down to a few cohesive core points. Also: Federighi is a charismatic speaker. With Phil Schiller seemingly retired from speaking on stage, Federighi is now by far the company’s most compelling advocate for a talk like this.
It’s always a little weird seeing an Apple executive speak on what’s clearly not an Apple-designed stage. Understated Web Summit’s staging is not.
Apple is clearly taking the threat of legally-mandated sideloading seriously. Apple SVPs don’t deliver keynotes in Portugal on a lark.
Rhetorically, Federighi does a clever job of appealing to E.U. regulators as an ally rather than an adversary, right in his opening lines:
My topic is privacy and security, and it’s great to speak about this here in Europe, where so many have embraced these values not just as high ideals — but as fundamental human rights. I have to say, there are times in the U.S. when fighting for privacy has felt a little lonely. But knowing that our values are shared with so many in Europe, and that European policymakers have been willing to take action, well that has felt like a bit of a lifeline.
It frames his anti-mandatory-sideloading argument not as a fundamental disagreement, but rather as a “Look, we’re on the same pro-privacy side here, buuut...” sort of thing.
Lastly, there’s a key topic that Federighi does not broach: money. Here, I will quote from my piece back in June, regarding a section in Apple’s white paper that started with the line, “The goal of App Review is to ensure that apps on the App Store are trustworthy [...].” I wrote:
The problem Apple is facing today is that it’s clear that one word in the above is inaccurate: the opening “the”. The above is a goal of the App Store — and I would argue that it remains the primary goal. But clearly the App Store serves another goal for Apple: making the company money. Exhibit A: last year’s Hey fiasco. Nothing about Apple’s rejection of Hey (or, I’d wager, some number of thousands of other apps flagged by App Store review for similar reasons) was about trustworthiness. It was about money.
That’s a conflict of interest, and it detracts significantly from Apple’s entirely legitimate trustworthiness argument defending the App Store model for distribution. I remain convinced Apple wouldn’t be facing these regulatory pressures today if they’d walked away from a strategy of maximizing App Store profits years ago, and I also think they could largely dissipate these pressures today by doing it now — better late than never.
If Apple stopped making it look like they’re running the App Store primarily to maximize their own revenue from it, regulators and lawmakers might stop thinking that Apple is running the App Store primarily to maximize their own revenue from it.