Does Apple have to allow uninstalling the Photos app on the iPhone?

The DMA requires that users can install alternative apps - but also that they can remove pre-installed Apple apps.
Apple iOS 15 Spotlight Photos

The EU’s Digital Markets Act is proving to be a nightmare for Apple as Americans now have to allow third-party app stores. But there is more to it than that. For example, Apple is expected to display a browser selection screen, similar to what Microsoft did with Windows a decade ago. And that’s not the end yet. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber said he overheard several comments from Margrethe Vestager, who leads the EU initiative “Europe Fit for the Digital Age”.

As a result, Apple must not only provide a choice about which apps to install and use, but also which apps to uninstall. Vestager highlighted the Photos app in particular, but there are several such apps currently deeply integrated into iOS. Photos may be the gallery app, but it also functions as a file picker. For example, when trying to share a photo or a video.

In iOS you can either share your entire gallery or just individual photos and videos with an app. This includes files stored locally as well as files uploaded to iCloud. Removing this from iOS and replacing the functionality with third-party apps could be quite a challenge. On the other hand, the DMA requires Apple to provide full access to iOS APIs and features. This also includes mobile payments, app installation, and seemingly anything the Photos app has access to.

This is pretty much the exact same situation Microsoft found itself in the early 2000s. Internet Explorer was a core component of Windows, so users couldn’t uninstall it. The Justice Department objected to this and filed a lawsuit against the company. Microsoft has come to terms with this and made Windows more open to third-party software. The browser selection screens came later, also under pressure from the EU.

“The third one relates to the objective of the DMA to open closed ecosystems to enable competition at all levels. Under Article 6(3) of the DMA, gatekeepers have an obligation to enable easy uninstallation of apps and easy change of default settings. They must also display a choice screen. Apple’s compliance model does not seem to meet the objectives of this obligation. In particular, we are concerned that the current design of the web browser choice screen deprives end-users of the ability to make a fully informed decision. Example: they do not enhance user engagement with all available options. Apple also 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.”

Margrethe Vestager, European Union Commissioner for Competition

With the current version of iOS you cannot uninstall the following apps: App Store, Camera, Messages, Phone, Photos, Safari and Settings. Apple already opens up to third-party app stores. They will also introduce RCS later this year and allow third-party web browsers. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that you can simplay disconnect these apps from iOS completely.

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