Is Apple starting to truly expand beyond its bubble?

FaceTime on macOS Monterey
FaceTime on macOS Monterey (Image credit: Apple)

Apple's long-running embrace of a digital walled garden is well-known and often criticized. It no doubt started with Steve Jobs but has mostly continued on in his absence. And yet, it has allowed the company to become the largest in the world. Some of Apple's recent moves suggest the iPhone maker looks willing to give up some of its control with at least some of its services. However, I'm convinced this is largely a mirage, although it's the direction Apple should be making — at least in certain areas.

Where things stand

In June, Apple announced new software for its top-selling products, including the best iPhone, plus the iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Tucked inside its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote, Apple announced its decision to open up FaceTime to non-Apple users. This surprising announcement followed the company's decision a few years ago to offer Apple TV on various set-top boxes and smart TVs. Apple TV and Apple Music are also available on Android.

FaceTime ... for Android? Windows?

FaceTime on Mac

FaceTime on Mac (Image credit: Apple)

As someone who has always embraced open markets and competition, each of these moves seems sound and positive for everyone involved. And yet, it's also clear these are baby steps, at best. Yes, Apple's allowing Android and Windows users to get invites to FaceTime calls beginning this fall. However, at least for now, that's where its kindness ends. These users, for example, still won't be able to start FaceTime calls nor take advantage of FaceTime's most promising new feature, SharePlay.

Are these restrictions technology-based? That's unlikely given that after the software update, non-Apple users will be able to continue FaceTime conversations even after their Apple friends sign off of a call. In other words, Apple will largely remain in control even after the changes to FaceTime are made beginning this fall.

Apple TV

There's another big restriction when it comes to the Apple TV app. Technically, Apple Arcade isn't exclusive to the physical Apple TV. And yet, the gaming platform is so baked into that system that it's noticeably absent when viewing the Apple TV app on non-Apple devices.

Perhaps contract-wise, Apple's unable to add Apple Arcade to Apple TV on devices it does own. More likely, however, it's just another example of even when Apple moves outside its bubble ever so slightly, some restrictions remain.

Apple Music

This brings us to Apple Music, which like iTunes, is 100% available on non-Apple devices. And yet, it doesn't technically break Apple's ongoing propensity of having full control. Apple Music is software only, and here the company remains firmly in control of what's offered to subscribers.

More needs to be done

The walled garden is one of the reasons I continue to support Apple and its products. And yet, there are some important areas where Apple is best advised to open things up to non-Apple users. Mostly, these suggestions relate to software, although I've included a few comments about hardware as well, as you can see below.

Communication

Messages on iPadOS 15

Messages on iPadOS 15 (Image credit: Apple)

Apple offers a unique texting experience with iMessage and continues to gain features with each passing year. But, unfortunately, Apple doesn't offer its messaging platform through web browsers or non-Apple devices. Security is no doubt one of the reasons iMessage hasn't moved beyond Apple hardware and software. And yet, Apple probably could make it happen, thereby extending memojis stickers and other fun texting features to the masses.

With FaceTime, Apple's moving in the right direction by offering at least some integration to non-Apple users. And yet, eventually, FaceTime proper must be offered across all platforms. Zoom, Google Meet, and other solutions already do this — FaceTime needs to do the same.

iCloud

Then there's iCloud, which includes many great features unavailable to non-Apple device owners, but maybe shouldn't be. Expanding tools, like the iCloud Photo Library or iCloud storage, to Windows or Android would squarely put Apple against companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. And yet, would that really be so bad? I don't think so.

Apple Arcade

Apple Arcade

Apple Arcade (Image credit: Apple)

Microsoft's recent introduction of Windows 11 and its continued support of Xbox proves its commitment to gaming. However, even with Apple Arcade, Apple has yet to prove it even wants a seat at the table, and perhaps that's an okay position to take.

But if the company wants to play a bigger role in home-based gaming, Apple Arcade should be extended to other platforms. Millions of iPhone and iPad owners use Windows, not Mac, and that's a great starting point, as is bringing Apple Arcade to smart TVs and set-top boxes.

Apple should also consider releasing a stripped-down version of Apple TV that focuses on gaming. Though that's a move that wouldn't technically move Apple gaming to non-Apple devices, it would open up Apple Arcade to new users.

All or nothing?

No one should expect Apple to suddenly offer all of its services to those without Apple devices. And yet, some services should be opened up to others, which could benefit Apple and all those involved.

What do you think? Should Apple attempt to expand its reach for certain services? Let us know your comments below.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.

11 Comments
  • Apple Arcade is straight garbage lol. If I wasn’t getting a free trial through Verizon I would never even look at it. The games and selection is pathetic. Also iMessage is never going to come to android/other devices as it is a lock in for apple, but would love for them to support RCS with iMessage so even when messaging users who don’t have an iPhone you would get some of those benefits (also would encrypt the communications as well since iMessage only does it with other iPhone users). With Google’s (and many of the big carriers) push for RCS this would be an easy addition for apple that would allow them to keep their “walled garden” while also increasing some of the privacy/security that they love to harp on with their messaging app.
  • Apple Arcade is garbage, because Apple Arcade is actually running iOS apps. So those iOS apps can only run on Apples hardware (SoCs). Apple only allowed their Safari browser (this year 2021) to run web apps that could run AAA cloud gaming platforms, like Nvidia GeForce Now, Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud gaming, and a few others. All other platforms supported web apps (PWA) as the web standards were laid out, and finalized back in 2014. Only Apples iOS platforms were not fully HTML5 compliant with web standards.
  • Even with the Apple TV app, the openness is half hearted. Big issue is its absence from the Google Play Store which would allow it to target Android TVs, phones and tablets. On a slightly related note, any reason why we can't access/add comments on the iMore Android app?
  • Dumbest post I've read in a while. The Apple Walled Garden is as tall (and great) as ever!
  • The quality is here more and more going down the drain
  • Sorry, you didn't like the post. What type of articles would you like to see at iMore moving forward?
  • I honestly think they are doing this mainly to provide an illusion of openness with the multiple anti-trust lawsuits they have coming against them. The apple walled garden continues to stay and be as high as ever.
  • It's not a 'walled garden', it's a gated community. I choose to be in it and appreciate the benefits.
  • Apple should open things up more. We need the ability to set more default apps, such as maps. If Apple continues to refuse to give us offline maps, we must have the ability to set a different maps app as default. Apple also needs to allow Xbox game streaming app in the store. They need to enable RCS messaging. How about allowing the use of Microsoft Your Phone and app streaming to PC? And of course the biggest one is dumping Lightning and adopting USB-C.
  • I registered specifically to make a comment about this article which I think is extremely important (after all I did get here by googling “macOS Monterey” to see what the new features were & an article from iMore was the first curated response (and then I got here by clicking 1 maybe 2 links in said article). First: as another has mentioned Apple Arcade games are Apple iOS apps & thus getting them to run on a non-apple, heck a non-iOS (as we have seen how much work apple themselves have had to do to bring macOS closer to the iOS ecosystem), isn’t so simple. Probably the easiest way would be to port them somehow, but that would be crazy inefficient, require a lot more storage space, etc not to mention the huge development effort it would entail.
    Then a mention is made about a ‘stripped down version’ of an Apple TV specifically for this feature would be nice. So, because of the points mentioned above you would need to have iOS running anyhow to run iOS apps. As such I would assume that by stripped down the author means something like no other ‘extra’ stuff which I guess would be… the Home Screen? Couldn’t even really remove the apple store framework b/c that’s how apps/games are installed.
    And then there is the behemoth that is iCloud (1. For the store you need to login to your iCloud account at the very least for your overall profile/apps owned, the iCloud Game Center portion because, you know, games, & the billing/Apple Pay feature set as money would be involved). I don’t know anything about how the various facets of iCloud are or are not intertwined, but any way you slice it it would be a lot of work. And this is very important: iCloud is basically the biggest security risk that Apple has right now due to its immense size/all-reaching tentacles & ever increasing feature set. This is the reason why for the first time in ever the number of zero day exploits for apple devices out number those for android (been this way for at least a couple years now I believe). For an example does anyone remember that ‘special text’ that could be sent to someone with an iPhone and it would shutdown (or was it brick?) their device something like 4 or so years ago? That was an iCloud command. Simply put the devices were receiving a message containing commands via an input on the iCloud side (iMessages), upon receiving the input iCloud would read the contents to see what it was supposed to do with it & the command said turn off (or something to that effect) and that’s what the iCloud (sub) system did. It basically has access to all of the device (Intel ME engine anyone?). This also adds color to why they would be very careful re: security and allowing non-apple devices to play on any iCloud functionality. Those devices would have the potential to wreak havoc on apple devices they engage with and that opens a *huge* number of vectors from which malicious code could enter. Especially since the hardware itself can come from anywhere. Second: regarding face time, and let’s take screen sharing and such, as the facet to examine. This is basically along the lines of Remote Desktop/remote support access & as it runs via Face Time I would put my money that it uses the existing remote access infrastructure in place to enable this feature.
    Assuming this is true then 1. Another huge security issue (remote access is one of the things that people are told to be very careful with on literally every OS ecosystem) and then 2. the protocols used are different. I would think they would probably be better off using a totally separated sub system and adding that to all devices, including apple ones, if they were to open this feature set (like webrtc). But again, huge security risk. With the web being what it is now if you even just go to an infected url and don’t have your security settings properly buttoned up your machine can become extremely compromised.
    And would the extra security risk be worth it especially considering the current image apple has of being a ‘safer’ platform? And finally: iCloud regarding iCloud storage and photos. Um…. This already exists and has been around for a while…..
    I don’t use windows very often, but I do have a windows tablet/laptop laying around for when I need to. I just get the iCloud app from the windows store and/or the iCloud app from the Firefox store and viola: iCloud photos and safari bookmarks on my non apple device.
    To be totally fairly I don’t recall if the full iCloud storage is available through this (I think it might be? Especially since Data that is stored not just on icloud, but the actual data file system, a la Safari bookmarks, is shared) nor do I remember what you have access points to on the iCloud website. Earlier today I had been trying to share a pdf on my drive and I couldn’t remember how to get an iCloud link for it, if that’s possible. But I know this is 100% doable for photos and if your send a large attachment via email a ‘mail drop’ link is generated to the files on iCloud valid for 30 days. If it currently cannot be done for iCloud storage unless you use one of those means then I apologize for initial statement and I agree this should be opened up, esp since most of the foundational work seems to be done. I know this was a very long winded and verbose comment, but I wanted you I be thorough for this: it is getting a little tiring to keep reading articles containing opinions about what companies like Apple should have done with their updates/directions they should take & often these are written in a manner that leads one to believe that these things would be easy to do and the main reason they were not is because the company is a grouch and greedy. By no means do I intend for this to be a ‘slam’ specifically against imore, they just happened to have the first link shown on Google & thus prolly get solid traffic.
    Basically, I would really appreciate it if the opinions made by tech sites showed that there was some actual understanding of how the technology works, even at a high level, otherwise it means a lot less.
    This is an extreme, but it’s akin to someone reviewing a car and then saying, “the new features are great, but I would really love it if the seat and 2 wheels could shoot off and become a motorcycle thing like the bat mobile in Batman. Oh and if it could fly around like plains that
    would be really cool too”.
  • Oh, and just in case someone thinks I work in the industry/have a degree in this or something, I do not have/do either. I just started reading a bit about this stuff when I had free time a couple years ago hoping to learn more about how the innards of computers these days work b/c I wanted to learn a language and it helps me if I understand how programs are run, what the various file types do/contain, etc.