Changing Default Apps on the iPhone

iPhone apps

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Apple is well-known for limiting the ways that iPhone owners can customize their phones. For instance, every iPhone comes with a set of pre-installed apps. Not only can users not delete some of these pre-installed apps, but they're also the default app for their feature or task.

But what if you don't like the built-in apps? If you prefer to use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps for getting directions, can you choose the default apps on your iPhone?

How Default Apps Work on iPhone

The word "default" means two things when it comes to apps on the iPhone. First, it means apps that are pre-installed. Using the second meaning, which is what this article is about, default apps are the ones that are always used to do a certain thing. For example, when you tap a website link in an email, it always opens in Safari. That makes Safari the default web browser on your iPhone. When a website includes a physical address and you tap it to get directions, Apple Maps launches because it is the default mapping app.

Of course, there are many different apps that do the same things. Google Maps is ​an alternative app for navigation, many people use Spotify rather than Apple Music for music streaming, or Chrome for web browsing instead of Safari. Any user can install these apps on their iPhone. But what if you want to always use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps? What if you want links to open in Chrome every time?

For Most Users: Bad News

For most users looking to change their default iPhone apps, we've got bad news: It's not possible. You can't pick your default apps on iPhone. As mentioned earlier, Apple doesn't allow users to make certain kinds of customizations. One of the blocked customizations is picking your default apps.

Apple doesn't allow this kind of customization because it wants to ensure that all iPhone users have a similar experience, with a baseline level of quality and expected behavior. By requiring its apps to be the defaults, Apple knows that every iPhone user will have a similar experience of using the phone.

The other reason that its apps are the default is that doing that brings Apple more users. Take the example of the Music app. By making it the default music app, Apple has acquired over 35 million paying customers for its Apple Music service. That's over US$350 million in monthly revenue. If it allowed customers to set Spotify as their default, Apple would likely lose some percentage of those customers.

While it's not necessarily the ideal experience for all customers, not letting users choose their default apps serves some people well and certainly serves Apple very well.

For Jailbreakers: Some Good News

There is one way to change at least some default apps: jailbreaking. Jailbreaking lets users remove some of the controls Apple places on their iPhones. If your phone is jailbroken, you won't be able to change every default app, but you can change a couple using the following jailbreak apps:

  • Email: ​​MailClientDefault10 lets you make Gmail, Outlook, Spark, or Inbox your default email app.
  • Maps: MapsOpener lets you set Google Maps as your default.
  • Browser: BrowserChooser lets you change your default web browser to something other than Safari.

While these options may seem appealing, it's important to remember that jailbreaking isn't for everyone. It can require technical skill, could damage your iPhone or void its warranty so Apple will no longer provide support, and even open your phone up to viruses.

There are arguments in favor of jailbreaking, but just be sure you know what you're getting into before you do it.

For the Future: Hope for Default Apps

Apple's tight control​ over the iPhone and its software will probably never completely go away, but it's getting looser. While it used to be impossible to delete the apps that come with the iPhone, in iOS 10 Apple made it possible to delete some of these apps, including Calculator, Home, Watch, Reminders, Stocks, and more.

There hasn't been any signal from Apple that it intends to let users select new default apps, but the same thing was true about deleting built-in apps just a few years ago. Perhaps a future version of the iOS will let users pick their default apps.