Apple has launched a new feature called Sign in with Apple that has the potential to change the way we perceive Apple in the future and turn the company from being just a hardware manufacturer into a fully-fledged gatekeeper of our privacy across the web.

The feature, announced at WWDC amongst a flurry of announcements about iOS 13 and MacOS Catalina, centres around the idea that you'll be able to use Apple's new offering to sign-in to websites and apps without having to give out information such your name, email address, or contact details.

It will, for example, allow you to create a dummy email address so you don't get spam and enables you to tailor what data you give to websites and apps. No more open access to your friends, what you post on social media, your birthday, or what your dating status is.

"That's good news because we each get a unique random address, and this means you can disable any one of them at any time when you're tired of hearing from that app," said Craig Federighi, Apple's man in charge of software at Apple, as he announced the new feature.

Using Google or Facebook to sign in

At the moment many apps and sites opt to allow you to sign in via Google, Facebook, Linkedin, or set-up an account directly, but all currently ask for access to a range of information - most of which, many people feel, isn't necessary. Does the app you order pizza through really need your date of birth for example?

Using such services opens you up to having to give an array of information that you might not want to give. You trade convenience for information.

Apple, who is pushing privacy with virtually every announcement it makes at the moment, is keen to play on recent data breaches and attitudes towards Facebook and Google's policies of tailoring advertising to you to tell us that its approach is not only valid but vital.

But rather than just about winning cheap shots at Google and Facebook in the short term, the move is a much bigger play toward making Apple the gatekeeper of privacy in apps and the wider web.

That move will not only transform the way we think of the company over the next decade, but also sets it up to become much more than a company that makes the iPhone and some other hardware.

The start of something much bigger

It's the start of a much bigger play by Apple to talk to both Apple and non-Apple customers to start to see them as the gatekeepers of your personal details on the web and beyond. 

And if you think about it, that all makes sense. Although Apple has yet to fully detail the service that will go live later this year, everything will be controlled with your Apple ID and developers will be able to add the "Sign in with Apple" feature to their apps and websites.

On Apple devices that support it, the feature will tie in with Face ID and Touch ID and that will make signing into other services incredibly easy.

But it also means that people, regardless of whether they own an iPhone or other Apple device, will start to use and see Apple as a privacy protector and that is going to be invaluable in a future where Apple has eyes on financial and health services.

We can easily see a future where people have an Apple "privacy" account even though they don't own an Apple device.

By offering to protect you against aggressive data collecting apps and services, it not only gives something to the customer, but directly highlights Facebook and Google's collect-all-the-data mantra, and that move will only damage or force those companies to change.

Will developers adopt the new feature?

Of course, there is a caveat to all of this. Developers will have to adopt the new features and that means them giving up on access to the data that they might have come to enjoy.

Apple is making it a requirement that it must be included as an option for apps that already support third-party sign-in. For if an app is offering Facebook sign-in, it will have to offer Apple sign-in.

But in these changing times and the age of GDPR, many developers might not want the responsibility of safeguarding data and Apple sign-in could be a way around that.

It might have been covered quickly at the event, but it could be the announcement that has a profound impact over months and years to come, and kickstart Apple's transition from a hardware company into the services business it now so desperately wants to become.