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Apple requires all apps that browse the web in iOS and iPadOS to use its own browser engine, WebKit, but amid accusations of anti-competitive conduct, should it continue to effectively ban rival browser engines?

webkit-vs-chromium-feature.jpg

Big tech has been gripped by accusations of anti-competitive conduct in recent times, with Chief Executive of the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Andrea Coscelli declaring in a press release:
Apple and Google have developed a vice-like grip over how we use mobile phones and we're concerned that it's causing millions of people across the UK to lose out.

Among these accusations of anti-competitive conduct, Apple has been criticized for demanding apps that browse the web to use the WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript on iOS and iPadOS, in a policy that effectively bans non-WebKit based browsers. Apple's App Store Review Guidelines state:
2.5.6 Apps that browse the web must use the appropriate WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript.
There is heated debate around this requirement, with some developers and regulatory agencies contending that it actively stifles innovation on iOS and iPadOS, while Apple argues that it is necessary to protect user security and privacy, as well as prevent the dominance of Chromium.

Why Apple Could Be Right to Ban Rival Browsers

Google's Chromium is the technology behind many popular browsers including Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Brave, and Opera. Some have argued that Chromium's dominance is leading to a "browser monoculture," stifling the development of rival web technologies. A tweet from Jen Simmons, an Apple Evangelist and developer advocate for Safari, appears to suggest the importance of maintaining the WebKit restriction for this reason:

According to data from web analytics service StatCounter, Safari holds a 9.84 percent market share of desktop browsers compared to Google Chrome's overwhelming 65.38 percent. Safari currently has a more secure position on mobile platforms than it does on desktops, but it still comes second to Google Chrome. Despite Safari being the default browser on the iPhone and iPad, Safari has a 26.71 percent market share on mobile, while Chrome dominates both iOS and Android with a market share of 62.06 percent. Beyond Chrome, Chromium-based browsers, such as Microsoft Edge, dominate the other most popular browsers.

If Apple stops mandating the use of WebKit on iOS and iPadOS, the developers behind the mobile versions of browsers like Chrome and Edge could switch to Chromium like their desktop counterparts, enabling Chromium to obtain even larger overall market share and potentially limit the chances of rival technologies competing with it.

In its mobile ecosystems market study interim report, the CMA said that Apple defended its WebKit policy on iOS using the following rationale:
Apple told us that only allowing WebKit on iOS is motivated primarily by security and privacy considerations. In particular, many modern websites run code from unknown developers. Apple told us that because of the WebKit restriction, it is able to address security issues across all browsers on the iPhone, for all iPhone users, quickly and effectively (given there is only one browser engine). It further told us that, in Apple's opinion, WebKit offers a better level of security protection than Blink and Gecko.

Apple argues that, since it controls WebKit and it is the only browser engine on these devices, the restriction allows the company to make sweeping security and privacy improvements across all browsers on the iPhone and iPad, providing a better user experience and preventing fragmentation. It also claims that WebKit is more secure than rival browser engines.

Why Apple Could Be Wrong to Ban Rival Browsers

Others have argued that the WebKit restriction actively harms browser competition on iOS. The CEO of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, was at the center of a tumultuous dispute with Apple about App Store fees and now says that the WebKit restriction is anti-competitive and uninclusive:



Apple's policies around WebKit have caught the attention of regulatory agencies, such as the CMA, which has heavily criticized the restriction:
We have found that by requiring all browsers on iOS devices to use its WebKit browser engine, Apple controls and sets the boundaries of the quality and functionality of all browsers on iOS. It also limits the potential for rival browsers to differentiate themselves from Safari. For example, browsers are less able to accelerate the speed of page loading and cannot display videos in formats not supported by WebKit. Further, Apple does not provide rival browsers with the access to the same functionality and APIs that are available to Safari. Overall, this means that Safari does not face effective competition from other browsers on iOS devices.

The evidence also suggests that browsers on iOS offer less feature support than browsers built on other browser engines, in particular with respect to web apps. As a result, web apps are a less viable alternative to native apps from the App Store for delivering content on iOS devices.

The CMA highlighted that app developers cannot differentiate their browsers from Safari, while web developers are bound by the features that WebKit supports.

Importantly, due to the WebKit restriction, Apple makes decisions on whether to support features not only for its own browser, but for all browsers on iOS. This not only restricts competition (as it materially limits the potential for rival browsers to differentiate themselves from Safari on factors such as speed and functionality) but also limits the capability of all browsers on iOS devices, depriving iOS users of useful innovations they might otherwise benefit from.

The debate also links to Apple's long-running reticence to allow app sideloading on iOS and iPadOS. The only practical obstruction to developers shipping web apps on iOS and iPadOS that are indistinguishable from native apps, outside of top level games, is Apple's WebKit restriction and control over Safari. If developers could use a different browser to open web apps, sideloading from the web effectively becomes possible.

It is also of note that CMA does not accept Apple's argument that limiting web browsing on iOS and iPadOS to WebKit is better for performance and tackling security vulnerabilities:
Overall, the evidence we have received to date does not suggest that Apple's WebKit restriction allows for quicker and more effective response to security threats for dedicated browser apps on iOS...

[...]

... the evidence that we have seen to date does not suggest that there are material differences in the security performance of WebKit and alternative browser engines.

Amid the ongoing debate, some developers have rallied behind the Twitter hashtag #AppleBrowserBan and launched an advocacy group to express their frustration with Apple's WebKit restriction.

Final Thoughts

The discussion around Apple's WebKit restriction is growing to be at the forefront of many issues with browsing on iOS and iPadOS. It remains open to debate whether allowing non-WebKit based browsers onto iOS like Firefox, Chrome, and Edge would be good for users or diminish the experience and security of browsing on the iPhone and iPad. Would allowing Chromium onto iOS, for example, lead to a browser monoculture where Safari has less than a five percent market share? Would lifting the WebKit restriction be good for browser engine competition or cement the dominance of Chromium?

Apple is seemingly concerned about its worsening relationship with some developers with regards to Safari, and the company recently sought to tackle the accusation that "Safari is the worst, it's the new IE" by asking for feedback. Apple reneged on its controversial Safari redesign from WWDC last year, but Microsoft Edge is now on the verge of overtaking Safari as the world's second most popular desktop browser.

As a result, Apple is facing pressure to improve relations with developers, as well as make Safari and WebKit more compelling, but it is unclear whether any of this is enough to prompt the company to change its position on the WebKit restriction. There is also the question of whether Apple can realistically continue to maintain its policy in the face of increasing regulatory pressure.

Article Link: Should Apple Continue to Ban Rival Browser Engines on iOS?
 
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DFZD

macrumors 6502a
Apr 6, 2012
557
1,010
I don’t think Apple gets it. We just want iOS to be more like Mac OS and not Android.

Maybe they get it and just don’t want to acknowledge.

iOS on big screens sucks big time. Such capable machines crippled by restricted software capabilities.
 
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jicon

macrumors 6502a
Nov 29, 2004
661
468
Toronto, ON
I don't think Apple would change until their bottom line is affected. With only Webkit in play, I'd like to half heartedly believe I'm getting decent memory and battery performance instead of loading some other browser baked in to the multitude of 3rd party apps I use.

On the other side, at least Google has attempted to have their Chrome browser available on other OSs. Apple had waning interest in Safari for Windows, and it seems to still have half-baked implementations of porting iTunes, and Apple Software Update to that OS. I couldn't see them bothering to port Safari to Android.
 
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schneeland

macrumors regular
May 22, 2017
119
268
Darmstadt, Germany
Apple and Google both need to open up to other browser engines.
I tend to agree. Even though I am indeed a bit concerned that it might further solidify Google's hold on the browser world.

I would hope that in addition to anything that happens in this regard, Apple works on allowing Safari updates outside OS updates and brings the browser up to a solid level of standard compliance.
 
Apple just wants the consumer to use the browser Safari. I'm not a big fan of Google Chrome or another open browser because it's a memory/battery hog. It also makes my devices run 10x hotter.

Also, I don't think other browsers can handle this many tabs being opened at the same time.

1645805112901.png
 

Remy149

macrumors 6502
Oct 20, 2016
480
884
I don’t think Apple gets it. We just want iOS to be more like Mac OS and not Android.

Maybe they get it and just don’t to acknowledge.

iOS on big screens sucks big time. Such capable machines crippled by restricted software possibilities.
Who is the we your speaking about. You can only talk to your wants and needs. Not the millions of people who buy and use iPhones.
 

jedivulcan

macrumors 6502
May 15, 2007
415
46
Bing and Chrome are analytics vampires. Mozilla is working with Facebook to come up with new advertiser tracking.

Web browsing is in a sad state. After Apple implemented the no tracking and intelligent tracking options on iOS, every other major ad and browser provider is crying to their legislative mommies and daddies.

But like others always, having different browser engines would be neat.

Google and Microsoft make in-app browsers that basically strip privacy or filtering protections already. With their search apps.

Now, Apple could make Safari upgradable separately from OS releases. That would be a step in the right directing in the foreseeable future.
 

antiprotest

macrumors 68020
Apr 19, 2010
2,218
3,867
Apple just wants the consumer to use the browser Safari. I'm not a big fan of Google Chrome or another open browser because it's a memory hog. It also makes my devices run 10x hotter.

Also, I don't think other browsers can handle this many tabs being opened at the same time.
I use Safari on my iOS devices, but I don't care if other browsers have their own engines. However, what I would not want is for non-browser apps to have all kinds of different customized engines that I don't know about. For example, what if Yelp or DoorDash or Snapchat, Whatsapp, or a game app use unknown or customized engines for their own apps and we end up with 50 of them, not knowing their performance or security status? And once you permit real browsers to use their own engines, is there any excuse to forbid non-browser apps to use their own engines?

Not sure if this is potentially a real issue or not but just a thought. Perhaps somebody else is more educated about this.
 

FloatingBones

macrumors 65816
Jul 19, 2006
1,393
543
Tim Sweeney tweeted:
I, for one, fully support Apple’s right to build a web browser and bundle it with iOS, but I believe Apple should stop blocking competing browser engines on iOS. Apple’s anticompetitive browser restrictions are the opposite of inclusive.

I think that Timmy and Epic Games should stop blocking competing costuming services for Epic Game's apps. They should allow us to use costumes and bling from any bling-provider when we play. Epic's accessory policies are the opposite of inclusive.
 
Last edited:

Starscape

macrumors regular
Sep 23, 2016
228
343
Florida and New York
Apple just wants the consumer to use the browser Safari. I'm not a big fan of Google Chrome or another open browser because it's a memory/battery hog. It also makes my devices run 10x hotter.

Also, I don't think other browsers can handle this many tabs being opened at the same time.

View attachment 1964884
Which browsers make your devices run ‘10x hotter’? Both Safari and Chrome are based on WebKit, and while Chrome is resource-heavy, Safari is definitely not a lightweight either.
 

00001000bit

macrumors newbie
Jul 15, 2020
28
72
While I don't like the practice (banning competing technology) - right now Apple (because of mobile) is the only one with enough heft to prevent a Chromium monoculture. As a Firefox user to the core, I'm happy to have a playing field that isn't totally owned by Google, even though the current way it is being achieved kind of rubs me the wrong way.
 
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