Advocacy group to challenge the iOS browser status quo

Apple App Store

Apple is being challenged by a group of developers to end WebKit’s dominance and allow other browser engines on the tech titans iPhone and iPad devices, following accusations that the current situation amounts to anti-competitive conduct.

For those unfamiliar with WebKit, Apple’s browser engine powers Safari and other areas of the operating system where web content is displayed. Apple requires all third-party browser apps on its mobile devices to use WebKit, but many browser developers are not happy with the limitations this causes.

The latest pushback comes in the form of “Open Web Advocacy” or OWA, a project launched by British software developers who want third-party access to all the features that Safari enjoys.

“The motive of the group is to try to persuade Apple that they need to allow other browser engines on iOS, so the iOS can be a better platform for developing stuff for the modern web,” developer Bruce Lawson told UK tech news website The Register. “Because at the moment, every browser on iOS, whether it be badged Chrome, Firefox or Edge is actually just a branded skin of Safari, which lags behind [other browsers] because it has no competition on iOS.”

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Some Safari features that are not available to other browsers include:

  • Ability to display full screen video on the ‌iPhone‌
  • Install web apps
  • Use browser extensions
  • Integrate with Apple Pay

Developers are also frustrated that iOS forces Safari to be used in all instances of in-app browsing. These and more than 30 other missing functions or APIs for WebKit are outlined in the OWA’s “Bringing Competition to Walled Gardens” white paper.

Apple argues that WebKit limitations are motivated primarily by security and privacy considerations, but Lawson believes Apple’s handling of Safari bugs makes a mockery of that claim.

Open Web Advocacy says it has been communicating with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has already heavily criticized Apple’s policies around WebKit.

The OWA is now urging Apple users to contact regulators and legislators in other jurisdictions to galvanize support and force Apple to end its restrictions around WebKit, although such a move could make sideloading apps from the web a real possibility, and that is something Apple appears equally reluctant to allow.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this article. Automatic translation from English to a growing list of languages via Google AI Cloud Translation. Reporting by Rob Phillips.

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