Developers push back on Apple’s ban on third-party browsers

A group of developers is fighting the dominance of Apple’s Safari browser on its iPhone and iPad devices, insisting the company is involved in anti-competitive practices.

Open Web Advocacy (OWA), a UK-based group of developers, has the stated goal of enabling third parties to access all of the features that Safari benefits from but are not available in the WebKit browser engine; WebKit is the core software component of the Safari browser.

“The only way for developers to build stable, high-performance apps is to invest in Apple’s proprietary platform, over which it taxes and retains exclusive control,” OWA wrote in a new paper.

“Browser vendors are not allowed to ship their browsers, which they have spent hundreds of thousands of hours developing,” OWA continued. “In place [developers] are forced to produce a separate browser, which is essentially a thin wrapper or skin around the WebKit engine within Apple’s own browser, Safari.

As the default browser on iOS and iPad OS devices, Safari claims 39.4% of all mobile browser traffic, according to the web analytics service StatCounter. Google’s Chrome browser remains No. 1 with 46.3% of traffic.

On desktops, it’s a whole different story. Chrome still holds the top spot – by far, at 65.38% – with Microsoft Edge now used on 9.54% of desktops globally, just behind Safari at 9.84%. Mozilla Firefox brings up the rear with 9.18% market share.

Mobile devices typically come with at least an app store and browser pre-installed on them, making them key channels through which users and content providers can connect for content distribution.

Apple and Google control these key gateways – Apple and Google’s iOS-compatible versions of the Android operating system – through which users access content on mobile devices and through which content providers can access potential customers.

Safari is used by over 90% of iOS device owners, and Chrome is used by 75% of Android device owners, meaning both companies have very strong browser usage shares in their mobile ecosystems. respective, according to the United Kingdom. Competition and Markets Authority.

First reported by MacRumorsOWA argued that Apple’s policy was “a clear conflict of interest with third-party browsers” and noted that the company receives $15 billion a year from Google for search engine placement in Safari while guaranteeing that other browsers couldn’t compete effectively on iOS.

In contrast, OWA said, the nonprofit organization Mozilla produces a better browser (Firefox) that consistently outperforms Apple’s in security and standards compliance and “with revenues under $500 million per year”.

Pressure from any group is unlikely to convince Apple to open its mobile platform to third-party browser developers, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

“Apple believes that Webkit is the best way to browse the web and probably doesn’t want others to experiment with things that would embarrass Apple (i.e., work better than Webkit),” Gold said. .

Apple also believes it has optimized its hardware for Android’s Webkit and Webview and may be concerned that another browser engine could slow performance, affect battery life and/or cause security issues.

“And if that happens, Apple will likely take responsibility, even if it’s not warranted,” Gold said. “Finally, like Google with Android, Apple has a vested interest in ensuring that its own products are used when you browse the web.”

The “browser ban”, as OWA calls it, “prevents the emergence of an open and free universal platform for applications, where developers can create their application once and make it work on all devices. consumer, whether desktop, laptop, tablet or phone.

“Instead, it forces companies to create multiple separate applications to run on each platform, dramatically increasing the cost and complexity of development and maintenance. These costs are in addition to the 15% to 30% tax charged by the App Store,” OWA said.

This higher cost, the group argued, is ultimately passed on to consumers in the form of higher fees, more bug-prone apps, and apps not being available on all platforms.

“That then lessens competition with other manufacturers by depriving them of a healthy library of apps,” OWA said.

What would make Apple change? It would probably have to be either a lawsuit of some kind or a very big outcry from users, Gold said.

“It’s unlikely to happen,” he said.

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