Apple has been facing multiple accusations of anti-competitive practices in recent years, and it seems that there’s more to come. This time, a group of developers has launched a project called “Open Web Advocacy” that challenges Apple to allow other browser engines on iOS.
The group wants developers to have access to the same features available in the iOS version of Safari. At the same time, it asks Apple to open up iOS to third-party browser engines.
For those unfamiliar, iOS relies on the WebKit engine, which not only powers Safari but all web content on Apple’s operating system. That’s because, unlike macOS, iOS apps are required to use WebKit as their browser engine. In other words, every web browser or web app you see on iOS is basically Safari running underneath another “skin.”
“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,” explained Lawson. “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.”
As the group told The Register, limiting apps to WebKit has become a problem since developers don’t even have access to some of the features that Safari has.
For instance, full-screen capabilities are limited in third-party browsers, and Apple restricts Apple Pay integration to Safari. At the same time, web-based apps cannot run in full screen, and third-party browsers do not offer the option of adding a web app to the home screen. Developers also complain about the lack of Web NFC and other APIs in the iOS WebKit.
The group’s main idea is to take their concerns to the UK Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) in order to convince them that Apple needs to change its policies.
Safari has been lagging behind its competitors for a while now, and this has become clear as users have been switching to other web browsers. There’s a consensus among developers that there are a lot of features missing in Safari – and they are forced to use Apple’s technologies with even more limitations in their apps.
Apple, of course, has its own reasons for forcing WebKit adoption on iOS. More than keeping users under the Safari engine, it gives the company more control over the web app experience, which is becoming popular among platforms banned from the App Store (such as Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming).
If Apple lets developers adopt third-party browser engines with access to all iOS APIs, it will end up hurting the App Store business.
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