Can Apple be persuaded to support true third party browsers on iOS?

Maourice Gonzalez

With the somewhat recent consolidation of the web browser market, most non-power users are unaware of the fact that their favorite browser is likely running some version of Chromium, a smaller percentage are running Firefox and the rest are on some version of Safari. Windows, Linux and macOS users have choices, the same holds true for Android users, however those on an iPhone are locked into Safari, or alternatives like Edge, Chrome and others which unfortunately on that platform are simply re-skinned version of Safari and its WebKit engine.

Apple claims this restriction is in place to protect users, however this to many is just an excuse to continue to leverage their phone market share to, by force, establish browser market share. The irony of the situation is that when others like Microsoft attempt to keep users attached to their Edge browser, regulators and the community at large cry foul while turning a blind eye at the blatant disregard for choice and competition found in iOS in this respect.

However there appears to be increasing pressure from the development community. A group of engineers have launched a group called “Open Web Advocacy“, one of their goals is to get Apple to relax their iOS browser restrictions. They aim to achieve this by helping lawmakers understand the benefits of having more openness and choice.

Why these restrictions are bad for users and developers

For third party browser developers the situation is not optimal, there are features that for no apparent reason are only allowed on Safari, many APIs are not available to competitors like Firefox, Chrome, etc. The list ranges from trivial to somewhat important. For example, some functionality like Apple Pay is limited on third party browsers, as well as things like:

  • Installing web applications
  • Installing browser extensions
  • Allowing Full Screen Video

There are also concerns that Apple usually does not respond to security vulnerabilities quick enough, which given the restriction on the platform, leaves users with no choice but to continue to use WebKit with the flaw until Apple decides to fix it. Such was the case recently with the “IndexedDB Vulnerability” which allowed for sensitive information leakage.

How can you help?

The Open Web Advocacy group encourages people to contact their regulators / legislators / representatives and galvanize support for change. You can also help by joining them on  Discord, Twitter or by email and they’ll help you get started!