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I watched this week’s Apple Event for a while, but there was nothing that interested me; I have a mobile phone which works fine for me, I don’t need a watch and I can’t afford a new computer.
But here’s one Apple event speech I genuinely found really energising. In 2007, Steve Jobs made a bold announcement at Apple’s developer conference, that I still find inspiring today:
Now, what about developers? We have been trying to come up with a solution to expand the capabilities of iPhone by allowing developers to write great apps for it, and yet keep the iPhone reliable and secure. And we’ve come up with a very sweet solution. Let me tell you about it.
So, we’ve got an innovative new way to create applications for mobile devices, really innovative, and it’s all based on the fact that iPhone has the full Safari inside. The full Safari engine is inside of iPhone and it gives us tremendous capability, more than there’s ever been in a mobile device to this date, and so you can write amazing Web 2.0 and Ajax apps that look exactly and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone!
And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services: they can make a call, they can send an email, they can look up a location on Google Maps. After you write them, you have instant distribution. You don’t have to worry about distribution: just put them on your internet server. And they’re really easy to update: just change the code on your own server, rather than having to go through this really complex update process. They’re secured with the same kind of security you’d use for transactions with Amazon, or a bank, and they run securely on the iPhone so they don’t compromise its reliability or security.
And guess what: there’s no SDK! You’ve got everything you need, if you know how to write apps using the most modern web standards, to write amazing apps for the iPhone today. You can go live on June 29.
On open Operating Systems, Progressive Web Apps live up to this promise; truly cross-platform code that can be responsive to any form factor, using a mature technology with great accessibility (assuming a competent developer), that is secure and sandboxed, that requires no gatekeepers, developer licenses or expensive IDEs. They’ll work on Android, Windows, ChromeOS and Mac.
But 14 years after Jobs had this bold vision for the open web, iOS hasn’t caught up. Apple has imposed a browser ban on iOS. Yes, there are “browsers” called Chrome, Edge, Firefox that can be downloaded from the App Store for iOS–but they only share branding and UI features with their fully-fledged counterparts on open Operating Systems. On iOS, they are all just differently-badged skins for the buggy, hamstrung version of WebKit that Apple ships and occasionally patches for security (often waiting long after WebKit has been fixed before pushing it to consumers).
Apple knows Safari is terrible. SVP of software Eddy Cue, who reports directly to Tim Cook, wrote in 2013
The reason we lost Safari on Windows is the same reason we are losing Safari on Mac. We didn’t innovate or enhance Safari….We had an amazing start and then stopped innovating… Look at Chrome. They put out releases at least every month while we basically do it once a year.
Forcing other iOS “browsers” to skin Safari’s engine rather than use their own more capable engines is a deliberate policy decision. Apple’s App Store guidelines state
Job’s 2007 speech felt like a turning point: a successful, future-facing company really betting on the open web. These days, Apple sells you hardware that they claim will “express your individuality” by choosing one of two brand new colours. But, for the web, choose any colour you want, as long as it’s webkit-black.
Some of us are trying to change this. Earlier this month I was part of a small group invited to brief the UK regulator, the Competition and Marketing Authority, as part of its investigation into
Apple’s conduct in relation to the distribution of apps on iOS and iPadOS devices in the UK, in particular, the terms and conditions governing app developers’ access to Apple’s App Store.
You can watch the video of my presentation, and see Stuart Langridge’s slides.