As you may know, every browser on iOS is actually just a branded re-skin of WebKit, the engine that Safari uses, because Apple won’t allow other engines on iOS.
Supporters of the Apple Browser Ban tend to give one of three reasons (listed here from most ridiculous to most credible):
The web shouldn’t be “app-like”, it’s for documents only
Whatever. (See A Brief History of Web Apps for more on why this is nonsense.)
Privacy and security are protected by not allowing non-Apple code on devices
This doesn’t really make sense when non-Apple apps are allowed on iOS, which can leak data so valuable that Amazon and eBay will pay you to use their apps rather than web. Apple’s most recent zero-day vulnerability was exploited along with a flaw in WebKit, and so left all users exposed because users of other “browsers” are forced to use WebKit. Stuart Langridge has a great post going deeper into Browser choice on Apple’s iOS: privacy and security aspects.
Updated 9 Feb 2022: And, of course, Apple kept quiet about a WebKit bug that leaks user’s data, leaving it unpatched for almost two months.
Project Zero’s analysis of 2021 bugs shows that WebKit was by far the slowest to patch security vulnerabilities:
WebKit is the outlier in this analysis, with the longest number of days to release a patch at 73 days. Their time to land the fix publicly is in the middle between Chrome and Firefox, but unfortunately this leaves a very long amount of time for opportunistic attackers to find the patch and exploit it prior to the fix being made available to users. This can be seen by the Apple (red) bars of the second histogram mostly being on the right side of the graph, and every one of them except one being past the 30-day mark.
Allowing other rendering engines leads to Chromium taking over the world
This one kind of makes sense. After all, Opera abandoned its Presto engine and Microsoft abandoned Trident, and both went to Chromium. Firefox risks sliding into irrelevance due to inept lack of leadership. If Apple were forced to allow Chrome onto iOS, then domination would be complete!
The interesting predicate of this argument is that Apple intend to keep Safari as the sad, buggy app that they’ve allowed it to wither to, because it has no competition. I emphatically do not want Chromium to win. Quite the opposite: I want Apple to allow the WebKit team to raise its game so there is an *excellent* competitor to Chromium.
WebKit is available on Windows, Linux and more. Safari was once available on Windows, but Apple silently withdrew it. 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.
There is browser choice on MacOS, and 63% of MacOS users remain with Safari (24% use Chrome, 5.6% use Firefox). As everyone who works on browsers knows, a capable browser made by the Operating System’s manufacturer and pre-installed greatly deters users from seeking and installing another. There is no reason to believe it would be different on iOS. (Internet Explorer on Windows isn’t a counter-example; there were much better alternatives, long before Edge came along.)
But let’s set out aspirations higher. Imagine a fantastic Safari on iOS, Mac, Android, Windows and Linux, giving Chrome a run for its money. If anyone can take on Google, Apple can. It has talented WebKit engineers, excellent Standards experts, a colossal marketing budget, and great brand recognition.
If Apple allowed Safari to actually compete, it would be better for web developers, businesses, consumers, and for the health of the web. Come on, Apple, set Safari free!
(You could also read my Briefing to the UK Competition and Markets Authority on Apple’s iOS browser monopoly and Progressive Web Apps.)
(Last Updated on )