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French programmers haul Apple into court over developer rules

Your unfair contract cripples browsers, Nexedi complains

Nexedi, an open source software company based in France, has filed a lawsuit against Apple in Paris alleging that Apple's App Store contract is unfair.

In a blog post, founder and CEO Jean-Paul Smets and UI designer Sven Franck said that the company has undertaken the lawsuit to force Apple to improve its support for the latest web technology in iOS.

Smets and Franck point to technical shortcomings in mobile Safari such as lack of support for HTML5 service workers, webRTC, and WebM – web technologies necessary for running applications like the OfficeJS spreadsheet and online conferencing.

At issue is Apple's requirement that third-party web browsers use the open-source WebKit layout engine. Apple has based its Safari browser on WebKit and requires that makers of competing browsers do the same for inclusion in its iOS App Store.

Such technical homogeneity has compatibility and security benefits. At the same time, it prevents competitors from implementing capabilities that may be better than, different from, or unavailable in Apple's mobile browser.

For years, Mozilla chafed at this restriction because it could not release Firefox for iOS with its Gecko engine. In 2015, it capitulated and released Firefox for iOS with WebKit support.

Google is in a similar situation with its Chrome browser, but changes introduced in iOS 8 – specifically the ability to use the WKWebView rendering engine instead of the older UIWebView rendering engine – have allowed Chrome to close a performance gap with mobile Safari that existed for several years because Apple exempts its own software from rules applied to third parties.

Smets and Franck contend Apple's rules are unfair. "We would be delighted at Nexedi to create a Web browser for iOS with better HTML5 support based on a recent version of Blink library, for example," they wrote in their blog post. "But as soon as we would publish it, it would be banned from Apple's App Store. Many developers have experienced this situation already. Many companies are being hurt by this situation. Some companies have already begged Apple to improve HTML5 support in iOS with little significant results."

According to French publication Challenges, Nexedi has to spend €50,000 (~$55,860) annually to adapt its ERP5 software so it complies with Apple's rules.

Smets and Franck said France several years ago passed a law designed to protect small companies from larger firms where there's a significant imbalance between the rights and obligations of the parties.

That law has forced companies in other industries to modify their contracts, Smets told The Register in an email.

"There are also some cases at the EU level based on competition law," said Smets. "But ... Apple has won cases that were based on competition law. This is why we use here French trade law."

Apple did not reply to a request for comment. ®

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