Web devs fear Apple's iOS shakeup for Europe will be a nightmare for support
Still, there's hope for actual browser competition on iPhones
Web developers worry that Apple's commitments to meet Europe's Digital Markets Act will complicate web application support, even as some remain hopeful something positive will come from the revision of Apple's iOS platform rules.
The Register has seen a set of comments submitted to Open Web Advocacy (OWA) – a web-focused advocacy group that helped push for the changes – following Apple's announcement last week about changes to iOS, Safari, and the App Store.
Due for publication shortly, these comments from various web professionals follow from OWA asking supporters how Apple's revised platform rules will affect their work and the web.
Apple's changes modify its requirements for distributing native iOS apps through the App Store and also alters the fruit cart's long-standing requirement that third-party browsers use Safari's WebKit rendering engine rather than alternatives – Google's Blink or Mozilla's Gecko.
The relaxation of the WebKit requirement has long been sought by web developers, who have argued that the browser limitation makes a mockery of Apple's claim that web apps represent a viable alternative for those disinclined to abide by strict App Store Review Guideline regime.
What happens if someone in the EU runs into a bug that isn't happening in other browsers?
But Apple's commitment to allow the use of alternative browser engines has left web developers concerned that the requirements create barriers to necessary activities like browser testing.
“What happens if someone in the EU runs into a bug that isn’t happening in other browsers?" pondered Jason Grigsby, co-founder of Cloudfour, in a comment to OWA. "How do we troubleshoot it? I’m trying to think of a comparable time when we had no way to test in a browser. The closest I can come to is the earliest days of mobile when the Android browser was different on each carrier. But even then, I could go to a carrier store to test and/or buy a phone if I needed more time with it. What do I do now?"
Similar concerns were voiced by web developer and consultant Peter-Paul Koch, who wondered whether there will be a way for non-EU developers to test in the EU via a VPN or by joining some EU web development entity.
He also wondered whether the separate regime in Europe might prompt US regulators to demand that Apple address what he characterized as a competitive disadvantage for non-EU web developers.
Some developers focused on the potential opportunities now that genuine browser competition on iOS may be possible.
For example, Andy Davies, a consultant for SpeedCurve, told OWA, "Probably the most interesting thing for me is we'll finally be able to do like for like comparisons of web performance in the wild and we'll be able to compare the speed of sites in Chrome on Android vs Chrome on iOS and so begin to get a real world understanding of the gap between the performance of Android and iOS devices."
Léonie Watson, director at TetraLogical and W3C board member, suggested it's too early to tell how things will shake out – but also expressed concern that the rule change could lead to even more usage of Chrome, which already dominates on other platforms.
- Microsoft Edge ignores user wishes, slurps tabs from Chrome without permission
- Apple redecorates its iPhone prison to appease Europe
- Europe forces Apple to give its citizens some choice over iOS browser engine, app store
- Firefox 122 gets even more competitive with Chrome on translation
But judging by OWA's response to Apple's announcement, it's premature to conclude the playing field has been leveled to allow fair browser competition.
In a post on Monday, OWA argued that Apple hasn't made a genuine effort to comply with the DMA.
OWA wrote that it considers the security requirements Apple has outlined reasonable, but others are not.
For example, Apple requires that alternative browser engines "pass a minimum percentage of tests available from industry standard test suites: 90 percent from Web Platform Tests and 80 percent from Test262."
According to OWA, "The Web Platform Tests project is a comprehensive corpus of tests for browser engines, but there is no generally accepted set out of which 90 percent can be measured, as each engine project enables or disables test groups based on features that are minimally implemented."
The web advocacy group noted that developers don't know which group of tests are mandated, and that "Apple’s language potentially demands pass-rate statistics that cannot be produced, as no set of WPT tests are run on iOS for any browser, using any engine (although Android browsers are tested) – including Safari."
OWA also observed that Apple is demanding the implementation of technical mechanism that it does not use itself in the name of privacy. It expressed concern that this is simply a way for Apple "to deny third party browsers the ability to implement important Web App functionality with the aim of keeping that functionality exclusive to Native Apps sold via their App Store."
The web group cited a number of other issues – like Apple's continued self-preferencing via its OS-provided "in-app browser" mechanism, its refusal to extend its accommodations to iPad, and problematic parts of its legal requirements.
"Our early reading of Apple's proposal suggests that its plan does not align with either the letter or spirit of the DMA," the OWA concluded. ®