Apple has confirmed that the web viewer embedded with iOS 4.3 does not offer certain optimizations included with the Safari browser bundled with Apple's mobile operating system.
The end result is that web-centric applications built for the platform – including third-party browsers that use the embedded web viewer – do not offer the same performance as applications and webpages run within Safari.
On Wednesday, Canadian startup Blaze Software – which says it offers a free service for measuring mobile web performance – published a study claiming that Google's Android browser is 52 per cent faster than Apple's mobile Safari. And the study was widely reported across the web. But Apple soon responded to say that Blaze's testing methodology is inherently flawed.
"They didn't actually test the Safari web browser on the iPhone," Apple spokeswoman Muller tells us. "Instead, they only tested their own proprietary app which uses an embedded web viewer".
Web applications can also be saved to the iOS home screen and then launched with Safari. The developer – not the user – chooses which way the app is launched.
It's still unclear why the apps that bypass Safari in this way do not get access to all of Apple's web optimizations. iOS 4.3 arrived only last week, however, and the situation could change in future releases – but Apple would not comment on future iOS updates. According to tests from two separate developers, some HTML5 web apps saved to the home screen were able work offline with earlier version of iOS but not on iOS 4.3, apparently because access to certain caches has changed.
Citing a conversation with Apple, one developer told us earlier this week that the company did not intend to add all of Safari's optimizations to the embedded web viewer. "Apple is basically using subtle defects to make web apps appear to be low quality – even when they claim HTML5 is a fully supported platform," the developer said.
But whatever Apple's original stance on the discrepancy between home screen apps and Safari apps, now that the situation has blown wide open – with Apple publicly acknowledging the disparity – things may change with a future version of the operating system. It's in the company's best interests to add Safari's optimizations to the embedded web viewer as well – at least that's what Apple boss Steve Jobs has led us to believe.
"Apple’s mobile devices all ship with high performance, low power implementations of these open standards. HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member." ®