Apple is being pushed by a group of developers to end its requirement that developers use only the Cupertino firm’s WebKit browser engine in third-party browser apps on iOS and iPadOS. Developers say Apple’s restrictions amount to anti-competitive conduct.
WebKit is Apple’s browser engine that powers Safari and other areas of the operating system where web content is displayed. Many browser developers are not happy with being required to use WebKit.
The latest pushback comes in the form of “Open Web Advocacy” or OWA, a project launched by UK-based developers who want third-party access to all the features that Safari enjoys but which are not available in WebKit.
“The motive of the group is to try to persuade Apple that they need to allow other browser engines on iOS, so the iOS can be a better platform for developing stuff for the modern web,” developer Bruce Lawson told The Register. “Because at the moment, every browser on iOS, whether it be badged Chrome, Firefox or Edge is actually just a branded skin of Safari, which lags behind [other browsers] because it has no competition on iOS.”
Developers are also frustrated that iOS forces Safari to be used in all instances of in-app browsing. More than 30 missing functions or APIs for WebKit are outlined in the OWA’s “Bringing Competition to Walled Gardens” paper.
Apple argues that WebKit limitations are motivated primarily by security and privacy considerations, but Lawson says how Apple handles Safari bugs makes a mockery of that claim.
“Over Christmas, there was a huge bug in something called IndexedDB,” said Lawson. “That allowed any arbitrary website to see other websites you visited. Not all of them but those that use certain browser features. And that remained unpatched by Apple for 57 days. So for 57 days, every iOS user who used any web browser on iOS – because it was using WebKit – was leaking data left, right and center. If Apple actually did fix security errors fast, that would be a plausible defense, but they don’t.”