Devs come together to fight Apple's anti-competitive browser restrictions

Devs come together to fight Apple’s ‘anti-competitive’ browser restrictions


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It's about time!
Image: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

A group of software engineers have joined forces to form the Open Web Advocacy (OWA), which will fight Apple’s “anti-competitive” web browser restrictions on iPhone and iPad.

The OWA says that Apple’s tight controls, which prevent third-party browsers from using their own engines on iOS, has stalled innovation for the past 10 years and “prevented web apps from taking off on mobile.”

Engineers call for fairer browser rules on iOS

Apple is already under fire from devs and regulators who demand a more open App Store. In some countries, Cupertino is now being forced to loosen its famously tight restrictions (though it seems determined not to comply).

And it seems it won’t stop there. The OWA, which is made up of a bunch of software engineers in the U.K., is now calling for regulatory or legislative changes that will push Apple into changing its rules for third-party browsers.

“Apple’s ban of third party browsers on iOS is deeply anti-competitive, starves the Safari/WebKit team of funding and has stalled innovation for the past 10 years and prevented Web Apps from taking off on mobile,” reads its website.

“We need you to contact your regulators / legislators / representatives and galvanize support for change in your jurisdiction.”

Open competition for all

The OWA insists in its “Bringing Competition to Walled Gardens” PDF that its criticism is “aimed squarely at Apple and Apple’s upper management.” It acknowledges the efforts and “groundbreaking contributions” made by the Safari and WebKit teams, and wants to avoid condemning them.

“We know you care deeply about the open web and may privately disagree with Apple’s anti-competitive practices,” the document reads. “We also understand that Apple operates under a paranoid air of strict secrecy which can make it difficult for you to engage properly with the development community.”

But the OWA believes it’s about time Apple was forced to lift the heavy restrictions it places on browser developers. It points out that iPhone and iPad browsers must use Apple’s own WebKit engine and should be allowed to implement their own, which they have spent “thousands of hours developing.”

Apple prevents an open and free universal platform

“Critically this browser ban prevents the emergence of an open and free universal platform for apps, where developers can build their application once and have it work across all consumer devices, be it desktop, laptop, tablet or phone,” the document explains.

“Instead it forces companies to create multiple separate applications to run on each platform, significantly raising the cost and complexity of development and maintenance.”

This is an issue many browser developers have tried to draw attention to over the years. And it’s yet another example of the anti-competitive control Apple has over its mobile platforms — the very thing regulators are already trying to challenge by calling for fairer app marketplaces.

It’s a shame Apple will likely turn a blind eye, but here’s to hoping the OWA keeps pushing and that others join the fight. Check out its website for more information — and to find out what you can do to help.