An engineer who has spent the last decade working on web browser projects at Google and Microsoft derided Apple’s characterization as the champion of choice.
in a new blog post (opens in new tab), Alex Russell argues that in reality the opposite is true; he claims that Apple deliberately exerted its influence in the hardware and mobile operating system markets to “undermine the diversity of the browser engine.”
“Contrary to claims by Apple supporters, iOS engine restrictions are not preventing a ‘takeover’ by Chromium – at least that’s not the main effect,” he wrote. “Apple uses its power over browsers to exploit and sabotage the web, undermining all engine designs and draining the web’s future potential.”
The case against Apple
According to Russell, Apple hinders diversity in the web browser market in a number of ways, each of which he unpacks in turn.
The main criticism is that the company continues to force developers to revamp its inferior WebKit engine if they want to launch a browser on iOS, a platform used by more than a billion people worldwide.
While Russell nods to the quality of developers working on WebKit, he claims that Apple has significantly underfunded the browser engine, which is maintained by a “skeleton team” and is therefore unable to compete with companies like Blink (based on Chromium).
The result, he says, is that third-party developers incur significant additional costs associated with building their apps for multiple engines, and the iOS browser market is simultaneously lacking in innovation. Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, is quoted as having delayed its entry into iOS for “about seven years” as a result of Apple’s stringent requirements.
“Today, Apple does not compete outside its territory, and when it has agency, it prevents others from doing so. These are not the actions of a company that is consciously trying to promote engine diversity. If Apple is an ally in this cause, it is only by accident,” Russell said.
“Theories that posit a Chromium takeover dismiss Apple’s power over a situation it created and re-commit annually through its budget process.”
Russell also took aim at the reluctance with which Apple introduced the ability to change the default browser in iOS. Only when antitrust regulators started sniffing around did Apple take these steps in 2020.
In some cases, iOS would even override the new standard when links were opened in certain apps, which Russell said created a split browser experience that had a negative impact on users, developers and publishers.
“The pantomime of browser choice on iOS has created an anemic and amnesiac web. Tapping links is more work than navigating when autofill fails, passwords are lost, and login state is forgotten. Browsers become less valuable as the web ceases to be a reliable way to get things done.”
“By simultaneously taking a huge pot of money from building browsers off the table, giving as little back to engine development as possible, and preventing others from filling the gap, Apple has endangered the web ecosystem by destroying the usefulness of a diverse population. of browsers and engines.”
Pro asked Apple for a response to Russell’s arguments.