The bombshell article of the week is from Alex Russell of Google/Chrome. Alex has long been super critical of Apple, particularly about how there is literally no option to run any other browser than Safari on iOS. This article isn’t just fist-waving about that, but a dissertation accusing Apple of real harm to the web platform by sluggish progress on Safari and a no-web-apps App Store.
Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.
I appreciate Alex’s take here. It gives credit where credit is due, it places blame where it feels most fair to place it, and brings data to a complex conversation that deserves it. It’s hard not to get through the article and think that the web would be in a better place should Apple…
- Allow alternative browsers on iOS
- Allow web apps in the App Store
- Move faster with web platform features in Safari
Taking them one at a time…
- Do I want this? Yes. It seems reasonable that my $1,000 extremely powerful computer phone should be able to run whatever browser I want, particularly one from a company that makes a really good one and very much wants to ship it on my phone. In reality, I’m sure the complications around this are far beyond my understanding. I always think about that Chrome update that literally broke macOS. Could that happen on iOS? While lack of features might abstractly make for unhappy customers, a bricked phone very directly makes for unhappy customers. I suspect it more boils down to the fact that Google is an advertising company that innovates on tracking technology and Apple is a hardware company that innovates on privacy. That’s a rock-and-hard-place situation and this browser situation is one of the consequences.
- Do I want this? Yes. I don’t even know how to make native apps aside from software that turns web apps into native apps with magic. If web apps could go in the Apple App Store, it opens the door for people like me (and there are a lot of me). In reality, I’m sure the complications around this are far beyond my understanding. Is quality control harder? I gotta imagine it is. Is security harder to lock down? I gotta imagine it is. Are customers clamoring for it? I’m not sure I hear them very loudly. People do have a choice, as well: iOS is only 15% of the phone market. If you want an alternative browser and an alternative app store, you can have it.
- Do I want this? Yes. Heck, we celebrate little wins that Safari ships. I certainly don’t want to wait years for every clearly-useful feature. It will be interesting to measure the time for
containand container queries. That one looms large for me as I want to use it as soon as possible, without polyfills, once it stabilizes. I know the joke goes that “Safari is the new IE” but I don’t tend to feel that day-to-day in my typical web dev work. I feel like I can ship extremely capable websites to all browsers, including Safari, and not worry terribly much about Safari being a second-class experience. (I don’t make games or VR/AR experiences, though.) I’m honestly more worried about Firefox here. Apple and Google have more money than God. It’s Mozilla I worry about being DDoS’d with web-feature onslaught, although to be fair, they seem to be doing fine at the moment.
As far as Safari-behind-ness goes, I think more about the DevTools than I do web platform features.
There is the Apple-is-restrictive angle (fair enough), but also the Apple-is-slow angle here. Slow is a relative term. Slow compared to what? Slow compared to Chrome. Which begs the question: why does Chrome get to dictate the exact speed of the web? I always think of Dave’s “Slow, like brisket.”
There’s a lot of value in slow thinking. You use the non-lizard side of your brain. You make more deliberate decisions. You prioritize design over instant gratification. You can check your gut instincts and validate your hypothesis before incurring mountains of technical debt.
I think just enough iteration before a release produces better products. Because once it’s out, it’s out. There’s no turning back or major API changes.
Maybe a slower-moving web is frustrating sometimes, but does it mean we get a better one in the end? My baby bear brain tells me there is a just right somewhere in the middle.
It’s not just that Apple is slow. It’s that they seem to have a penchant for not communicating what they’re even working on.
Where they are slow to implement spec, it undermines confidence in the spec.
Great recent example: gap for flex. It has long been a gigantic mystery as to when/if it would ship in webkit. Even when it did, people were scrambling to find out where this was even published as it was first announced through…. yes, a tweet.
And it’s not for lack to trying to get them to provide some kind of information on these things.
So yeah, slowness but at least as much so, communication. There’s a difference between closed-garden operating principles and closed-mouth communication principles.
While I agree with many points show above I’m quite afraid of moving the web too fast, mostly if just few people are involved in the development of those features. If they keep pressing the gas pedal, and it crashes – like, someone finds a vulnerability in some new API and such an exploit affects many users – Apple will be quick to reply with “see, I wanted to protect my customers, and warned you, but you didn’t listen”.
That being said I hope Apple starts helping more the development of those APIs, but sadly Apple’s interests hurt the web, which don’t help.
Really nice article that I can only agree with!
iOS marketshare is highly variable around the world! Here in Scandinavia (I am from Denmark) iOS marketshare for mobile devices are around 60% so it is crucial that any frontend stuff I make works well in the Safari browser.
Probably biggest problem with Safari is that you can only use it on a Mac. I don’t want to use a Mac. I don’t want to use an iPhone (even though I have one in a drawer). I just don’t like the experience. So I could use Safari on Windows or Linux for testing, but I cannot. And Hackintosh is illegal even though it works fine on a PC ¯_(ツ)_/¯…
So yeah… Apple is just closed on many sides.
I really don’t believe that assertion to be true. I don’t know if anyone actually has data on it, but it feels to me like 99% of developers use Chrome as their development environment and target, but maybe I am biased because I don’t.
The whole article really makes me angry because the Chrome team continues to be so arrogant. I am really tired of them moaning and complaining about features they have rushed to ship in their own browser are not implemented in all the others yesterday.
Dave Rupert’s article is a great explanation of why it is so important to have a company like Apple as one of the major browser makers.
One year later, things haven’t changed. iOS is often a source of issues to fix (front-end) due to their browser. Even Chrome on iOS can behave both differently from Safari and Chrome on Android. It’s annoying as it makes things unnecessarily complicated.
Also, features such as scroll-behavior:smooth and many others take ages to be usable for production.There are ways around those limitations, but coding gotta be fun, and right now Apple ruins the party!
On top of all this, and frankly the main thing that irks me more than anything, is that, shutting the door on other browsers is a blatant Monopoly move.
“We control this area of the market, and we’re going to sit on it.”
They’re not owning the responsibilities that come with ownership – instead, they’re just holding it, sitting on it, just to slow and impede the progress of their competitors.
That’s ugly, and frankly it’s yeller. This is how a coward plays. Like, what, mister Tim Apple, you think you got game? Let’s see you play ball. Get on the court and BRING it.
But no, they’re large enough to just sit on the ball and keep anybody else from playing, ha. Chicken sh_t move.
You only play like that if you know you really can’t win playing fair!
Sometimes i find that writting code for a website becomes a huge mess when i test it in Safari and it adds useless complexity to something that should work out of the box. Delayed features aside, they still have a ton of work to do for features that they implemented lazily.
Blocking other browsers should be illegal.
As an IOS user and general approver-of, I fully agree with all three points. Web apps yes, multiple browsers yes. Faster Safari yes.
How Apple got away with not even allowing you to set a different default browser when Microsoft literally almost got broken up with lawsuits and had to make changes over the same exact issue not so long ago is beyond me. And even now they only halfway opened that door. Just enough to push off some criticism but not to actually change the situation fundamentally.