The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Browser and Cloud Gaming Market Investigation has just released their progress report. Long time readers may remember that this investigation was restarted after a high court win against Apple.

The report delves into Apple’s rule that all browsers on iOS must use the version of WebKit bundled with iOS which is under Apple’s exclusive control.

The requirement that all browsers on the iOS operating system use a specific version of the WebKit browser engine controlled by Apple, means that there is no competition between browser engines on the platform. Browser vendors cannot switch to an alternative browser engine or make changes to the version of WebKit used on iOS. Similarly, consumers are unable to switch to a browser based on an alternative browser engine. We consider that the lack of competitive pressure is likely to reduce Apple’s incentives to improve WebKit.

In addition, we have obtained evidence indicating that browser vendors incur  additional costs from having to develop and support a version of their browser  based on WebKit, which they would not do if the restriction were not in place.  Evidence from browser vendors also indicates that Apple is difficult to engage with  regarding requests for fixes or the addition of new features to WebKit on iOS.

Whilst Apple has submitted that the WebKit restriction is necessary to ensure the  security, privacy, and performance of iOS devices, and that this is an important  aspect of competition between iOS and Android devices, the evidence we have  seen to date does not support this conclusion.

Interestingly the report also states that iOS and Android should be considered separate markets for browsers.

it is our emerging thinking that the supply of mobile browsers on iOS and Android should be considered as two separate product markets”

This market investigation reference was launched by CMA’s Market Study into Mobile Ecosystems. In the reference decision to the market investigation reference they listed the following potential remedies:

  • removing Apple’s restrictions on competing browser engines on iOS devices;
  • mandating access to certain functionality for browsers (including supporting web apps);
  • requiring Apple and Google to provide equal access to functionality through APIs for rival browsers;
  • requirements that make it more straightforward for users to change the default browser within their device settings;
  • choice screens to overcome the distortive effects of pre-installation; and
  • requiring Apple to remove its App Store restrictions on cloud gaming services.

Separately the powers of the CMA has just been significantly strengthened with the passing of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. This will allow them to impose “codes of conduct” on large tech firms with “strategic market status”. This is entirely separate from the market investigation reference, however they will likely read each other’s report.

We hope that the CMA will end Apple’s effective ban on third party browsers on iOS either via the MIR or the powers granted by the DMCC bill.

Right now, if competition was restored, 90% of the apps on your phone could be written as a Web App and would be indistinguishable, significantly cheaper and often BETTER than Native Apps. Native Apps will still have a lead in cutting edge graphics and gaming technology but if companies see the web platform as viable this gap will decrease over time.

It is for this reason that allowing browser competition on iOS is critical. Apple’s effective browser ban prevents the emergence of such an open and free universal platform for mobile apps. Unlike desktop, developers cannot build their application once and have it work across all consumer devices. Instead, these policies combine with Apple’s trailing and feature-poor engine to force companies to create separate applications for iOS, significantly raising the cost and complexity of development and maintenance. This severely undermines any interoperability advantages Web Apps have between iOS and Android. A single prominent OS holding back the Web is enough to undermine its entire value proposition as a frictionless, capable and secure distribution mechanism for Web Apps.

The fight to allow browser and Web App competition on iOS is not over. We would like to thank everyone for their support over the last 3 years and ask that consumers, developers and businesses write in and engage with the market investigation reference to arm them with all the data and information they need to successfully restore competition to a broken mobile ecosystem.

Stay tuned as we will be posting about its progress as more information becomes available.