Regulators in the UK, EU, Japan, Australia and the USA have begun investigating Apple's ban on third-party browser engines and are considering interventions to enable Web Apps to compete with native. Most significantly, wording to this effect has been included in the EU's landmark tech act, the Digital Markets Act.
This was not inevitable. Over the past two years, Open Web Advocacy has extensively briefed regulators and legislators about the Web's potential to counterbalance the mobile app duopoly.
Almost certainly as a direct result of our advocacy Apple has hired dozens of additional staff to work on WebKit and Safari. This extra bandwidth and regulatory pressure has directly contributed to the addition of long-delayed features such as push notifications and app badging for Web Apps. WebKit staff numbers are secret, but we believe this is a significant percentage increase.
Competition, or at least the threat of it, works.
OWA needs your help to continue applying pressure to restore competition and to make universal web apps a reality. You can make a real difference to ensure the future of the web by supporting this work. We rely on donations to challenge unbelievably wealthy gatekeepers who have every incentive to hold the web back.
We need help
Collectively we have volunteered several thousand hours promoting and advocating these issues. While we have had significant success, we believe that in order to fulfil our aims it will require having a few of us work full time on this for the next 1 - 3 years to keep up with the sheer volume of work required to push this with multiple regulators. Ideally any regulatory solution should be enacted in as many jurisdictions as possible.
Apple has not lifted their ban on competing browser engines on iOS, Web Apps can’t compete with Native Apps because they are treated unfairly and are missing many features that are exclusive to Native Apps. Thus far, no regulator has yet compelled gatekeepers to fix these issues.
With your help, it will allow us to document, explain, promote and push these issues to ensure they get fixed.
How will the money be spent?
All money will be spent on furthering the aims listed above, primarily through talking to regulators, publishing documents that outline the key arguments, talks, promoting the issues via the news/social media and talking to the industry including, developers, OS & Browser Vendors as well as small and large development companies.
What have we achieved so far?
Prior to our advocacy work there was very limited discussion by regulators about browsers on mobile device. To our knowledge there was no discussion of Browser Engines or Web Apps by regulators till Open Web Advocacy began highlighting its vital importance in multiple filings to a range of regulators. Typically the only remedy mentioned was browser ballots to overcome the gatekeepers deciding the default browser.
We believe we have achieved some important milestones:
UK’s Competition and Markets Authorities Mobile Ecosystems Report
We have discussed the issues extensively with the CMA and they dedicated many pages of their report to Apple's banning of third party browser engines (effectively a browser ban), Webkit is mentioned 122 times throughout the report.
They propose forcing Apple to lift this ban:
Importantly, due to the WebKit restriction, Apple makes decisions on whether to support features not only for its own browser, but for all browsers on iOS. This not only restricts competition (as it materially limits the potential for rival browsers to differentiate themselves from Safari on factors such as speed and functionality) but also limits the capability of all browsers on iOS devices, potentially depriving iOS users of useful innovations they might otherwise benefit from.
Overall, the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that the WebKit restriction is justified by security concerns. We note that Apple benefits financially from weakening competition in browsers via the browser engine ban
On this basis, the evidence we have gathered suggests that removal of the WebKit restriction has the potential to deliver strong benefits to competition, consumers, and digital businesses in the UKUK CMA - Mobile ecosystems Market Study - Final Report
This is an excellent document and the CMA outline many of the arguments in great detail.
Additionally the CMA have launched a market investigation reference into browsers and cloud gaming of which the key remedy discussed is removing Apple's ban on third party browser engines. Market investigation references are the UK's regulator next step after Market Studies, they are only launched if the CMA has convincing evidence of adverse effects to competition and have strong remedy powers.
Important Changes to the Digital Markets Act
The European Union has added Browser, Browser Engines and Web Apps to the Digital Markets Act.
Specifically the following section:
In particular, each browser is built on a web browser engine, which is responsible for key browser functionality such as speed, reliability and web compatibility. When gatekeepers operate and impose web browser engines, they are in a position to determine the functionality and standards that will apply not only to their own web browsers, but also to competing web browsers and, in turn, to web software applications. Gatekeepers should therefore not use their position to require their dependent business users to use any of the services provided together with, or in support of, core platform services by the gatekeeper itself as part of the provision of services or products by those business users.Digital Markets Act
Push Notifications/Badging on iOS
Shortly after our initial consultations with regulators it was quietly announced that Apple was working on Push Notifications for iOS despite there being no signal on the feature for the previous decade, a feature that Native Apps have had since the launch of the App Store. Later Apple very publicly announced that they would be bringing Push Notifications to iOS at Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2022. This feature was released in iOS 16.4 along with a host of positive Safari/Webkit changes such as Badging. We believe this and the significant uptick in work on Safari is a direct result of our advocacy.
Additional Staff/Funding for Webkit/Safari
Additionally after our initial consultations with regulators, Apple moved to place more than 60 Webkit/Safari job adverts. We do not know the exact size of the Webkit team but suspect this is a significant percentage increase in the team. This is excellent news for consumers and developers who will all benefit from more features and less bugs in Safari. While we firmly believe that true browser competition is needed for iOS, Apple increasing Safari’s funding is a very positive step.
Other Regulators are investigating
We have had extensive discussion with other government agencies such as Japan’s HDMC, Australia ACCC and the US’s NTIA. These regulators are now investigating these issues. These regulators have publicly proposed removing Apple restrictions on third party browsers in their latest reports (see Japan's HDMC report, Australia's ACCC report and the US's NTIA report).
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