Chrome engineer accuses Apple of delaying adoption of web technologies

Alex Russell is a software engineer who works in the development of Google Chrome for 12 years; He also has a blog titled Infrequently Noted in which he talks about browsers and web standards. And last Friday he published a post in it entitled "Delayed progress is denied progress" in which argues controversial accusation against Apple.

Russell collects, before presenting his thesis, three facts:

  1. What Apple prohibits the presence of progressive web applications in the App Store, the only app store available on iOS.

  2. What Apple forces all competing browsers to use its HTML engine (WebKit) to be ported to iOS, regardless of their own.

  3. That Apple raises PWAs as a defense in antitrust lawsuits, such as demonstration that it is 'possible' to use apps outside the App Store on iOS.

And, from there, he puts his theory on the table: that Safari and WebKit carry years being deliberately delayed in their development versus other browsers precisely so that PWAs can never become an alternative credible to App Store applications.

Microsoft xCloud and Google Stadia are the latest "victims" of Apple's standards in the App Store, and will not reach iPhone and iPad

Common technologies you won't see in WebKit for iOS

But, what kind of functionalities have been available for a long time in the rest of the browsers because Safari / WebKit for iOS has been implemented? Are there really too many to speak of a deliberate delay? Well, this list includes such basic and everyday technologies as

  • The everyday ones push notifications (with what that means for messaging apps, social networks, news, travel or e-commerce).

  • The PWA installation instructions and creating shortcuts to them, two fundamental aspects for them when competing against native apps.

  • Access to the Screen Wake Lock API, which prevents the screensaver from taking over at critical moments, a key feature for QR code viewing or presentation apps.

  • The Media Session API, which allows multimedia playback when the web app is in the background; It is already in development for WebKit ... but it is already 5 years behind the rest of browsers.

  • Access to other APIs such as Web Share Target, essential to share content from web applications.

  • Navigation preload, which provides offline experience and is one of the most demanded functions by the main PWAs in the market.

  • Let's not talk about the Hardware access APIs, a field in which Chromium has the leadership and lacks the slightest support from iOS: technologies such as Web Serial, Web Bluetooth, Web USB and the like are fundamental, for example, to allow the management of IOT devices from a web .

5-year delays that hampered the emergence of services like Stadia

Other web technologies, already available in Safari for iOS suffered a delay of half a decade regarding its implementation in competing browsers.

These include WebRTC (real-time network protocol essential in video conferencing, desktop sharing and game streaming applications) or Gamepad API, a basic piece for streaming game PWAs like Stadia, GeForce NOW or xCloud.

These free web applications are so good that they can replace the software we usually install

Other technologies related to the graphical performance of web applications still do not reach iOS, such as the WebGL2 graphical API, present in Chrome and Firefox since 2017 and still 'in development' in WebKit, or that of its successor WebGPU, whose arrival to iOS is not yet scheduled (Chrome plans to incorporate it before the end of this year).

WebXR, an API for online virtual reality available in Chrome for two years, it also does not have an official landing date on iOS.

Russell's post includes many more similar cases. But if there is a section that we should highlight from the post, it is the following:

"Apple's policy against free choice of browser engine adds years of delays [...] This means that web developers cannot compete with their native iOS app counterparts in critical categories like games, shopping, and creative tools.

Suppose Apple had implemented WebRTC and the Gamepad API in due time. Could we affirm that the video game streaming revolution that we are experiencing now taking place could have happened before? Yes, it is possible that products such as Amazon Luna, NVIDIA GeForce NOW, Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud could have been developed years earlier. "

It is also possible that APIs already implemented on all other platforms, but not yet available in iOS browsers, because of Apple, could be key to unlocking entire categories of experiences on the web. "