Joseph Scott

How Apple Could Save The Mobile Web


The Background

The complaints against Safari have grown into a wide spread wave of resentment. None of this new, you might remember the 2015 siren song of Safari is the new IE.

There are a few problems, that combined, are the focus of this grief: Safari isn't keeping up with browser features, Apple doesn't allow full browser apps on iOS, and until recently there was no way to set a default browser that wasn't Safari.

Currently there are no signs that Apple is going to get Safari significantly closer to other browser features or allow full browser apps. But what if that changed and they wanted to push hard to support the web?

The Fix(es)

Here is one plan that Apple could do to show their strong support the web.

1: Invest in Safari Feature Parity - Chrome is in the driver seat when it comes to pushing web features forward. Apple needs to help balance that out with Safari. Beyond that, find more places to create firm alliances with other browser vendors, specifically Firefox and Edge, that will provide a counter weight to the heavy influence that Chrome currently has.

2: Support Firefox - Go big to make sure that the Mozilla foundation has the resources to support the Firefox browser for years to come. Make an announcement that Apple is committing $1 billion a year to Mozilla for the next 10 years. Putting your money where you mouth is is the best kind of marketing.

3: Allow Full Browser Apps On iOS - Move beyond making everyone use WebKit as the foundation for their browser. Safari would still be the only browser shipped with iOS, which is a decent sized advantage. One less argument to have with app and web developers, and makes a space for more browser experiments.

Many others have called for one and three already. It is the second one that turns it up to 11, making the entire package something that shows people Apple is serious about keeping the web open and competitive.

The Twist

What if the "do the right thing for the web" approach isn't enough to seal the deal from the Apple point of view? Then we appeal to their stated core values, specifically: privacy:

Privacy is a fundamental human right. At Apple, it’s also one of our core values. Your devices are important to so many parts of your life. What you share from those experiences, and who you share it with, should be up to you. We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information. It’s not always easy. But that’s the kind of innovation we believe in.

Right there, in print, Apple calls out privacy as one of their "core values". Here is how they could support the web, along with browser diversity, while at the same time continuing to tout the emphasis on privacy: Only allow full browser apps that block third-party cookies by default. Safari already does that.

Having other browsers, like Firefox, be willing to join the privacy default band wagon would add to the pressure on Chrome. Could you imagine Firefox, Edge, and Opera being able to ship full browsers on iOS, but not Chrome? For that matter, the iOS app store should highlight "full browser" apps in some special way, to make them even more attractive compared to the current WebKit shells.

In January 2020 Chrome announced it would "phase out support for third-party cookies ... within two years", aiming for early 2022. Then in June 2021 they delayed it, to "phase out third-party cookies over a three month period, starting in mid-2023 and ending in late 2023".

I don't envy the situation Chrome is in here. On the one hand there is a group that wants to take steps to improve privacy by removing support for third-party cookies. But Chrome exists inside of Google, which makes massive amounts of money from advertising -- which directly benefits from being able to track people via third-party cookies.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to wonder if Chrome would be able to pull this off. Would they be able to have their cake and eat it too? Would the ability to ship a full Chrome browser on iOS be enough of an additional incentive to disable third-party cookies by default?