Talking to the Competition and Markets Authority about Apple

Last week I was part of a meeting with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, the regulator, to talk about Apple devices and the browser choice (or lack of it) on them. They’re doing a big study into Apple’s conduct in relation to the distribution of apps on iOS and iPadOS devices in the UK, in particular, the terms and conditions governing app developers’ access to Apple’s App Store, and part of that involves looking at browsers on iOS, and part of that involves talking to people who work on the web. So myself and Bruce Lawson and another UK developer of iOS and web apps put together some thoughts and had a useful long meeting with the CMA on the topic.

They asked that we keep confidential the exact details of what was discussed and asked, which I think is reasonable, but I did put together a slide deck to summarise my thoughts which I presented to them, and you can certainly see that. It’s at kryogenix.org/code/cma-apple and shows everything that I presented to the CMA along with my detailed notes on what it all means.

A slide from the presentation, showing a graph of how far behind Safari is and indicating that all other browsers on iOS are equally far behind, because they're all also Safari

Bruce had a similar slide deck, and you can read his slides on iOS’s browser monopoly and progressive web apps. Bruce has also summarised our other colleague’s presentation, which is what we led off with. The discussion that we then went into was really interesting; they asked some very sensible questions, and showed every sign of properly understanding the problem already and wanting to understand it better. This was good: honestly, I was a bit worried that we might be trying to explain the difference between a browser and a rendering engine to a bunch of retired colonel types who find technology to be baffling and perhaps a little unmanly, and this was emphatically not the case; I found the committee engaging and knowledgeable, and this is encouraging.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen quite a few different governments and regulatory authorities begin to take a stand against tech companies generally and Apple’s control over your devices more specifically. These are baby steps — video and music apps are now permitted to add a link to their own website, saints preserve us, after the Japan Fair Trade Commission’s investigation; developers are now allowed to send emails to their own users which mention payments, which is being hailed as “flexibility” although it doesn’t allow app devs to tell their users about other payment options in the app itself, and there are still court cases and regulatory investigations going on all around the world. Still, the tide may be changing here.

What I would like is that I can give users the best experience on the web, on the best mobile hardware. That best mobile hardware is Apple’s, but at the moment if I want to choose Apple hardware I have to choose a sub-par web experience. Nobody can fix this other than Apple, and there are a bunch of approaches that they could take — they could make Safari be a best-in-class experience for the web, or they could allow other people to collaborate on making the browser best-in-class, or they could stop blocking other browsers from their hardware. People have lots of opinions about which of these, or what else, could and should be done about this; I think pretty much everyone thinks that something should be done about it, though. Even if your goal is to slow the web down and to think that it shouldn’t compete with native apps, there’s no real reason why flexbox and grid and transforms should be worse in Safari, right? Anyway, go and read the talk for more detail on all that. And I’m interested in what you think. Do please hit me up on Twitter about this, or anything else; what do you think should be done, and how?

I'm currently available for hire, to help you plan, architect, and build new systems, and for technical writing and articles. You can take a look at some projects I've worked on and some of my writing. If you'd like to talk about your upcoming project, do get in touch.

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  • Graham Binns responded at twitter.com If you're looking for a little more backstory on what the conversation with the CMA was like, and what else we talked about, here's some detail on tha…
  • Jump24 responded at twitter.com If you're looking for a little more backstory on what the conversation with the CMA was like, and what else we talked about, here's some detail on tha…
  • Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊) responded at twitter.com "Last week I was part of a meeting with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, the regulator, to talk about Apple devices and the browser choice…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I think Apple definitely has a case to answer on how they ensure Safari doesn’t lag behind, but I find some of these arguments unconvincing, which mak…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com You talk about the 16 missing APIs, suggesting that since the industry is divided on supporting these, they should be left to one side… but you come b…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com If the industry is divided then not supporting them is (arguably) a justifiable decision, and not one that can be used to hold Apple to account. They…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com This argument is also self-defeating. If most jailbreaks are delivered through browser security flaws, software diversity does *not* lead to better se…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I hear people bemoan Apple’s layout support on iPhones a lot, but mostly it’s from people concerned with standards as a whole, not down-in-the-trenche…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com That’s just one person’s experience, of course, but when you look at the features that are problematic in Safari, they’re not necessarily baseline fea…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I do wish the support was better of course. I like the platform and I want it to be strong, and not because for anticompetitive reasons. But I think t…
  • Kristian Glass responded at twitter.com
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com Happy to hear your POV! Most of the things that you bring up are at least things where I need to work on phrasing, if not the underlying point. I don'…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com My intention with this was not to justify third-party browsers; that's later in the deck. This part is about whether others can help with the browser…
  • Nick Ribal @ 🇨🇷 responded at twitter.com
  • mtom responded at twitter.com
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com It seems like I didn't make that clear enough, since it didn't come across. It is I think disingenuous to deflect accusations that Safari is behind by…
  • Andrew Hayzen responded at twitter.com
  • Reuben Binns responded at twitter.com
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com That is: if the OSSness of a project pertains only to work and not to direction, then contributors can't actually shape decisions; just to do work the…
  • Alex Russell responded at twitter.com
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I certainly can’t disagree with that.
  • busticated responded at twitter.com
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com This point about jailbreaks, I don't think I understand. Do you mean here that if Firefox were Gecko on iOS and were exploitable, jailbreakers would s…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I believe that iOS Safari exploits are more serious than other-browser exploits because Safari is more tied into the OS. That's a policy decision on A…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com ...especially since a big part of why other browsers do everything themselves is because they want to be cross-platform, and iOS Safari doesn't care a…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I don't see browser bugs on other platforms leading to root exploits as often, but... that's anecdotal, and might be wrong. So you're right to call th…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com On the point of web devs thoughts on Safari in I think I just disagree :-) I hear complaints that iOS Safari adds extra dev time to projects *all the…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com My thinking (and I strongly suspect Apple’s too) is that increasing the number of *native* browsers on iOS increases the attack surface. With Safari t…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com Something I feel is worth understanding is Apple’s psychology on this. They are *obsessed* with CSAT metrics. It drives a lot of their PR and strategy…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I wanted to have something more than my feelings on the matter, which is why the Web Compat 2021 dashboard data is shown; that attempts to be an objec…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com The user wouldn’t differentiate between the iOS platform and a third-party app they downloaded from the App Store. They would simply be (justifiably)…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I don't know. Maybe it isn't. I will happily look at other methods of assessing Safari's support for things devs want to use, if there are other metho…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I think so long as the only browser engine on iOS is WebKit, this will always be the case, yeah. And they’re the most serious exploits because that’s…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com Finally, wanting the platform to be strong. I agree with you here. I said in the blog post that I want to be able to deliver the best web experience…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com But I’m not sure there’s any reason any third-party browser with a fully native engine would do fundamentally better. I think the nature of browsers w…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com There are some other factors at play here which complicate things, I think. I spent several years working at Deliveroo on the consumer web experience,…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com …however it’s worth remembering that for a hypergrowth tech company there is often a push to get users on native apps because they’re more ‘sticky’ (p…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I personally think I'd probably be OK, as mentioned, if Apple made iOS Safari amazing, by properly resourcing their team and genuinely trying to offer…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com Then there’s the patterns of development you follow, where you want platform consistency across native and web. This might mean you follow more conser…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I often rankle when I hear ‘the new IE’ used to slam Safari, because my experience of developing for IE was so painful that this definitely doesn’t fe…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com But until that's the case, I would like Apple to stop *claiming* that web apps and native apps are equivalent, in unrelated fights about whether their…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all (for me, as well as a lot of standards advocates) is the layer of secrecy that surrounds everything Apple do…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I follow some clever folks from Apple on Twitter who have worked on WebKit, and I’m sure they’d love to be more open about the rationale surrounding c…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com That is: I would be disappointed but accepting if Apple said: the web is never going to match the native app experience on our platform. But that isn'…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com Being platform owner certainly does mean that people blame you for app failings; ask any Windows shell dev about that one. I don't know about platform…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com agreed 100% on both the native app push and the perception bias, definitely!
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I don’t have the stats so I could be wrong about the likelihood of people switching. Apple would know though, and I don’t doubt their commitment to CS…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I don't have stats on that either; it's an interesting thought experiment. I'll see if I can dig up any more data on that point, I think.
  • A response was written at as days... (adactio.com) as days pass by — Talking to the Competition and Markets Authority about Apple September 7th, 2021 What I would like is that I can give user…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com I could give you a two hour presentation with the bugs in safari. We had to scrap native scroll and spend 210 hours of hard engineering to rewrite sc…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com Can go into far more detail if you want. Basically if you try to build PWAs to the same fidelity as native apps I think it’s very unlikely you’d run…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com I think it would be good for the industry for there not to be a distinction between native and PWAs
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com I assume you meant to say very *likely*?
  • mtom responded at twitter.com Whoops, thanks for the correction.
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com Good in what way? Based on what I’ve seen of how a tech org is typically staffed, native app engineers will be doing their thing independently of what…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com Good for the entire world. So my argument is this, if you want to develop an app, you typically have to support both iOS and Android and possibly des…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com You need to use different SDKs, different languages. You then are committed to a far more complex build and deploy process, locked into the AppStores…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com Maintenance is then pushed to the next level of complexity because you then have to implement the same feature on 2 or 3 platforms. Developing native…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com All of this is true and reasonable, but in practical terms PWAs have a lot of other problems to solve beyond feature parity to be a realistic alternat…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com The vast majority of native apps that run on my phone (I’ve got 100s) could be built as a reliable PWA in other browsers and it’s plausible that the o…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com proxx.app great little example of something that works on everything right now. Add as a PWA
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com We may disagree on this, but whenever any native app breaks out part of its experience into a web view, I can always tell. Maybe that’s the fault of t…
  • Ben Darlow responded at twitter.com Can you make a PWA that is as good as a native app? Yes. Can it be done consistently by every engineering team? No. Is every native app good? No. It…
  • mtom responded at twitter.com Part of this is maturity though and a catch22. Because iOS doesn’t support it properly they don’t get built. I don’t think there’s anything fundamen…
  • Schalk Neethling responded at twitter.com Talking to the Competition and Markets Authority about Apple ~ kryogenix.org/days/2021/09/0…
  • HN Bot 🤖 responded at twitter.com 'Talking to the Competition and Markets Authority about Apple' by JNRowe Read more about this story here --> kryogenix.org/days/2021/09/0…
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