The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently published an interim report on their mobile ecosystems market study. It’s well worth reading, especially the section on competition in the supply of mobile browsers:
On iOS devices, Apple bans the use of alternative browser engines – this means that Apple has a monopoly over the supply of browser engines on iOS. It also chooses not to implement – or substantially delays – a wide range of features in its browser engine. This restriction has 2 main effects:
- limiting rival browsers’ ability to differentiate themselves from Safari on factors such as speed and functionality, meaning that Safari faces less competition from other browsers than it otherwise could do; and
- limiting the functionality of web apps – which could be an alternative to native apps as a means for mobile device users to access online content – and thereby limits the constraint from web apps on native apps. We have not seen compelling evidence that suggests Apple’s ban on alternative browser engines is justified on security grounds.
That last sentence is a wonderful example of British understatement. Far from protecting end users from security exploits, Apple have exposed everyone on iOS to all of the security issues of Apple’s Safari browser (regardless of what brower the user thinks they are using).
The CMA are soliciting responses to their interim report:
To respond to this consultation, please email or post your submission to:
Mobile Ecosystems Market Study
Competition and Markets Authority
25 Cabot Square
Please respond by no later than 5pm GMT on 7 February 2022.
I encourage you to send a response before this coming Monday. This is the email I’ve sent.
This response is regarding competition in the supply of mobile browsers and contains no confidential information.
I read your interim report with great interest.
As a web developer and the co-founder of a digital design agency, I could cite many reasons why Apple’s moratorium on rival browser engines is bad for business. But the main reason I am writing to you is as a consumer and a user of Apple’s products.
I own two Apple computing devices: a laptop and a phone. On both devices, I can install apps from Apple’s App Store. But on my laptop I also have the option to download and install an application from elsewhere. I can’t do this on my phone. That would be fine if my needs were met by what’s available in the app store. But clause 2.5.6 of Apple’s app store policy restricts what is available to me as a consumer.
On my laptop I can download and install Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome browsers. On my phone, I can install something called Firefox and something called Chrome. But under the hood, they are little more than skinned versions of Safari. I’m only aware of this because I’m au fait with the situation. Most of my fellow consumers have no idea that when they install the app called Firefox or the app called Chrome from the app store on their phone, they are being deceived.
It is this deception that bothers me most.
To be fair to Apple, this deception requires collusion from Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, and other browser makers. Nobody’s putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to ship skinned versions of Safari that bear only cosmetic resemblance to their actual products.
But of course it would be commercially unwise to forego the app store as a distrubution channel, even if the only features they can ship are superficial ones like bookmark syncing.
Still, imagine what would happen if Mozilla, Google, and Microsoft put their monies where their mouths are. Instead of just complaining about the unjust situation, what if they actually took the financial hit and pulled their faux-browsers from the iOS app store?
If this unjustice is as important as representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla claim it is, then righteous indignation isn’t enough. Principles without sacrifice are easy.
If nothing else, it would throw the real situation into light and clear up the misconception that there is any browser choice on iOS.
I know it’s not going to happen. I also know I’m being a hypocrite by continuing to use Apple products in spite of the blatant misuse of monopoly power on display. But still, I wanted to plant that seed. What if Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla were the ones who walk away from Omelas.