Safari Dominance

By Mark Nuyens
6 min. read📱 Technology

Apple has long been a dominant force in the mobile and personal computer industry, continually pushing the boundaries of design and innovation. In many ways, the company has played a crucial role in shaping our modern tech landscape, but at what cost? Apple's control over its ecosystem, especially when it comes to apps, has also limited the industry by only providing functionality that benefits the company in the long run. With few other vendors comparable to Apple, and Google playing a similar game, consumers have grown used to this restricted environment.

The recent court ruling that Apple was not in violation of power abuse and antitrust laws regarding their App Store is a prime example of this struggle. While the ruling favored Apple, the company must now allow third-party developers to refer users to their own payment systems, which I believe is a step in the right direction. As a side effect though, it continues to raise interesting questions about the limitations Apple imposes on users and developers, and whether the company could be more open to third-party integrations.

Apple's control over the mobile industry began with the iPhone and has grown alongside the app ecosystem. As third-party developers invested heavily in creating apps for iOS, they became reliant on Apple's success for their own income. This symbiotic relationship has led to a form of stockholm syndrome, where developers want Apple to succeed even as the company enforces restrictive policies. The same goes for consumers, who contribute to this growth by continuing to purchase Apple's products without questioning, as long as their favorite apps are supported.

Critics argue that Apple's tight control over apps is not truly about consumer safety, but rather about maintaining dominance and control over the industry. Apple's insistence on protecting user data may be genuine, but it's hard not to wonder how their stance might change if their fortunes shifted. In a hypothetical scenario where Apple's stock drops and the company must adapt to survive, would they still prioritize user safety over more profitable avenues? I often ponder what the outcome would be if the cards were dealt differently.

One potential solution to Apple's restrictive app environment is the integration of web apps as part of their native apps. Modern web development allows for many features and a smooth user experience that rivals native apps. An app store based on web apps could replace a significant portion of the apps currently available for iOS devices. However, Apple's reluctance to fully support web integrations, especially within third-party browsers, suggests that they may view the web as a serious threat to their business model. In fact, even third-party browsers on iOS, such as Firefox, are essentially built on top of Apple's own Safari browser. This is exactly the top priority of the Open Web Advocacy, an initiative led by developers worldwide who view this #BrowserBan as a major threat to the future of the open web.

The challenge lies in understanding what is possible outside of Apple's walled garden when the company actively limits access to alternative solutions. While Apple may continue to introduce innovations designed for its users, it's important to recognize that these advancements may also serve to distract from the broader possibilities beyond Apple's control. In the future, one can only hope that the web continues to evolve as fast as it currently is and that more technology companies become open to the idea of using web applications as the basis for their content ecosystems. With greater developer and consumer freedom, the tech industry can continue to grow and innovate, unhindered by the limitations imposed by dominant companies like Apple.

Update June 8, 2023

During Apple's recent unveiling event, they introduced the ability for Safari to add websites to the macOS dock and promised increased support for web applications on iOS, including push notifications. This is a significant step forward for web development, possibly influenced by legislative factors. However, there are unanswered technical questions, like whether Safari's web app integration can be called from a website using JavaScript, enabling a simple "Install App" button for better user accessibility.

An intriguing aspect is the potential impact on Apple's App Store revenues if users lean towards installing web apps instead of native applications. As web applications gain integration and popularity among users, app developers may opt to create web versions exclusively, automatically deploying on iOS and other devices. This shift towards web development could entice major applications like Netflix and Spotify, allowing them to bypass Apple's subscription tax and save substantial amounts annually. The trend suggests that most native applications could transition effectively to web equivalents.

Despite these implications, it remains unclear why Apple made this change. While appreciating the announcement, it's hard to imagine Apple solely prioritizing user interests without considering the effects on App Store revenue. Being a trillion-dollar company with intelligent decision-makers, there are potential factors to explore behind this sudden shift.

One possibility is Apple proactively addressing regulatory pressure by introducing web app integration, preemptively tackling potential legal issues related to browser limitations. Another explanation could be their focus on "spatial computing" as the future application format, where web applications may now pose a lesser threat compared to before.

Regardless of the true reason, I hope web applications become mainstream and users realize their versatility, not being tied to a single ecosystem for specific applications. While uncertain if regulatory pressure played a role, if it did, I'm grateful to those responsible for guiding this tech giant in the right direction.

Thank you for reading!