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Breaking News: iPhone Embraces Full Versions of Chrome and Firefox

by William Linden

In the forthcoming iOS 17.4 update, Apple is set to revolutionize its mobile operating system, primarily in response to new regulations imposed by the European Union (EU). A significant paradigm shift is on the horizon, marked by Apple’s decision to allow alternative browser engines to operate on iOS—a groundbreaking move, albeit exclusively for EU users.

Traditionally, since the inception of the App Store, Apple has permitted numerous browsers but steadfastly adhered to a single browser engine: WebKit. WebKit serves as the technological backbone of Safari, Apple’s default browser. However, the landscape is about to change with iOS 17.4, where developers can now opt for non-WebKit engines when crafting browsers or in-app browsers for their applications. This shift addresses a longstanding issue on iOS, where various browsers constrained by WebKit often experienced limitations in functionality and extensions.

Under the upcoming policy, developers seeking to switch to non-WebKit engines will need Apple’s authorization, subject to meeting specific criteria and committing to ongoing privacy and security protocols. This momentous decision will grant them access to advanced features such as Passkeys and multiprocessing. Additionally, Apple is introducing a new choice screen in Safari, allowing users to select an alternative default browser when launching the app for the first time.

However, it’s important to note that Apple’s move is not purely voluntary but is compelled by the EU’s new Digital Markets Act (DMA). This legislation mandates that users have the freedom to uninstall preinstalled apps, including web browsers, that potentially direct them towards the gatekeeper’s products and services. In this context, iOS serves as the gatekeeper, with WebKit and Safari representing Apple’s proprietary offerings.

Apple, in its official release, makes it evident that it is complying with the DMA’s requirements, expressing discontent with the forced changes. The company contends that EU users will now encounter a list of default browsers, disrupting their experience as they open Safari for the first time. Apple maintains that these alterations are a consequence of regulatory requirements and bemoans the perceived interruption in the user experience.

It’s noteworthy that these alterations apply exclusively to iPhone users within the EU. Apple emphasizes that European users can travel without compromising their browser engine preferences, ensuring that only EU-based accounts gain access to the new engines. Globally, users outside the EU will continue to experience WebKit-driven Chrome and other browsers. Apple contends, albeit without substantial evidence, that non-WebKit engines pose security and performance risks, asserting that WebKit is the only truly optimized and secure option for iPhone users.

As iOS 17.4 is poised for release in March, the EU is on the brink of a significant browser war, with revamped browsers from various providers expected to populate the App Store. Notably, Google has been diligently working on a non-WebKit version of Chrome for over a year, hinting at the competitive landscape that European iPhone users are about to witness.

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