Nexedi, a French software development company, is suing Apple in a French court because of the sorry state of HTML5 support on iOS, and because Apple actively prevents third-party browser engines from running on iOS.
The company filed a civil lawsuit in France because a local law gives it the best chances of succeeding in its effort. A local French law passed a few years back prevents large companies from imposing unbalanced contracts on smaller businesses.
Nexedi says that Apple forces software developers to sign an unfair contract when submitting an app to the iOS App Store that states that all web content should be handled by a WebKit-based browser engine.
The French company’s problem is that the WebKit engine is seriously lagging behind when it comes to supporting modern HTML5 features. Because Apple forces iOS app developers to use WebKit-based browsers, developers must invest serious time and effort into porting modern apps to work with the limited version of HTML5 supported in iOS, indirectly cutting down their profits.
There are two possible positive outcomes
Nexedi hopes that this lawsuit will force Apple to invest more in upgrading the WebKit engine to support the same modern HTML5 features supported by other browser vendors such as Google, Microsoft, or Mozilla, all of which have better browser engines than Apple.
This wouldn’t be a problem if these browsers, and their subsequent engines, wouldn’t be banned from the iOS App Store.
A second option that Nexedi would accept is if Apple allowed other browser engines on the iOS App Store, so software developers can run their web content in modern browsers and not the ancient Mobile Safari currently supported on iOS devices.
While Chrome and Firefox are available for iOS, they are not actual Chrome and Firefox, but empty UI shells that run on top of the old WebKit engine. While Chrome was initially built on the WebKit engine, Chrome development switched to the newer Blink engine developed in-house at Google.
Apple criticized before for the poor state of WebKit development
This is not the first instance when developers are driven mad by Apple’s lack of attention for WebKit and Safari development.
Last year, Nolan Lawson penned a scorching blog post which concluded that « Safari is the new IE. » The article criticized Apple staff for ignoring Safari development, which resulted in WebKit failing to support the latest Web standards.
Currently, WebKit (and inherently Safari) don’t support modern web technologies like service workers, Web RTC, or the WebM video format, just to name a few. These are critical features in today’s web.
« In the early 90s I have been an Apple developer myself, » Jean-Paul Smets, Nexedi CEO writes. « At that time Apple personal computers had the best support for TCP/IP and the Web. Other platforms such as Windows were lagging behind. Apple platforms could support more multimedia formats than others, even including Unix workstations. Nowadays it seems to be the opposite. »