Thursday, June 3, 2021

Web Apps in Epic v. Apple

Adi Robertson:

For Apple it’s a win if Nvidia is providing an amazing service through the Safari browser outside the App Store, obviously. “Has Apple done anything to stop Nvidia from offering GeForce Now on Safari?” lawyer asks. Patel says no.

Nilay Patel:

Apple is basically making the argument that web apps are a good competitor to native apps, which, well… they are not. Famously they are a “shit sandwich,” according to @gruber

Dieter Bohn and Tom Warren:

Though the term itself hasn’t really come up explicitly, what’s being discussed are Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs. If you’re unfamiliar, think of them as slightly more advanced web apps that you can “install” directly from your web browser onto your home screen. Google has been pushing the idea (though support for PWAs on its own platforms is a little mixed), and some companies like Microsoft and Twitter have wholeheartedly embraced PWAs.

Not Apple, though. There are a variety of reasons for that — ranging from genuine concern about giving web pages too much access to device hardware to the simple fact that even Apple can’t do everything. There’s also the suspicion that Apple is deliberately dragging its feet on support for features that make PWAs better as a way to drive developers to its App Store instead.


All of this is compounded by yet another Apple policy: no third-party browser engines. You can install apps like Chrome, Firefox, Brave, DuckDuckGo, and others on the iPhone — but fundamentally they’re all just skins on top of Apple’s WebKit engine. That means that Apple’s decisions on what web features to support on Safari are final. If Apple were to find a way to be comfortable letting competing web browsers run their own browser engines, a lot of this tension would dissipate.

Alex Russell:

Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.


6 Comments RSS · Twitter

Why is nobody pointing out the obvious?

If Apple’s claim that web apps are just as good as native apps, then why are none of Apple’s apps released as web apps? If they think that every developer has to pay their share of app API development, etc then why are there any free apps on the App Store? Why not force free apps to be web apps only?

@Ben Have you seen this? Probably something similar for Apple Web apps.

Kevin Schumacher

@Ben Technically, Apple does have some web apps at And they're not terrible, but they're certainly not native-class performant.

Thanks for the link Michael, I hadn't seen that. It really cements the case for me that Apple is falling further and further behind where the industry is headed, and it's coming from the top levels of management. They're so focused on squeezing every last cent out of the App Store that they're missing many opportunities to make iOS and Mac devices much more useful... I guess because it would mean letting go of some revenue sources, or exchanging a proven money making machine for an unproven one? I dunno.

Kevin you're right, I actually didn't realize that those iCloud apps worked on an iPhone as I've only ever used them from my desktop PC. But yeah my point is that they haven't released anything as *only* a web app, as far as I'm aware. And wow those iCloud apps suck, but they're better than nothing (how have they blocked the ability to do a CTRL-F browser search in Notes?!?)

I would find Apple's argument that web apps are a good replacement for native apps a lot more convincing if they didn't actively prevent web apps from working properly on iOS by slow-walking new HTML features in Safari, and preventing third-party browsers from providing their own engines. It's painfully obvious that Apple is intentionally preventing web apps from becoming serious competition to native apps on iOS.

They're gonna have to tread carefully with that argument.

Yes, many things can be done in a web app, but there's places where that goes against Apple's interest. If the web is good enough to run most apps, you barely need iOS or macOS as a differentiator. And if the bulk of the algorithms in such a web app run server-side, much of Apple's investment in high-performance local processing becomes moot. Simply put: at that point, not get a Chromebook?

(Craig's e-mail alludes to this. It's a bit surprising that this isn't intuitively clear to John Stauffer. He had at the time been at Apple for 18 years, so the strategic mismatch shouldn't have surprised him.)

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