Upcoming regulations in the European Union could force Apple to drop its long-standing rule that all iPhone and iPad browsers use the same WebKit engine as Safari. Mozilla chair and CEO Mitchell Baker recently sat down with The Verge for an in-depth interview, and Apple was one of many topics discussed.
Mozilla is ready for a world without WebKit rules
As a refresher, Apple currently requires that all third-party browsers use the same WebKit engine that’s also used by Safari. This effectively means that all iPhone and iPad browsers, such as Chrome and Firefox, are effectively the same as Safari from a performance standpoint.
The Digital Markets Act in Europe, however, could force Apple’s hand on this issue. There’s a possibility that Apple drops the WebKit requirement as soon as iOS 17 this fall. In fact, we reported last week that Google and Mozilla are both already hard at work preparing for this change.
When asked specifically about these reports, Baker explained that a browser for iPhone and iPad not based on WebKit is something Mozilla is always working on.
We’re always kind of working on it and looking at, “Well, what could we do if we had the ability to offer the product we want?” So we’re always looking at it.
Still, however, Baker stopped short of saying anything concrete. “When we’re ready to talk about that, you’ll see it up here,” she said.
Baker also pointed out that people are “at least more willing” to consider switching browsers on their phones than other platforms. “There is some evidence, we find, that the use case of browsers on phones is not so set,” she explained. “The muscle memory isn’t so crisp. People are at least more willing.”
She bounced back to this topic later in the interview, adding:
It’s not my wish in the world, but I think history shows us that you need something really significant now for people to think about changing their browsers. It’s deeply locked in, especially if you’re using Google or Microsoft systems.
You need something on the phone. Although, more people will change Safari on an iPhone than in some other places.
As for Apple and its ecosystem specifically, Baker said that the “closed nature of mobile phones is absolutely worth looking at and being engaged in.” According to Baker, this not only includes the WebKit requirement but also things like system defaults.
To your larger question, the closed nature of mobile phones is absolutely worth looking at and being engaged in. It’s what engine you can use at the technological level, where of course, we can’t build our full product on iOS, but it’s also system level defaults. Even after you set something else as your default browser, what does a link open in? I mean, there are a lot of ways that the operating system can thwart choice.
When asked if Mozilla has engaged “directly with Apple” on concerns about “default browsers and distribution,” Baker’s response was short and sweet: “Oh, I think I’m not going to go there.”
The full interview can be found on The Verge website. You can also listen to it via the Decoder podcast feed on Apple Podcasts.
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