back to article Googler demolishes one of Apple's monopoly defenses – that web apps are just as good as native iOS software

Epic Games and Apple faced off in an Oakland, California, courtroom on Monday to resolve the gaming giant's antitrust claim that Apple's App Store represents an illegal monopoly. Epic last year sued Apple after being denied the ability to sell digital goods for its Fortnite game using its own payment service rather than Apple' …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Detailed but also quite biased.

    I found his arm waving about not implementing a feature that allows a web page to seize and lock the mouse pointer on a touch-only device especially amusing. It looks at first glace like that function allows the external site to also control the event to break out of it. The example it points to sets it to the escape key. The ipad has no escape key. I'm sure the human cockroaches behind those fake virus scam pages would love that one.

    After reading it I am left pondering this question the Google engineers article left unasked and unanswered: if enabling Googles browser sprawl problem is the larger vice here. Google is in effect whinging about not having the ability to dictate web standards to it's competitors, and some of these features were/are clearly still half baked as Google implemented them.

    1. ThomH

      Re: Detailed but also quite biased.

      His bias is obvious, but I nevertheless think Apple is going to be on a losing wicket wherever the argument relies on web apps being just as good as native apps — besides nothing else because it begs the obvious question: why the about face in iPhone OS 2, to allow native apps, if the web apps that iPhone OS 1 supported already weren't at a disadvantage?

      1. HildyJ Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Detailed but also quite biased.

        Indeed. If Apple believes so strongly in web apps, why write native Apple apps at all?

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Detailed but also quite biased.

        The iPhone 12 held the world speed record for single-threaded workloads at the time of launch, faster than any laptop, desktop, workstation, supercomputer, etc. The iPhone 1 most definitely did not?

        No I don't think that web apps are a viable replacement for native apps in most situations, and definitely not for games. Just thinking about how they might respond.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Detailed but also quite biased.

          It did not hold a record, apple published a benchmark that was the highest out of any published benchmark for a specific type of workload. They would not allow anyone to verify the benchmark and it was not independently verified (so it can't really be called a record). Tt was hotly contested in high-performance-computing circles that what they were offering was speed for a use case that will never come up in normal applications. They essentially (as vendors often do) wrote a benchmark and then optimised their chip to give the best performance on the benchmark, rather than doing something sensible like optimising for a real application. It was not providing "single threaded performance" comparable to a modern PC, for any workload that counts.

          1. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Detailed but also quite biased.

            Geekbench wasn't written by Apple.

          2. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Detailed but also quite biased.

            The iPhone runs many third party browser benchmarks faster than any other device - including PCs. There might be a leg to stand on as far as not implementing all the APIs (though a lot of the APIs Google is pushing are dangerous/stupid, like allowing browsers to access attached USB devices, webcams, etc.) but not an argument based on browser performance.

      3. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Detailed but also quite biased.

        "His bias is obvious, but I nevertheless think Apple is going to be on a losing wicket wherever the argument relies on web apps being just as good as native app"

        Exactly. We here are free to argue over whether various features in browsers are actually good to have or not. But Apple's argument in court is that web apps are functionally equivalent to native apps, and the long list of missing and poorly implemented features shows that's simply not true.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Before you were born (code-wise)

      "Alex Russell, a software engineer at Google"

      After reading all the comments I'm blown away at the ignorance represented by the comments. This is Alex Russell of Dojo and other Javascript and code accomplishments.

      Innuendo as reward for some 20 years of actual benefits to you? Shame on you.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Before you were born (code-wise)

        Care to elaborate? Maybe this time with actual rebuttals?

        "After reading all the comments I'm blown away at the ignorance represented by the comments. This is Alex Russell of Dojo and other Javascript and code accomplishments. Innuendo as reward for some 20 years of actual benefits to you? Shame on you."

        So because he wrote some code which got used, his opinion is correct and must not be opposed? The discussions have often referenced some of Google's APIs which we think aren't necessary or are actively harmful. He thinks they are useful, so he must be right? What is it that we're ignorant about? If we're ignorant because we have the gall to disagree with someone you appear to venerate, you should learn that we also disagree with a bunch of other famous people who did things and they aren't suffering from our opposition.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ...

    I really love it when a Google Developer spontaneously emits a blog trashing their competitor.

    Totally not sponsored by their Boss.

    Sucking up for fun and profit.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ...

      “ I really love it when a Google Developer spontaneously emits a blog trashing their competitor.”

      This could be I’ll advised, though. Coming back to bite Google.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ...

      But why would advertising behemoth Google want to start trashing Apple now? I mean Apple have a lot on their hands, having just released iOS14.5, described by a reputable tech-news site as the "Terror of the adtech industry" (at https://www.theregister.com/2021/04/27/ios_update/), but that's about native apps, not web apps. And Apple would never dream of tweaking Safari to interfere with Google's data-collecting, would it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ...

        > But why would advertising behemoth Google want to start trashing Apple now?

        They've been doing it for quite a while, it's nothing new.

        Google doesn't like Safari because Safari isn't Chrome. Safari doesn't come with all of Chrome's assortment of spyware, slurp and tracking tools.

        Facebook is just as upset with Apple, for similar reasons. At least Facebook isn't hypocritical enough to pretend it's about a purely technical issue revealed in a developer's blog. They're pretty open about it: We don't like Apple's stuff because we can't slurp as much as we'd like.

        Yes I'm pretty sure it's about iOS 14.5.1 and its enable | disable tracking feature.

        1. HildyJ Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ...

          It's not like Safari is ad free. It's all about who gets to slurp (Apple, Facebook, or Google) and who can sell the ads.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ...

        Apple has been tweaking Safari to reduce the amount of tracking their customers have to endure for years. There's a three billion pound lawsuit happening in the UK right now over Google's bad behavior a decade ago "working around" Apple's tracking prevention.

      3. Anal Leakage

        Re: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ...

        I like it when Apple tweaks their browser to interfere with Google’s as tech. After all, Google started it with Safari Do Not Track….

  3. Matthew "The Worst Writer on the Internet" Saroff

    In the Early Days of the iPhone, there was Support for Web Apps

    I recall reading complaints from developers back in the day that once they opened up the App Store, they systematically removed features (like return from an app) over the years.

    Apple's business model for the iPod/iPhone/iPad has always been hostile to interoperability.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In the Early Days of the iPhone, there was Support for Web Apps

      Apple's business model for the iPod/iPhone/iPad has always been hostile to interoperability.

      Ah yes, that's why a lot of their apps support open standards, of course - ever tried to get Outlook to talk carddav and caldav?. But yes, there are a few that do not: Notes only has that special full format when talking to iCloud, for instance.

  4. Fazal Majid

    Many APIs are undesirable

    Google has been pushing many APIs that create security risks or privacy invasions, as stupid as ActiveX back in the day, FLoC or WebUSB being only the most recent, and Apple is right to refuse to implement most of them.

    1. iGNgnorr

      Re: Many APIs are undesirable

      When exactly do you remember Google pushing ActiveX, which was a Microsoft thing?

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Many APIs are undesirable

        He didn’t say that.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Many APIs are undesirable

      This is very true, but Apple can't then say, in the same breathe, that PWAs are equivalent to native apps, even though we restrict them from using the same APIs as native apps.

      Native apps should have more access to the device, because they are installed from a trusted source and you want them installed. Website hijacking shouldn't enable the same level of access as a native app, certainly not without prompting for each piece of data it wants.

      1. Fazal Majid

        Agree entirely

        Apple’s argument that web apps are a substitute for native apps is unalloyed BS. It was one thing when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone and tried to put a pretty face on the fact they did not have a SDK for native apps yet, but in 2021 it’s entirely laughable.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Many APIs are undesirable

      Yes, a lot of the ideas are half-baked. But this is why proper technical discussion with others, such as Apple, would be welcome. It goes two ways with Apple's proprietary web-kit extensions foisted on an unsuspecting world: viewports handled by meta tags, CSS support for notches, etc. This goes back to the day Apple decided it was job done with web-kit, removed developes from it and essentially withdrew from WHAT-WG.

      To their credit, Google has consistently fought for the web as a platform. Yes, this is because the web is where they sell ads, but that shouldn't detract from things like webP/webM, WebRTC, etc, which have made the web a more open environment, including for companies like Zoom. Even after they essentially won the browser war they have continued to pour resources into web development. They should be taken to task (or even court) for their privacy and monopolistic practices and criticised for some of their more hare-brained suggestions, but applauded for their continued commitment to development.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Many APIs are undesirable

        I can only sort of agree to this. Google has spent a lot of time on development, but some of the things they developed during that time are horrific. They have been shoving all sorts of OS stuff into the browser and most of the time, it's only useful to tracking or outright malware. The idea of a method for a site to find and control USB devices, for example. The OS already handles IO devices and drives. A website should not be capable of sending arbitrary commands to them when it will detect my key presses and receive a file the same way those things have always worked.

        1. matjaggard

          Re: Many APIs are undesirable

          Whilst it's true that Google are keen on tracking for advertising revenue, don't go thinking that Apple are fighting it for moral reasons - they make almost all of their money from people selling apps. So the less app creators make from advertising the more they'll have to charge for the app and Apple are the biggest winners.

          1. Ace2 Bronze badge

            Re: Many APIs are undesirable

            So? I’m happy to be Apple’s customer, but I absolutely LOATHE being Google’s product.

            Less tracking == less ad revenue == good for everyone

  5. LDS Silver badge

    "It depicts The Financial Times"

    Which is not really an application but just an old "hypertext" document mostly as designed by Berners-Lee since it invented the "web" - but the data slurping, of course. So once again Apple is simply cheating (not that Google does not the same...) by showing the exact type of application that does not really need a native application - why not choose for example any of the common office applications, or any game?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: "It depicts The Financial Times"

      Especially as Apple's own App Store guidelines explicitly state that an iOS app cannot be a simple wrapper around a website, and those will be rejected.

      A few have worked around this by storing the user's web login credentials on the phone, thus providing some "non-web" functionality - however small.

  6. trevorde Silver badge

    Kudos to Tim Cook

    for keeping a straight face when saying web apps are a viable alternative to native apps. He just doesn't have Steve Job's 'Reality Distortion Field'.

  7. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    “ Safari savaged for failing behind in web APIs”

    Did you mean “falling”?

    1. fobobob

      I'm not sure that the distinction is all that significant...

  8. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Stop

    "Safari's lack of compatibility with web standards... it's holding the entire web ecosystem back"

    What the Google minion means is Safari's different to Chrome, and Apple haven't implemented so many slurpy APIs which Google sink millions of person-hours into developing.

    If a Google minion doesn't like it something then that probably means it's a good thing.

    1. AlbertH
      Facepalm

      Re: "Safari's lack of compatibility with web standards... "

      How does that differ from Microsoft's many attempts to dictate web standards to "suit" their entirely non-standard, incompatible web browsers Internet Exploder and Edge? MS have been playing this game since the Netscape days, ensuring that IIS wouldn't render properly on non-MS browsers.

      Granted that Apple's business tactics are pretty shabby (and their insanely expensive SDKs are deliberately designed to prevent third party software development), but isn't this just more of the same?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: "Safari's lack of compatibility with web standards... "

        It doesn't differ. It was really annoying in the Internet Explorer days. I can't say I noticed anything when classic Edge was going on, but then again I wasn't using it often (at all mostly). And now they use Chromium so it's very much dead now. Google doing the same is still the same tactic and therefore annoying. Microsoft has stopped, Google has continued, so my annoyance on this score has shifted to Google.

  9. DrXym Silver badge

    Web apps are not as good as native apps and never will be

    A native app will have unfettered access to the operating system, proper gestures / touch events, proper screen resolution, run more performantly, use less memory (so less likely to be killed by the OS), run in the background / schedule, be more power efficient etc.

    Yes you can use a web app in a lot of cases, and sometimes it makes perfect sense. If the "app" is nothing but a glorified facade onto a website then why not? But web apps, especially in the PWA sense are definitely second class citizens.

    I don't see this as relevant to Epic though.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Web apps are not as good as native apps and never will be

      The obvious question to ask Apple is if a web app is just as good, why do they go to the trouble and cost of permitting developers to create native apps and providing a marketplace for them?

    2. Vulture@C64

      Re: Web apps are not as good as native apps and never will be

      Third party app developer could have a web app for payment and native for the game. This works well enough for Amazon. The only reason that wouldn't be suitable would be if you're creating games, like, oh, I don't know, like fortnite, for example, which is trying to create an addiction in kids which can only be met by playing more and buying things....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Web apps are not as good as native apps and never will be

        @Vulture@c64

        Spotify have been doing the exact same thing as you suggest for yonks

    3. mneimeyer

      Re: Web apps are not as good as native apps and never will be

      The reason it is relevant to Epic is that, as I understand it, Apple is basically saying "We can kick them out of the app store because they could just write a Web App if they don't want to follow our rules" except that Epic can't just do that, as the Google developer points out, because Apple doesn't provide the APIs needed in their browser.

    4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Web apps are not as good as native apps and never will be

      I'm amused by the claims made for "native" apps. On a phone, iPhone or Android, there are no "native" spps in the sense that a traditional OS would recognise. Everything is running in a sandbox for apps. The real native code is below that.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Web apps are not as good as native apps and never will be

        No, that's wrong. The sandbox is a security layer, but the code is native, I.E. compiled to bytecode which is run directly. The interface code for Android is likely running in a JVM, but the stuff that has to run fast is compiled to ARM machine code. There will be binaries in there. That's what native is. Javascript or even WASM is a lot less native.

  10. iron Silver badge

    > Safari is now something like 1000 APIs behind Chrome, double the gap measured in 2016, and 300 or so behind Firefox.

    So Chrome implements 700 APIs that Firefox does not. That is a lot of APIs for user tracking!

  11. Abominator

    Have used the FT web app. Its was terrible. I remember when they switched away from the native app and I know they got a lot of complaints.

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge

      Ha!

      You never used The Register app back in the day? **That** was a horror show.

  12. Persona Silver badge

    Most apps are dire

    So many attempts to shoehorn the functionality of a desktop browser based web page into the small footprint of a mobile site are hideously dysfunctional. My normal experience when using a complex web site on the phone involves rotating the phone between landscape and portrait in an effort to "reveal" the features I know are there from having used the site from the desktop. The next step is often to tell my phone browser to use desktop mode then reverting to mobile mode to get rid of the unwanted crap that then obscures half the page. Most apps seem to be no better. Most are useless junk. Of the remainder, relatively few allow you to rotate to landscape mode when that would make the information more readable, and most seem to miss out important bits of functionality. One great example of this is a banking app that allows me to set up future payments yet does not give the ability to see what post dated payments are pending forcing me to use a desktop web page to confirm I have remembered to set them up.

    1. razza

      Re: Most apps are dire

      Developers and cost-costing, but most theme builders now how the ability to customise elements in the page for the 3 groups of devices.

      It is a valid complaint and I too have had it annoying me. I think given most people general tendency towards laziness -me too - that it could be solved using adaptive Web Ai to hyper-customise you visit.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PWA is a strategy for privatizing the Web

    Safari is the only thing standing in the way of PWA becoming a de facto standard, after which Google will require PWAs to be signed by an app store to be eligible for installation.

    If Apple won't collude with Google, all that will happen by transforming google.com from a search engine to an app store is to drive everybody in the First World toward iPhone (and Safari) in order to escape the digital Iron Curtain Google is preparing to drop.

    I applaud Apple for keeping Google's malevolence in check.

    1. razza

      Re: PWA is a strategy for privatizing the Web

      What about Firefox? That supports PWA well.

      PWA's are in-use by a great number of users without even knowing it. And those PWA's sometimes behaviour better than the identical native apps. Simple things like text copy-paste is easier on web apps.

      I agree that it has taken a long time to reach this near-app, and sometimes better, level. I think in 2009/10 was the beginning. And, of course, we copied the apps developers as best as possible, but like many above have said, it was naff; unreliable, ugly and near-PowerPoint levels of tacky. And then abandoned mostly - the <BLINK> of that era.

      From then, after ape-ing, poorly, PWA's had to re-invent that which had influenced it - native apps.

      Your opening sentence did set a few alarms off though. There are quite a few PWA's on the Play Store. PWA's are not like web-apps of the past that wrapped a site and caused a ton of extra nonsense work to get on the app store. Twitter is PWA,so is Facebook Lite or whatever it's called.

      "I applaud Apple for keeping Google's malevolence in check."

      Umm... umm. hmmm. well. Ah, how can i put this without sounding patronising? ... They are pretty much all as bad as anyone. Really. Apple are evil. What about their prices? Come off, sunshine, That's rule 1 in the book: Greed, What could be more evil than their breathtaking mark up!

      IMO, Google are pushing this because it breaks Apple's App Store model quite a bit. Native apps will fall as the duplication of the process on web is a very tiresome and difficult to manage tasks - I've did it in 2000 with web and WAP sites. Be honest, a large number of native apps can be ported and whilst their might be differences. It's like pre-internet/early internet where we copied the then-native Windows or Mac apps and put them on the web. Same here. Take the functionality, the Powerpoint-style transitions and fades etc and add them to the Web.

      PWA are much faster than before too.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: PWA is a strategy for privatizing the Web

        "That's rule 1 in the book: Greed, What could be more evil than their breathtaking mark up!"

        Oh, there are a lot of things more evil than greed. A greedy person who expects you to pay a lot for something is annoying, but the kind of evil you can opt out of (some exceptions apply depending on what they're selling). A person who intends to harm you without any type of agreement easily beats that evil score. The world has a lot of that kind of evil. I don't think greed is in the top ten if you allow me to start listing more specific categories of that.

        Philosophical point over. I'll get back on the technical ones later.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is slightly obscene watching this battle over which criminal gang gets allowed to digitally rape us in the end.

    Whoever loses... we lose.

  15. babaganoush

    What the hell is a web app? Is this what used to be called a website?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Oh, no. A website was a collection of independent documents, sometimes with scripts which were there to allow the documents to change in some limited ways. A web app is a monstrous blob of script which nobody can understand or comb through, built from components that not even the developers know what they're for, and with access to lots of things about you and your hardware that you never thought about.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing the point

    All of this seems to me to be missing the point: if developers want the sort of ongoing support for devices that Apple provides, it has to be paid for. Most app revenues are made on iOS, in no small part because iOS devices get a great deal of extended support precisely to ensure there is a decent market for apps.

    Everyone wins.

    What do these app developers want - revenue-based Apple Developer subscriptions?

    There's some crazy notion here that the stable, profitable platform for app developers that Apple have created is somehow immune to reductions in App Store revenues. I'm unclear what app developers who think like that are smoking...

    ETA: Samsung have just scrapped support for the S8 (launched 2017); Apple is still supporting the 5S (launched 2013). Just where do Epic et al think that support comes from, and do they not recognise that it contributes to the large size of the iOS app market?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Missing the point

      "Just where do Epic et al think that support comes from, and do they not recognise that it contributes to the large size of the iOS app market?"

      Well, I was thinking it came from the purchases of IOS devices because people know they last longer so Apple can market them that way. After all, an individual app developer doesn't much care if my old device runs IOS 14 or 10. If I buy a new one, that doesn't harm them. If I don't buy a new one, they usually support several older versions because they don't always need the latest version, so they don't notice. If I don't upgrade for long enough that the versions slip, I continue to use the old version. The person who mostly cares about the support for the old device is the owner of the old device, which is also the person who paid for the old device. I think that's where it comes from.

    2. babaganoush

      Re: Missing the point

      I find this argument a bit weird to say the least.

      Why should third-party developers of programs finance the long-term maintenance of Apple mobile phones?

      Apart from the fact that this is clearly quite a bizarre notion theoreticaly, I would also have though that practically such long-term maintenance is already amply paid for by the hugely inflated prices consumers pay for these phones.

      1. skwdenyer

        Re: Missing the point

        At launch in 2017, the Samsung Galaxy S8 was £699. A comparable iPhone 8 at launch in 2017 was £699.

        The S8 has just gone out of support after 3.5 years - there will be no more updates. Meanwhile, the iPhone 5S (launched 2013) is still supported with updates.

        By your logic, the S8 should still be supported for another 5 years, "amply paid for by the hugely inflated prices consumers pay for these phones."

        You know and I know that isn't the case. The difference between Apple and others is that Apple *does* continue to support devices for many years, In turn this ensures there's a huge market for app developers to tap into.

        Consumers benefit from this relationship. As do developers.

        I have not yet seen anyone explain how *consumers* would benefit from a fragmented app store market (and it is consumers Epic is claiming to champion here).

        Likewise, how will small developers benefit? Epic are in danger of applying the same "pull up the drawbridge" logic that got us, for example, the European Super League...

  17. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    "Viable distribution alternative" - Apple/Tim Cook

    "[Apple claims] that web apps are just as good as native iOS software" - The Register

    These two statements do not say the same thing.

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