Why you may never see Firefox, Opera or Chrome on the iPhone

A report on Macrumors (my favourite Apple rumor site) observes that the company appears to have relaxed its iPhone App Store policy in relation to third-party web browsers. It was thought that, until now, competitors to Apple’s own Mobile Safari weren’t being approved on the basis that they “duplicate functionality” or compete with Apple’s own offering. That may no longer be the case.

“Over the past 24 hours, Apple has begun to approve 3rd party web browsing applications for the iPhone. A number of new web browsing apps have suddenly appeared with original submission dates ranging as far back as October”, writes Macrumors.

A partial list of these new applications include:

- Edge Browser (Free) – No loss of screen real estate to the address or navigation bars.
- Incognito ($1.99) – Now you can browse without leaving a history of any kind.
- WebMate:Tabbed Browser ($0.99) – Web Mate simplifies browsing by queuing up all the links you click on, then allowing you to view them one by one when you’re ready.
- Shaking Web ($1.99) – adds a sophisticated algorithm to compensate for small hand shaking to allow for easier reading.

This has led to many speculating that heavyweight competitors, such as Firefox, Opera or Google’s Chrome, could be next to land on the iPhone.

Not so fast.

See also: The real surprise of the App Store isn’t number of downloads or revenue

While Apple may have relaxed its stance on competition — though it’s highly debatable if any of the recently approved web browsers will take much market share from Mobile Safari — a more significant sticking point of the App Store approval process is that third-party applications can’t execute code outside of the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK). In part for security reasons but also, I suspect, in order for Apple to maintain control of the iPhone third-party software eco-system. That’s also likely the main reason why Adobe Flash on iPhone hasn’t seen the light of day (see also ‘Who needs Flash on iPhone more? Adobe or Apple?’)

Web browsers typically need to execute various scripting languages, such as JavaScript, and to get around this, all four of the newly approved third-party web browsers simply ultilize Mobile Safari, essentially putting their own UI and functionality on top of Apple’s existing web browser via the iPhone SDK. That wouldn’t be the case for Firefox, Opera or Chrome, unless each company changed strategy and ditched their own scripting engines. Of course, even if they were to do that, which they won’t, Apple could still block them from the App Store by reinstating its “duplicating functionality” rule.

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last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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