Theoretically, there’s a way to avoid the app store chokepoint: web apps. These are part of the HTML5 standard, and if a browser fully implements that standard, then developers can make a self-encapsulated “app” that’s delivered in the browser, complete with an icon for your home screen, capable of doing anything an app store app can do.
A company that wants to sell stuff without paying the app tax could hypothetically deliver a web app that the user could download and install via their browser. This doesn’t just avoid the app tax, it also overrides the app stores’ editorial control, like Apple’s decision to block privacy tools in China to aid in state surveillance.
But you can’t have a web app without a web-app-compatible browser, and you can’t get a web-app-compatible browser in Apple’s App Store.
It’s probably a little bit more than a web-app-compatible browser. It is alternate app stores to help with the discovery and installation of those web apps. And the cooperation of the operating system to make those web apps first-class citizens of the device.
But I’ll take alternate browsers on iOS as a solid start, forced or not.
I’d also take clear communication from Apple on why they don’t allow it now. As far as I know, it’s just radio silence. Allow me to ask clearly: Hey Apple, why is it, exactly, why other browsers aren’t allowed on iOS?
UPDATE: Apple has answered, it’s just in a PDF. Open Web Advocacy, on Mastodon, has compiled a list:
1. Webkit’s sandbox is better than the iOS Native App Sandbox
2. Not every App on iOS should be granted browser level privileges
3. There is hardware security that we will not share with third party browsers, so those browsers will have worse security than Safari
4. Apple cares more about privacy than anyone else
5. Safari is more performant than other browsers
6. It would diminish iOS competitive advantage over Android
7. Webkit is tightly integrated with iOS hardware
8. No App Store review for Web Content
9. There are more Native App viruses on Android than iOS
10. Apple would force other browsers to be redesigned to fit into a new custom sandbox
11. It will make Chrome more dominant
12. It’s not about protecting the App Store revenue
13. Users can choose other browsers
14. Other iOS browsers can add lots of features now
15. Apple is working hard on lots of new features for Safari
16. Any delay in new features is only due to privacy/security concerns
17. Safari has great support for Web Apps
18. Safari is adding more Web App features
So they are on the record… but here’s the rest of my post before I knew that anyway:
The problem with silence is that people’s speculation becomes the truth in their minds. Speculation like… It’s the money! Apple is pure greed. It’s an untenable security situation. Apple couldn’t guarantee users’ safety as well as they do now. [Other browser is] terrible for battery performance compared to Safari. Users would be mad at Apple for something that they can’t control.
My own speculation remains: there isn’t any incentive. Changing this policy is a crapload of work with no upside for Apple. Personally, I want alternate browsers, I want alternate app stores, I want first-class web apps on all mobile devices. But I run a company, too and proposed projects that are a crapload of work with no upside for the company do not get rubber-stamped.