Apple’s Safari Browser Runs the Risk of Becoming the New Internet Explorer — Holding the Web Back for everyone

Scott Gilbertson, writing for The Register: The legacy of Internet Explorer 6 haunts web developer nightmares to this day. Microsoft’s browser of yore made their lives miserable and it’s only slightly hyperbolic to say it very nearly destroyed the entire internet. It really was that bad, kids. It made us walk to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. You wouldn’t understand. Or maybe you would. Today developers who want to use “cutting-edge” web APIs find themselves resorting to the same kind of browser-specific workarounds, but this time the browser dragging things down comes from Apple. Apple’s Safari lags considerably behind its peers in supporting web features. Whether it’s far enough behind to be considered “the new IE” is debatable and may say more about the shadow IE still casts across the web than it does about Safari. But Safari — or more specifically the WebKit engine that powers it — is well behind the competition. According to the Web Platform Tests dashboard, Chrome-based browsers support 94 per cent of the test suite, and Firefox pulls off 91 per cent, but Safari only manages 71 per cent.

On the desktop this doesn’t matter all that much because users can always switch to Google Chrome (or even better, Vivaldi). On iOS devices, however, that’s not possible. According to Apple’s App Store rules: “apps that browse the web must use the appropriate WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript.” Every iPhone user is a Safari/WebKit user whether they use Safari or Chrome. Apple has a browser monopoly on iOS, which is something Microsoft was never able to achieve with IE. In Windows you could at least install Firefox. If you do that on iOS it might say Firefox, but you’re still using WebKit. The reality is if you have an iOS device, you use Safari and are bound by its limitations. Another thing web developers find distressing is Apple’s slow development cycle. Apple updates Safari roughly every six months at best. Blink-based browsers update every six weeks (soon every four), Firefox releases every four weeks, and Brave releases every three. This means that not only is Apple slow to add new features, but its development cycle means that even simple bug fixes have to wait a long time before they actually land on users’ devices. Safari workarounds are not quick fixes. If your website is affected by a Safari bug, you can expect to wait up to a year before the problem is solved. One theme that emerges when you dig into the Web Platform Tests data on Safari’s shortcomings is that even where WebKit has implemented a feature, it’s often not complete.