It’s Time for Apple to Allow Default iOS Browser Choice

Google’s Chrome browser was released for iOS today and it is getting good reviews. After becoming the leading desktop browser it has also become the number one free app on the iTunes App Store. But there are two big problems for Chrome running on Apple’s mobile devices. First of all the browser is slower than Safari because Apple doesn’t allow other developers access to its Nitro Java engine. The web is more than just Javascript of course but Facebook runs the Javascript benchmark at one quarter of the speed of Safari on the same device. Obviously this is a big difference.


The other challenge for iOS users is the defaulting of the browser to Safari. If Apple allows access to other browsers it needs to also allow users to select them as their default browser. By not allowing this choice, users opening links from e-mail for example are forced to see the results in Safari, even if this is not their browser of choice.

Of course forcing users to use Safari is a positive for Apple as it artificially inflates its user count. But what would we do if Microsoft did the same thing on the desktop? The DOJ and EU antitrust divisions would be raising all sorts of flags and Steve Ballmer would be spending more time testifying than running the company.

But Apple gets away with more than Microsoft because it has been the underdog – at least on the desktop. In the mobile device world though, they are far from at the bottom as evidenced by the fact that most of its hardware competitors are struggling and its sales are setting records.

As Apple becomes more dominant and it is tough to see a scenario where its market-leadership slows down, they will have to allow users the choice to pick the default browser of their own choice.

Yesterday I spoke of ecosystems and Google’s Nexus Q strengthening the company’s entry into the ecosystem space. It makes great sense for vendors to want to lock us into their software and services such as iTunes. Moreover, when you sell products at cost or at a loss, manufacturers really have to lock us in to recoup their investment. This makes sense from a financial survival perspective.

But in the case of Apple, no one is getting these devices at a discount. Apple is making profit hand-over-fist on every mobile device it sells. And still, we are locked in. We can’t run Flash. We can’t change our default browser.

The only thing which may change Apple’s stance is consumers deciding to complain. But my casual observation have shown they don’t care much about the lack of Adobe’s Flash and certainly Apple’s sales don’t seem to be slowing. I doubt there will be much concern about the default browser issue either but jailbroken solutions are available for those who will do anything to break free of the single browser lock-in. And of course if you don’t want to deal with the drawbacks of jailbreaking, at some point I expect the regulators to start pressuring Apple to allow a default browser choice.

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