Technology

Telegram founder alleges Apple ‘intentionally cripples’ web apps by not updating WebKit

Apple has seen virtually no end to antitrust allegations over the last few years. Its defense against Epic Games was mostly successful, but regulators in the US and abroad have been probing the company constantly. The latest accusation is that the Cupertino giant is intentionally sabotaging web applications to force users to download native versions of the app so it can impose its 30-percent Apple Tax.

According to Telegram founder Pavel Durov, Apple is “intentionally crippling” web apps on iPhones to cause more people to download native versions of the app so it can collect its 30-percent commission. While Telegram does have an app listed in the App Store, Apple guidelines do not allow it to have unrestricted public channels.

As a workaround, Telegram developed a web-based app that bypasses these rules. However, it allegedly does not run smoothly because of known issues in WebKit that Apple has ignored to fix for as long as 15 years. Durov pointed out these problems in an open Telegram post back in April.

Durov claims that modern web apps can allow a “feature-rich” experience like push notifications, video stickers, Opus audio format, and other functionality. In all, there were 10 points that Durov asked Apple to address that would make Safari run web apps as smoothly as Firefox and Chrome do. Apple has not responded.

So why not just use the mobile versions of Chrome or Firefox? That would be a good idea, but according to Durov, WebKit is the core of all browsers on iOS because Apple requires that developers use it. Essentially, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and any other browser on iOS is just a skin for WebKit. So until it is upgraded to modern standards, there is nothing a developer can do to improve the performance of its web app.

Apple seems reluctant to do anything, but Durov remains hopeful, primarily due to regulators. He points out that last week the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued a statement concluding that Apple and Google hold dominant authority over how consumers use their mobile devices.

“Apple bans alternatives to its own browser engine on its mobile devices; a restriction that is unique to Apple,” said the consumer watchdog. “The CMA is concerned this severely limits the potential for rival browsers to differentiate themselves from Safari (for example, on features such as speed and functionality) and limits Apple’s incentives to invest in its browser engine.”

However, the CMA’s statement did not mention taking or proposing regulatory action. Despite that, Durov remains optimistic that the problem will eventually get sorted.

“I think [the CMA paints] an accurate summary and hope that regulatory action will follow soon,” he said. “It’s sad that, more than ten years after Steve Job’s death, a company that once revolutionized mobile web turned into its most significant roadblock.”