The EU browser wars have begun as Apple opens up

Ad agencies, Apple, and the big names in internet technology will be paying particular attention to EU browser market share data in the coming weeks.

Apple, iOS, EU, iPhone, browser, DMA, regulation

Now that Apple has opened up choice to third-party browsers as part of its efforts to comply with the EU’s Digital Markets Act, we can expect a new focus on browser market share in the near future.

Third-party browsers have been supported in iOS since version 14. What's changed is that Apple must now offer EU users a choice of which browser becomes the default when they use their device. Apple clearly didn’t want to do this as WebKit (which drives Safari) is fundamental to many of the technologies and solutions the company packs inside its iPhones. (I think it’s likely to stay that way.)

To achieve this choice, EU customers are presented with a list of supported browsers they can use instead of Safari. Apple last week also confirmed plans to make it possible to remove Safari from your device later this year.

How Apple is implementing browser choice

It is worth noting how Apple has rolled browser choice.

  • The company lists up to 11 browsers.
  • The browsers are selected on a nation-by-nation basis.
  • The chosen options will be those most frequently downloaded in the last 12 months in the EU country in which a user is located.
  • Apple will update those choices once a year.

There are some additional caveats. Browser developers must gain what Apple is calling the ‘Default Browser Entitlement’ and must also have been downloaded by at least 5,000 iPhone users across the EU in the prior calendar year.

The upshot of this is that any new browser developers will need to work a little before they have the chance to get their browser included in the list.

The 12 choices are presented in the form of a long list that is randomized, so no engine gets a built-in advantage. Most iOS browsers will be visible in that list, subject to the number downloaded in any given EU state. You can read the list for each of 27 EU member states.

Browser choice is making a difference

Since Apple introduced the browser choice screen on iOS devices in the EU in March, at least one alternative browser developer reports an impressive spike in downloads to iPhones. Brave claims to have seen a roughly 10% increase in the number of people installing its browser on iOS devices since Apple introduced the screen.

In a graph, it claimed daily installs spiked from as low as 7,500 to 11,000+ as a result. The chart they published really demonstrates this.

"Monopoly defenders argue that the monopolies simply offer better products," the company said on social media. “But as you can see, when consumers get a clear choice of iOS browsers, they're choosing alternatives to Safari."

Future history will test the truth of that claim, but Android and Google are now in the Brave browser people’s sights. They note that, “Google still hasn't implemented a browser choice screen on Android.”

It is reasonable to assume that other browsers will also see increased installation as a result of the introduction of browser choice on Apple’s devices. I’ve reached out to other vendors in the space to learn whether they are experiencing the same; we’ll learn more from them in the coming weeks.

Is this the end of Apple’s Google deal?

The one more thing to this is Apple’s long and lucrative arrangement with Google under which the latter is the default search engine on iPhones and Samsung devices. The search giant pays billions for that status, which generates revenue for device makers, but also helps it dominate the market for search.

Now that Apple has been forced to open up its platforms to alternative web browsers and to make it much easier to choose between those alternatives, the company will be less able to maintain that deal with Google.

Not only that, but it is crystal clear that regulators will query that arrangement more forcibly should it continue. The impact of this may or may not be good for consumers, advertisers, and everyone else. But as not every browser is as committed to user privacy as Brave — or Safari — it suggests some ads agencies and data brokers will rejoice, as this fresh land of “choice” means they will be able to figure out how to convince people to use less-secure browsers.

Like politics, choice is responsibility. That means consumers must work harder when choosing the browser they rely on.

Enterprise users, meanwhile, will likely need to take a deep and hard look at the browsers available on iOS to ensure those installed by employees on managed devices meet company privacy and security standards. I’m assuming a device’s browser choice can be controlled and constrained using device management APIs.

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