Why we are suing Apple for better HTML5 support in iOS?

Nexedi is willing to help improving HTML5 support in the iOS platform. To achieve this we are launching a lawsuit against Apple so that developers of Web browsers with better HTML5 support than Apple's Webkit can publish their applications on Apple Appstore.
  • Last Update:2016-10-07
  • Version:002
  • Language:en

Today, the French press announced that Nexedi was suing Apple.

I will explain here why Nexedi took this decision.

Helping Apple to better support HTML5

The primary reason for starting this lawsuit is because we hope that it will help Apple to sooner support the latest Web and HTML5 standards on its iOS platform - the operating system used by all iPhones.

Anyone running html5test (http://html5test.com/) on his iPhone will find out that current iOS support of HTML5 Web technologies is lagging behind other platforms.

This situation is not new. The progress of iOS in terms of HTML5 support is slower than for other platforms. The gap between iOS and other smartphones in terms of HTML5 support is extending rather than closing.

In the early 90s I have been an Apple developer myself. At that time Apple personal computers had the best support for TCP/IP and the Web. Other platforms such as Windows were lagging behind. Apple platforms could support more multimedia formats than others, even including Unix workstations. Nowadays it seems to be the opposite.

Below is a list of the things impossible to do with an iPhone as of October 2016 but which work on about any other platform:

Improving iOS HTML5 support: Apple does not allow us

The reason why iOS does not support HTML5 technologies is related to the current state of Safari web browser. Safari is also lagging behind on the MacOS desktop platform.

What we usually do at Nexedi to handle this situation is to recommend our users or customers to install a different web browser on MacOS so that they get better HTML5 support.

We tried the same approach on iOS. We tried using Chrome on iOS and found that support of HTML5 by Chrome on iOS was the roughly the same as support of HTML5 by Safari on iOS. In other terms, Chrome on iOS is lagging behind Chrome on any other platform.

How is that possible?

After searching blogs and news, we ended up reading the contract that Apple is requesting developers to approve to join their AppStore. In its French version, it states that Apple does not allow publishing any application in their appstore that downloads and executes software - with the exeception of Apple's own Webkit (in French: "Webkit intégré d’Apple").

A Web browser is an application that, among other things, downloads and executes Javascript code. It is thus not allowed to publish a Web browser in Apple's AppStore unless this Web browser is based on Apple's own Webkit library. This is why the Chrome Web browser on iOS relies on Apple's own Webkit library rather than on the more modern Blink library used on all other platforms. This is the reason Chrome's HTML5 support on iOS is roughly the same as Safari.

We would be delighted at Nexedi to create a Web browser for iOS with better HTML5 support based on a recent version of Blink library for example. But as soon as we would publish it, it would be banned from Apple's AppStore. Many developers have experienced this situation already. Many companies are being hurt by this situation. Some companies have already begged Apple to improve HTML5 support in iOS with little significant results.

Abandoning iOS: Not an Option

We once considered proposing to our clients looking for better HTML5 support to stop using iPhones and iOS. Afterall an equivalent Android smartphone with better HTML5 support is barely more than 100€.

But this is not really an option because in some important market segments iPhones are the dominant devices with a loyal user base. iPhones are used everywhere - from executives worldwide to the upper middle class in China, so stopping to support iOS in our solutions would mean stopping support for one of the largest markets in the world (China) as well as the market segment that eventually decides to pay our invoices (executives worlwide).

Abandonning iOS is thus not an option.

Backporting HTML5 Code to iOS: Wasted Innovation

For now the only short term option viable for Nexedi is to circumvent the limitations of HTML5 support in Apple's iOS. This effort is steadily increasing. The same effort that we are spending now on supporting iOS by backporting HTML5 code could be used to provide any of the following free software solutions:

  • a Web Browser for iOS with much better HTML5 support
  • a Free HTML5 accounting package for small businesses that runs offline in their browser
  • a Free HTML5 video editor that can run offline
  • a Free HTML5 music production system that can run offline
  • a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach how to deploy ERP5 accounting
  • a Free decentralized instant messaging system that everyone can participate without installing anything on their PC or smartphone
  • a Free blockchain system that everyone can participate without installing anything on their PC or smartphone
  • etc.

The day Apple lets us publish a browser based on the HTML5 library of our choice, we will divert the effort we are currently spending into backporting HTML5 code to one of the projects listed above.

Civil Law is our Friend

Considering the situation of HTML5 on iOS and the effort that is wasted at Nexedi and beyond, we have decided to research the possibility of using Law to help Apple open the doors of its AppStore to Web browsers with better HTML5 support. A few years ago, France passed a Law to protect small companies such as Nexedi against large companies that try to impose unbalanced contracts.

The precise words are: "déséquilibre significatif entre les droits et obligations des parties". Nexedi and our Lawyer (J-B. Soufron at FWPA) believe this situation applies to Apple's AppStore contract. Not allowing the publication in Apple's AppStore of web browsers that are not based on Apple's own Webkit raises in our opinion the same issues as if Carrefour (a company similar to Walmart) was not selling any beans but those based on Carrefour's seeds. This may be legal in other countries but in France, it is most likely not.

Thanks to Civil Law it is more difficult in France than in the USA to get a ruling that contradicts the wording of the law. We thus have some hopes that this lawsuit will lead to a better situation for HTML5 support on iOS.

Contact

  • Photo Jean-Paul Smets
  • Jean-Paul Smets
  • jp (at) nexedi (dot) com
  • Jean-Paul Smets is the founder and CEO of Nexedi. After graduating in mathematics and computer science at ENS (Paris), he started his career as a civil servant at the French Ministry of Economy. He then left government to start a small company called “Nexedi” where he developed his first Free Software, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) designed to manage the production of swimsuits in the not-so-warm but friendly north of France. ERP5 was born. In parallel, he led with Hartmut Pilch (FFII) the successful campaign to protect software innovation against the dangers of software patents. The campaign eventually succeeeded by rallying more than 100.000 supporters and thousands of CEOs of European software companies (both open source and proprietary). The Proposed directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions was rejected on 6 July 2005 by the European Parliament by an overwhelming majority of 648 to 14 votes, showing how small companies can together in Europe defeat the powerful lobbying of large corporations. Since then, he has helped Nexedi to grow either organically or by investing in new ventures led by bright entrepreneurs.
  • Photo Sven Franck
  • Logo Nexedi
  • Sven Franck
  • sven (dot) franck (at) nexedi (dot) com