Apple to allow third-party default browsers and web engines on iPhone, but only in the EU

Apple is making major changes to how web browsers can operate on iPhone for customers in the EU. iOS 17.4 will introduce the ability to set your preferred default browser, and browser makers will be able to use other browser engines.

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Default browsers

First up is a change to default browsers. Third-party browsers have been a thing on the App Store for ages, but links always open in Safari by default. Some developers have workarounds that let you see other browsers like Chrome as your browser when opening links within their apps, but it’s not systemwide.

Starting with iOS 17.4, launching Safari for the first time will prompt users to set a default browser. Third-party browser examples include:

  • Microsoft Edge
  • Brave
  • Firefox
  • Google Chrome
  • Opera
  • and DuckDuckGo.

This will effectively let users interact with third-party browsers on the same level as Safari. Like with Mail, the key behavior change when setting a default browser is how it affects links.

Browser engines

As mentioned at the top, Apple is opening up the iPhone to allow third-party browsers that use different web engines than Safari. Third-party browsers to date have had control over appearance and feature sets, but the WebKit engine behind Safari was the only web engine approved by Apple. Chrome, for example, only uses WebKit on iOS. Blink is the web engine used by Chrome on all other platforms.

As part of iOS 17.4, Apple is introducing new APIs that will enable developers to take advantage of these new features, including in-app browsers. Developers can learn more about the requirements here.

Again, both web browser policy changes are only being introduced for iPhone customers in the European Union. Customers in the United States and other countries not in the EU will continue with the status quo: no third-party default browsers, and no alternative web engines.

These moves are to bring Apple in compliance with the Digital Markets Act that goes into effect in March. Apple is also making other major changes to App Store policy and more.

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