French software developer sues Apple, seeking improvements in iOS browser

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Apple's iOS 10 has a raft of new messaging, location, security and app features. Credit: Apple

Nexedi says Apple's insistence that apps use its version of the WebKit rendering engine means some HTML5 functions won't work on iOS

Software developer Nexedi is so keen to see Apple improve the rendering engine in its iPhone browser that it's filed suit against the company in a French court.

Nexedi develops cross-platform business apps in HTML5 that can run unchanged on Windows, Linux, and Android.

On Apple's iOS, however, it runs into a problem: The browser rendering engine on iOS, WebKit, doesn't have the same HTML5 capabilities as the rendering engines used on other platforms.

Among the HTML5 capabilities missing in the iOS version of WebKit are access to APIs for vibration, ambient light detection, battery status, notifications, filesystem access and the WebRTC videoconferencing protocol, according to a copy of Nexedi's lawsuit seen by the IDG News Service.

The absence of those capabilities makes it impossible to use videoconferencing websites, to play videos in the WebM format on websites, or to provide offline functionality in a browser-based office productivity suite on iOS, the company said.

One way around this would be to make changes to support those functions in WebKit, which is open source, then build apps or a browser for iOS using the new version of WebKit to download and run the HTML5 code.

But Apple specifically forbids developers from doing any such thing if they wish to sell their software through its App Store. Only the Apple-approved version of WebKit may be used for downloading and adding functionality after an app is approved.

Even Google has had to submit to this rule: It created a new version of WebKit that it calls Blink for use in its Chrome browser on other platforms, but the iOS version of Chrome still uses Apple's WebKit.

The upshot of this, Nexedi's court filing says, is that it has to redevelop its apps for the iOS platform, adding costs and delays -- €210,000 (US$235,000) in additional costs and €560,000 in lost opportunities as its staff modified code to run on the iOS version of WebKit. Over the next two years, Nexedi expects adapting its HTML5 apps to WebKit on iOS will require three developer-years of work, resulting in €120,000 of additional costs and €480,000 of lost opportunities.

"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," Nexedi CEO Jean-Paul Smets wrote in a post on the company blog. 

Nexedi can't just abandon the iOS platform because iPhones are the dominant devices in some markets -- notably with the Chinese upper middle class (a large potential market for Nexedi) and with executives worldwide who pay the company's invoices, Smets wrote.

At a court hearing on Feb. 4, Nexedi will be asking the judge to order Apple Europe to pay €770,000 in damages.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

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