Safari deserves (a little) more respect

In 2021, the Safari browser was in the midst of a critical firestorm from a number of bloggers.

I just happened to be one of them. My little blog post from July 2021 became overwhelmingly the most popular article on my blog, bringing in some 15,000 daily views at one point and making its way to the top 10 of Hacker News. (For reference, I think the 2nd most popular post on my blog peaked at under 80 daily views.)

The criticisms had to do with Safari’s constrained support for many modern web capabilities, especially those associated with creating and running web apps (PWAs or Progressive Web Apps) – despite being readily supported by Chrome, Android, Edge, and Windows.

As a reminder, for iOS, Apple only allows the WebKit web browser rendering engine (which powers Safari). That means Chrome, Edge, and Firefox for iOS can only run WebKit – and not their own engines.

So what’s happened a year later? I’ve noticed some (incremental) signs of progress.

  • There has been a little more support added or announced for Progressive Web Apps – including home screen icons and push notifications. Here’s a running list of PWA features supported by Safari and iOS.
  • Apple brought onboard Jen Simmons, a widely known and well-respected web standards advocate to help expedite development of WebKit and Safari. Based on what I’ve been seeing on the WebKit blog, she is working to make WebKit better support modern web specifications and improve Safari’s reputation.
  • Safari became the only the 2nd browser to cross the milestone of 1 billion users (after Chrome which has 3.3 billion users). This is according to an analysis by Atlas VPN, which puts Safari as the 2nd most popular browser with an estimated 19% market share, behind Chrome with a 63% share.

Late-breaking development: just before publishing this blog post, the UK competition watchdog declared Apple’s mandate on WebKit for iOS, and prohibiting cloud gaming in the App Store to both be anti-competitive practices. It remains to be seen whether a similar judgement will happen in the US.