‘We hoped not to use WebKit at all,’ says Vivaldi CEO, as iOS browser ships

Days after EU industry chief Thierry Breton told Apple CEO Tim Cook in no uncertain terms that the company will be forced to open its ecosystem to competition, European browser company Vivaldi introduced its first browser for iOS. So, I spoke with Vivaldi CEO Jon von Tetzchner to discuss the context around the release.

On the EU’s DMA law

To begin with, von Tetzchner supports European demands that “gatekeepers” such as Apple and Google open their ecosystems to rivals: “The Digital Markets Act is a big deal. For years, the gatekeepers, as the EU calls them, have done things to restrict competition. Remember the early days of iOS? You could not even install a competing browser.

“Now you can, but the browser needs to be based on WebKit,” von Tetzchner said. “Soon, I hope, you will be able to install browsers based on Chromium and Gecko. You can then make the choice [of] which browser you prefer to use, and it can run the code it believes will provide you with the best possible browser.”

On the risk of sideloading

He also believes that it will be possible to install software on iPhones sourced from outside the App Store.

These changes won’t be confined to Apple; Windows users will be able to install their choice of browser, too. And while many in the industry see this liberalization as posing risks to security and privacy on Apple’s platforms, the Vivaldi boss seemed somewhat sanguine: “The main risk is that you might get to use software and services that you will enjoy more,” he said. “The gatekeeper is no longer going to be able to dictate what you use or try to force you to use software you do not like, such as Edge.”

Von Tetzchner doesn’t agree with Apple’s claims that such sideloading will increase risk. “If the idea is that it is a lot safer to have software be downloaded from the App Store, I think the history of bad apps in the store tells a different story,” he said, before pointing the burden of protection on the user.

“It is always prudent to evaluate the software you install, independent from where you download it. It is always a good idea to download software from reliable sources, whether it is the company website or a quality download site or App Store.”

Getting a new browser to iOS

In part, because of Apple’s insistence that browser developers use WebKit, Vivaldi has only just arrived on iPhones. Why did it take so long?

There were some highly technical challenges that needed to be solved. At first, Vivaldi hoped to use the same codebase across all platforms. But it found that on both Android and iOS, additional work was required, and in iOS the company could not use the same core code and had to build a native user interface.

“This has required a lot of work,” von Tetzchner explained, “not just to build the UI, but also to make things work as well as possible with the underlying WebKit engine. Given that we are not able to modify it, like we can do with the Chromium code, certain things were harder, so this has taken longer.”

Nodding toward the EU DMA, he added, “We had also, frankly, hoped that we would not have had to use WebKit at all, but we decided to take the challenge and make it work.”

What does Vivaldi browser offer?

The new browser offers all the tools Vivaldi offers on other platforms. That means desktop style tabs you swipe through, advanced bookmarks and “speed dials” (sites you access often), built-in blocking tech to protect against trackers and ads, and the ability to sync bookmarks, tabs, notes, and more across all the devices you use that run Vivaldi — including iPhones, iPads, and Macs, and across Windows, Linux, and Android.

On security and privacy

I asked about the security of sync on the browser. He explained how it works.

“We decided to make things a bit more complicated, but more secure,” he said. “When you use our sync functionality, you have the traditional login, but also a separate encryption password. This means that even we do not have the capability to read your data on our servers, as that encryption password is not something we have access to.”

There is a slight risk to this approach. In the event you forget your encryption password, you won’t be able to access the data from the sync server. Likewise, Vivaldi cannot access or share that information.

“We do not want access to your data at all. Our business model is not built around data harvesting and user profiling. In fact, we spend a lot of time removing such functionality from the Chromium code, such as the latest Privacy Sandbox functionality, recently added by Google.”

He stressed that data is stored in Iceland, which as a nation has some of the strongest privacy protection in the world. You can take a look at the new browser for iOS here.

And here’s a little further reading: How will Apple help IT manage third-party app stores.

Please follow me on Mastodon, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.