MacRumors is reporting that at least four third-party Web browsers have appeared in the Apple App Store in the past day. The breakthrough for these apps may have come when Apple loosened restrictions on a group of flatulence-related applications, such as Pull My Finger.
But there's a catch. Each of these iPhone Web browsers provide functionality based on Safari's Webkit—even though each claims to offer features that are not currently available in Safari. That marks a change in Apple's position regarding duplication of functionality, which basically says that if an application does something that Apple lays claim to it will be rejected.
Still, iPhone apps that duplicate some kind of functionality have been in the Apple App Store for some time, USAToday's app, for example, uses Safari's engine and could double as a Web browser. Yet, Apple approved that specific application a long time ago.
The fact that Apple seems to have eased up on duplication of functionality is nice for Edge Browser, WebMate, Incognito and ShakingWeb, but it doesn't necessarily point to good news for Web browsers that run on independently developed engines, such as Firefox and Opera.
Firefox, developed by Mozilla, is already a popular open-source Web browser that has more market share than Safari when it comes to PC browsing. Opera has been around for what seems like forever and has a dedicated group of users who refuse to let the platform die. But the iPhone was built and developed by Apple, which has its own Web browser offering and the company, until now, hasn't seemed too keen on allowing other browsers onto the iPhone.
Letting outside developers use the Safari Webkit is one thing, but letting the direct competition move onto one of the most popular mobile devices is another thing entirely. Plus, there's always the duplication of functionality clause that will have Apple—which is the only game in town when it comes to getting applications on the iPhone—most likely continuing to deny Firefox and Opera from getting a toehold on the iPhone.
Then, of course, there's always the most popular Web browser on the market: Internet Explorer. If Opera and Firefox can't make it onto the iPhone, it seems like the chances of Microsoft landing on the iPhone are even slimmer.
Sure, Seadragon can be downloaded for free. But that's a photo application. Safari is one of the core functionalities on the iPhone and the thought that Apple will let its customers choose between using their Web browser and Microsoft's seems like a long shot.
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