Brave, Firefox, and Opera got more users in Europe. So what?

The enforcing of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) on March 7th greeted EU citizens with a browser choice screen when opening Safari on iOS 17.4 or setting up a new Android device. (I don’t know the reason for this distinction.)

The results seem encouraging at first glance. At least, the companies benefited from the measure are excited:

No wonder only Brave released absolute numbers. And low numbers. When Opera boasts a 164% increase in new users, one should ask: 164% on top of what?

On Twitter, Brave’s profile posted that “when consumers get a clear choice of iOS browsers, they’re choosing alternatives to Safari”.

Ok, they’re really choosing, maybe in a more beautiful icon contest. (Brave’s is slick, indeed.) I think there are more important questions after the browser choice screen that need to be answered, especially if people are using the alternative browser chosen in it.

Perhaps it’s important to remember that it is not as if it were impossible to install alternative browsers before, nor something complex. (Changing the default browser, possible since iOS 14 released in 2021, maybe yes, but even that isn’t that complex.)

The other big issue of browsers on iOS, the mandatory use of the Safari rendering engine (WebKit) by all other browsers, homogenizes the competitive market. This is truly an artificial advantage that Apple imposes on rivals.

DMA, among other things, forces Apple to accept browsers with engines other than WebKit. None is available yet. It may not be worth the effort to maintain two apps, one with WebKit and the other with its own engine only for the European Union. To be seen if any browser will follow this route.

Safari is a very good browser on iOS. I dare to say it’s the best — largely due to the deep integration with the OS and exclusive features, such as support for extensions. It’s these disloyal exclusivities that should be in the crosshairs of legislation aimed at fostering competition.

Most of the DMA’s obligations seem to hit the target. (Some consequences are surprising, they are difficult to anticipate; that’s why I say it “seems”.) The browser choice screen — and that of web search engines on Android, by extension — is not one of them.

In fact, we have seen this story in the past, Microsoft and Windows in the 2010s, in the same European Union.

In March 2010, when the screen of choice popped on European Windows PCs, there was a jump in the use of alternative browsers to IE, but at the end of the program, in 2014, Firefox and Opera had smaller market shares than four years earlier. Only Chrome went up, like a rocket, demolishing IE’s former leadership. I guess that it was not because of the mandatory browser choice screen on Windows.

« Disappointed but not surprised to know… Plain text email »