Google working to run Chrome’s Blink on iOS, instead of WebKit

A new experimental effort in Chrome aims to run the proper Blink engine on iOS instead of Apple’s required WebKit engine.

On iOS, all web browsers, including third-party ones like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, are required to build upon the same WebKit browser engine as Apple’s Safari browser. By comparison, Android (among many other platforms) allows any and all alternative browser engines. Proponents of the open web have long argued that Apple’s limitation stifles any meaningful competition among web browsers on iPhones and iPads.

A new project, spotted by The Register, is poised to shake up the status quo of browsers on iOS, or at the very least lay the foundation for future change. In a publicly visible post on the Chromium Bug Tracker, the team announced on January 31 that it was beginning an effort to port Chrome/Chromium’s full Blink engine to iOS.

For now, the Chromium team is quite clear that this is not intended to be part of a “shippable product” — after all, any browser not using WebKit would be in violation of App Store policies. To that end, the current plan is only to port the scaled back “content_shell” application, rather than anything resembling the full Chrome browser experience.

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This barebones browser will be used by the Chromium team to test how well Blink and other necessary components of the browser run on iOS.

This experimental application will be used to measure graphics and input latencies by providing traces for analysis. 

Experimental only, not a launch bug for a shippable product.

In a statement to The Register, a Google spokesperson echoed this sentiment.

This is an experimental prototype that we are developing as part of an open source project with the goal to understand certain aspects of performance on iOS. It will not be available to users and we’ll continue to abide by Apple’s policies.

The question to be raised, of course, is: “why?” At first blush, it may seem like wasted effort if Apple’s App Store policies remain unchanged. On the flip side, though, by building this foundation, it could become possible to tangibly show the benefits of an alternative browser on iOS. And should those policies ever change, Chrome (and other Chromium-based browsers) would have a running start toward launching on iOS.

The Chromium team has plans to provide instructions for interested developers to build the Blink engine and content_shell for themselves to try on their own iPhones and iPads. Community contributions to the project are also welcomed.

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Notably, Google’s Chromium team has moved full steam ahead on porting Blink to iOS, introducing dozens of related code changes in the past week. At the pace things are progressing, we may have our first look at the browser engine for Chrome — and Microsoft Edge, Opera, and more — running on iOS in the coming weeks.

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