Apple is working with browser developers Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla to make web design technologies more consistent no matter which browser a user relies on.
When is a standard not a standard?
The problem is that some browsers handle web technologies in different ways. This could gives rise to the adage, “When is a standard not a standard? When it’s a web standard.”
But when it comes to developers, particularly enterprise developers attempting to create consistent web interfaces across platforms, products, and browsers, it becomes a painful friction point. It looks like browser developers have a growing understanding of this, hence the new group.
The latter achieved some success: “The progress that we collectively made in 2021 was incredible, and with more vendor participation and an even broader scope of interoperability areas to tackle, we can’t wait to see how far the web platform evolves this year,” wrote Daniel Libby, Microsoft Edge principal software engineering manager.
What is Interop 22?
The aim of the project is to try to ensure web applications based on these standards work and look the same across the world’s vibrant forest of different devices, platforms, and operating systems. With a little luck, one day, web developers will be able to have some confidence that the experiences they deliver are consistent to all users.
“The hope is that we can move toward a future in which we know how to make these areas interoperable, update the relevant web standards for them, and measure them with tests as we do with focus areas,” Mozilla said.
Interop 2022 tests 15 web platform specifications and three capabilities that aren’t yet fully developed. What’s being tested includes Cascade Layers, Color Spaces, CSS color functions, Scrolling and more. Improvements in all of these will likely be welcomed by developers, users, and platform operators alike.
Why Interop 2022?
Put simply, it looks only at the user experience/design, rather than peering more deeply into the browser code. What this means is that browser developers don’t need to unlock access to core functionality to competitors, which they almost certainly prefer not to do.
What’s interesting is that this attempt emerges as a group of web developers have come together to complain at the limitations of WebKit in iOS development. Specifically, they complain that developers of other browsers must use WebKit, rather than their own tech. Industry watchers point out that Apple is unlikely to approve this request, not merely because doing so might accentuate Safari’s limitations, but also because it could affect hardware performance, security, and battery life.
This may or may not be relevant to Apple’s involvement with Interop 22, but anything that makes different browsers work more consistently probably helps mitigate the criticism.
What Apple said
Writing on the WebKit page, Apple Evangelist for Web Developer Experiences Jen Simmons said:
“All of these technologies are important to Apple and to everyone working on WebKit. We care deeply about the health of the web, and interoperable implementations of web standards. We welcome collaboration with our colleagues in the many web standards organizations, and in Interop 2022 to make the web as interoperable as it can be. Because that’s how websites and web apps will work best for the people who matter most — everyday people using the web to live their lives.”
Company critics will note that Apple hasn’t accelerated implementation of some web APIs that might help developers create web apps to compete against native iOS apps. Apple isn’t unique in being a laggard in some standards implementation, of course — Google has also stumbled, particularly around privacy.
All the same, it seems promising that the big browser developers are discovering that jaw-jaw beats war-war. Perhaps we’d all have benefited from learning that lesson more deeply at school.