Google experiment ditches WebKit for its own engine in Chrome for iOS

Blink isn't allowed on iOS, but Google is trying it anyway.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Apple's App Store policies require that the Chrome browser on iOS uses the WebKit engine rather than the usual Blink, but that isn't stopping Google from indulging in a "what if" scenario. The Register has noticed that Google recently started work on an experiment that would port Blink to iOS. The project is limited to the stripped-down "content_shell" app rather than Chrome, and the Chromium team working on the effort stresses that it's not a "shippable product." It's only meant to test graphics and input performance, the company says.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson told Engadget the Blink port is only a "prototype" that's part of a larger open source initiative. It won't be available to the public, and the company will "continue to abide" by Apple's rules.

It's not clear why Google wants to test Blink on iOS in the first place, though. If Apple's policies stay firm, Google won't be allowed to release any Blink-based software. Only those experienced enough to compile and run content_shell may get a taste of the experience.

The timing may not be coincidental, though. The US government wants Apple and Google to open up their platforms, giving users ways to install apps that aren't governed by first-party store policies. Rumors have also swirled that Apple may allow third-party app stores on iOS to please European regulators. If Apple ever loosens its approach, Google's head start on porting Blink could help it switch Chrome's web engine relatively quickly.

A change like that could shake up browser competition on iOS. Apple's WebKit requirement theoretically aids security by limiting the avenues for web exploits, but it also gives third-party browsers fewer ways to stand out — they can't use custom engines that might be faster or more feature-laden than Apple's Safari. As on Android or the desktop, an alternative browser would offer more than just a different interface.