iPhone customers can now use non-Apple browsers

New Web browsers for the iPhone started appearing in Apple’s App Store, contrary to the company’s previous policy of denying applications that duplicate functionality of its own software.

Four new Web browser implementations became available over the last day in the App store. Still, other popular browsers are not expected to follow suit.

Four new Web browsers for the iPhone became available yesterday, bringing new features such as tabs and private browsing. However, the new browsers are just different user interface implementations of the built-in iPhone rendering engine – WebKit. So basically, the code in the new apps rendering the Web pages is still Apple’s.

Edge Browser removes the address and navigation bars from Safari, leaving more screen space for viewing the actual webpage you are browsing.

The new so called Web browsers range in price from free to $1.99 and bring some features missing from Apple’s Safari App. Edge browser (pictured above), a free app, removes Safari’s address and navigation bars, leaving more screen real estate for the page you are browsing.

Another browser, WebMate:Tabbed Browser ($0.99), as the name suggests, brings tabbed browsing to the iPhone by queuing up all the links you click on and then displaying them in an orderly fashion.

The other two browsers, Incognito and Shaking Web (both $1.99), offer untraceable browsing and respectively compensate the small hand shaking for easier reading with the help of a sophisticated algorithm.

Apple has been criticized before for group delays of certain application categories, such as the fart generators, and it seems that even the browsers in discussion have been submitted to the App Store from as early as October last year.

Regardless, the new apps are a step ahead for Apple in becoming a more open platform for Web browser developers, even though we shouldn’t expect other big players such as Firefox or Opera being allowed to release browsers featuring their own rendering engines for the iPhone.

Despite the availability of alternate browsers, Apple hasn’t officially acknowledged dropping its functionality duplication policy.

Late last year, this policy generated much controversy, especially after the denial and removal of applications from the App Store.

One of the denied apps was Angelo DiNardi’s MailWrangler that aimed at simplifying the lives of those using multiple Gmail accounts by allowing them to log into different accounts simultaneously and quickly switch back and forth between them.

Unlike the built-in Mail client, MailWrangler embeds WebKit and allows users to access their Gmail via the iPhone-friendly Web interface.

This allows access to various features that aren’t supported by the iPhone’s Mail program, such as starring messages, threading, and Google contacts.

MailWrangler also offers advantages over using the iPhone’s Safari Web browser, specifically in allowing users to stay logged into multiple accounts without having to manually log in every session.

After waiting for about six weeks, DiNardi finally got a response from Apple that denied MailWrangler on the basis that: … Your application duplicates the functionality of the built-in iPhone application Mail without providing sufficient differentiation or added functionality, which will lead to user confusion. …

“Duplication” previously became a watchword in Apple denials after the application Podcaster was denied for duplicating features of iTunes.

DiNardi expressed the view that the additional features that MailPlane offers to Gmail users makes it sufficiently different from Apple’s own Mail application; he even points out there’s an application for the Mac called MailPlane that does roughly the same thing, suggesting that there is at least some sort of user demand for this functionality.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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