iPhone's crippled UIWebView causes embarrassment

A recent study by analytics firm Blaze Software found Android's web browser to be an average of 52% faster than a comparable iPhone.

But as this article points out, they weren't actually using the web browser app on either platform -- they wrote a custom app that used a WebView control on Android, and a UIWebView on the iPhone.

As the Register points out, web pages running in a custom app, or even an ordinary web page saved to the home screen, run about 2.5 times slower than when run within the normal Mobile Safari browser. 

Apple's statement on the matter concurs that this is a significant problem with the Blaze study.

So what does it all mean?  Well, first, it means that Apple has a serious problem with their UIWebView control.  It goes beyond mere speed; apps saved to the home screen (or, I'm guessing, run within a UIWebView in any other context) don't have access to the HTML5 Application Cache, nor can they run in the slick new asynchronous mode.  Those features work fine within Mobile Safari, but not in a stand-alone app.

What's interesting to me is that Apple, in its usual way, refused to comment on these widely known problems until the Blaze study came out.  Not only that, but according to the Register article, the Mobile Safari team has privately indicated that these known issues would not be fixed.  The more paranoid among us might even think that these problems were put in on purpose to discourage web apps (which bypass the Apple App Store) and encourage native apps (of which Apple gets a 30% cut).  But now, when the speed problem (intentional or not) is making Apple look bad compared to Android, NOW we get a statement from them admitting to the problem.

It will be interesting to see whether the embarassing speed difference will cause Apple to fix any of these issues.  If they don't, I expect we'll see even more such studies, and more publicity from them, until it becomes widely believed that iPhones are slow.  But if they do, then either our paranoid theory about Apple's motivations is incorrect, or they're getting shamed out of their evil ways.

Either way, I'm happy to see it.  At Luminary Apps, we develop native apps, not web apps.  But I still don't think Apple should be needlessly crippling the web apps.  Intentional or not, that's what they have done, and props go to Blaze for bringing it to public attention.