Soon, Chrome Extensions May Work in Safari

No browser left behind

Key Takeaways

  • Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla have agreed on a common standard for browser extensions.
  • Apple stands to get the most from this deal.
  • Browser extensions are coming to the iPad in iPadOS 15.
Chrome browser on a laptop

Google

Soon, you’ll be able to use all those sweet Chrome browser extensions in Safari, Edge, and Firefox, and "enjoy" the handful of Safari extensions in all browsers, too. 

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla have gotten together to make a common platform for browser extensions. The idea is a single extension can work in any web browser, instead of being limited to just, say, Chrome. For Chrome users, this means little—if there’s an extension you want, chances are it’s Chrome-exclusive anyway. But for Safari users, this is huge news. Especially as extensions are supported in Safari on the iPad in iOS 15.

"I would have to say that Apple probably stands to gain the most from that interoperability, given most browser plugins are built to work in either Chrome or Firefox or both already," Adam Hudnall, of 3D printing and prototyping company Recursive Dynamics, told Lifewire via email. 

Under-Extended

Last year, Apple opened Safari’s extensions to use the same technologies as Chrome extensions: JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, aka standard web technologies. In theory, developers could get their extensions running on Safari with little or no extra work. In practice, even this was too much of a bother. Chrome has around 65% of the browser market. Safari comes in second, but still only has a measly 18% share. 

"I would have to say that Apple probably stands to gain the most from that interoperability."

This WebExtensions Community Group Charter is an extension of Apple’s 2020 policy change. Developers will still need to actually make Safari extensions (and presumably submit them to Apple’s App Store for approval), but at least Safari—and Firefox—will be on level ground with Chrome.

"I would say that Apple stands to benefit most from this development," Daivat Dholakia, director of operations at Force by Mojio, told Lifewire via email. "Safari still ranks well below Chrome in popularity. I foresee Apple putting a lot of emphasis on dominating the web browser scene in years to come."

Browser Wars

It used to be that you’d pick a platform based on either hardware (Mac or PC) or OS (macOS vs Windows). Now, with so much software running in the cloud, your computer is just a front-end to identical experiences. Dropbox, Google Docs, Gmail, Trello, and so on all run in or on the cloud. Even services that use apps, like Slack, are just websites that run in a standalone, custom Chrome browser on your computer. 

The browser, then, is a big deal. And unlike pretty much everywhere else, Apple is lagging far behind in the web browser world. 

Safari extensions as they appear on MacBook Pro

Apple

Apple’s strategy so far has been to make Safari excellent and private. It’s fast, it’s very power-efficient, and it’s deeply integrated with the Mac and iOS. Your bookmarks, reading list, and even open tabs are synced between all your devices, and it’s easy to use Safari with other features like Shortcuts. But even that is table stakes in the browser wars—Chrome also syncs everything. 

Apple’s other play is privacy. Safari already blocks trackers, lets you control what private data sites can access, and plenty more. This is a fantastic advantage, but it’s not enough.

Another Extension Joke

Some apps, like 1Password, offer native extensions for all browsers. Others, like Trello, require you to install a browser extension for basic functions—clipping a web page to Trello, for example—and yet fail to make an extension for Safari. This leaves Mac users with little option but to install Chrome (or a Chromium-based browser like Microsoft’s Edge), with all the energy and privacy problems they bring. 

"I foresee Apple putting a lot of emphasis on dominating the web browser scene in years to come."

The WebExtensions Charter shows Apple is serious about not letting Safari get left behind. But that’s not all.

"They are already rolling out new products with web extension capabilities in mobile browsing, which is likely a result [of] this collaboration," says Dholakia. 

One of these "new products" is extension support in Safari for iPad in iOS 15. You’ll be able to add them to Safari, just like you can with the Mac. The difference is the iPad has pretty much the entire market when it comes to tablets. That could bring pressure to developers to add more support for Safari, which might be exactly what Apple wants.

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