Apple Beat Google to Web Extensions on Mobile

Safari extensions.
Apple

Technology companies have reputations. Google tends to push the envelope, whereas Apple takes time to refine things, not worrying about being “first.” That’s why it’s so strange to see Safari on the iPhone get extensions before Chrome on Android.

Starting in iOS 15, Safari for the iPhone and iPad can download extensions through the App Store. And these extensions aren’t just from Apple. Third parties can create them as well. It’s the same functionality that has been in Safari for desktop for years.

RELATED: What’s New in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey

What other popular web browser has had extensions for years? Google Chrome, of course. In fact, Chrome and Safari added extensions all the way back in 2010. Extensions are a big part of what catapulted Chrome to the popularity it has today. So what’s holding back the Android version?

It’s certainly not impossible for Android browsers to have extensions. Dolphin Browser was one of the original third-party browsers on the platform and it still exists today with support for “add-ons.”

Install adds-on on Firefox for Android.
Adds-ons in Firefox for Android

It’s not just smaller, niche browsers doing it, either. Mozilla Firefox for Android also includes a limited number of adds-on that work on mobile. You don’t get access to the large library of add-ons from the desktop, but there are still a few handy ones that enhance the experience.

RELATED: How to Install Extensions (Add-ons) in Mozilla Firefox

But what if you’re really tied to Chrome extensions specifically? You might think that you’re stuck waiting for Google to follow Apple’s lead and bring them to Chrome for Android. Surprisingly, that’s not the case. Google has not only been beaten by iOS, but also by developers on its own platform.

Kiwi Browser is an open-source browser based on Chromium. That’s the same backbone for browsers like Microsoft Edge and, of course, Google Chrome. Kiwi, however, lets you download extensions from the Chrome Web Store.

uBlock in the Kiwi Browser.
Desktop Chrome extension installed in Kiwi

That’s right, the entire Chrome Web Store is available in the Kiwi Browser. You can install the extensions just like you would on your PC. You’re using a desktop website on a phone, so the process is a little clunky, but it absolutely works—with a catch.

Since Kiwi is based on Chromium, you lose some of the more Google-ly features of Chrome. Namely, you can’t use the extremely handy Chrome Sync feature that keeps all your bookmarks and history synced between browsers. But you do get extensions!

Kiwi is proof that Chrome extensions can run in a mobile browser. There’s no technical reason why Google couldn’t have added this feature to Chrome on Android a while ago. It could even have followed Firefox’s lead and offered a smaller selection of extensions.

Apple and Google constantly push each other to adopt features that people want. We see this happen all the time. Currently, Apple is making a big push into privacy features, which is causing Google to take it more seriously. Will extensions in Safari on iOS 15 finally cause Google to bring them to Chrome on Android? We can only hope.

RELATED: What Is a Browser Extension?