Apple backs off plans to ditch iPhone web apps in EU

Apple has reversed its decision to remove web apps from the home screen in the European Union (EU). After initially blaming its decision to abandon the Digital Markets Act (DMA) requirement to support non-WebKit browsers, Apple now says that European users will return to the same web app experience from before when iOS 17.4 arrives at the beginning of this month.

“We have received requests to continue offering support for Home Screen Web Apps on iOS, so we will continue to offer the existing Home Screen Web App capability in the EU,” Apple wrote Friday in an updated developer support document. “This support means that web apps on the home screen continue to be built directly on top of WebKit and its security architecture, and align with the security and privacy model for native iOS apps.”

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) act much like native apps with features like pop-up windows, notifications, and local storage. Apple removed them for European customers in the second beta of iOS 17.4, instead asking if users want to open the website in Safari.

At the time, the company claimed that web application support could compromise security given the DMA’s requirement to support non-WebKit browser engines. “Addressing the complex security and privacy issues associated with web applications using alternative browser engines would require building an entirely new integration architecture that does not currently exist in iOS and is not practical to undertake given the other requirements of the DMA and the very low user adoption of home screen web apps,” the company wrote in February.

The Open Web Advocacy organization was quick to jump in to criticize Apple’s now-reversed move. “Apple has had 15 years to facilitate true browser competition worldwide and almost two years since the final text of the DMA,” the organization wrote in February. “It could have used that time to share functionality it historically preferred over Safari with other browsers.” Inaction and silence speak volumes.”

The EU didn’t sound much happier about the removal of web apps. employees of the European Commission said in late February, they probed Apple’s decision in what sounded like preparations for a formal investigation. Financial Times reported that regulators sent developers questions about the impact of Apple’s removal of PWAs.

Whatever happened between then and now to change Apple’s decision is being kept quiet. Instead, the company framed its cancellation as a simple response to “requests” it received to continue offering web apps for the home screen. Perhaps EU officials assured the iPhone maker that the company would not need to support PWAs from other browsers, or perhaps the company simply wanted to prevent an official investigation (and the bad PR it might generate). However, only European iOS 17.4 beta users are without web apps, and they will get them back once the final version of the software arrives.

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