Apple backtracks on plans to get rid of web apps on iPhones in the EU

They’ll return in the final version of iOS 17.4, expected early this month.

REUTERS / Reuters

Apple has walked back its decision to remove home screen web apps in the European Union (EU). After initially blaming its decision to ditch them on the Digital Markets Act’s (DMA) requirement to support non-WebKit browsers, Apple now says European users will return to enjoying the same web app experience from before when iOS 17.4 arrives early this month.

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

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

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

The Open Web Advocacy organization chimed in quickly to criticize Apple’s now-reversed move. “Apple has had 15 years to facilitate true browser competition worldwide, and nearly two years since the DMA’s final text,” the organization wrote in February. “It could have used that time to share functionality it historically self-preferenced to Safari with other browsers. Inaction and silence speaks volumes.”

The EU didn’t sound much happier about the web app removal. European Commission officials said in late February they were probing Apple’s decision in what sounded like the build-up to a formal investigation. The Financial Times reported that regulators sent developers questions about the impact of Apple’s PWA removal.

Whatever may have happened between then and now to change Apple’s mind, it’s remaining tight-lipped. Instead, the company is framing its reversal as a simple response to “requests” it received to continue offering home screen web apps. Perhaps EU officials assured the iPhone maker the company wouldn’t need to support PWAs from other browser engines, or maybe the company merely wanted to head off a formal probe (and the bad PR it could generate). Regardless, only European iOS 17.4 beta users are without web apps, and they’ll have them back once the software’s final version arrives.