Apple backtracks on killing iPhone web apps in the EU


iPhone web apps: Xbox Cloud Gaming and Amazon Luna
iPhone web apps are not about to break in the EU after all.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Apple changed course and is not disabling iPhone web apps in the European Union. The method for turning websites into applications will not disappear with the release is iOS 17.4 after all.

The flip-flop is just a small aspect of big changes coming to iOS because of EU legislation.

iPhone web apps are alive and well

Developers can create websites that are intended to act as iPhone apps. While almost unknown now, Steve Jobs’ original plan for iPhone was that it would only support web apps, with no native third-party applications allowed. But a strategy change brought the hugely successful App Store instead.

And than Apple announced in February that it would disable web apps in Europe as a result of the EU’s Digital Markets Act requirement that iOS support alternative browser engines. Web apps had been built for Apple’s own WebKit browser engine, and the company said that “complex security and privacy concerns” meant that modifying these to run on rival engines “was not practical to undertake.”

On Friday though, the company reversed course and said “we will continue to offer the existing Home Screen web apps capability in the EU.”

However, links will not make use of alternative browser engines. An iPhone web app will continue to open with WebKit, which means they will “align with the security and privacy model for native apps on iOS,” according to the iPhone-maker.

iPhone web apps made headlines in February when the plan to stop support for them in the EU with iOS 17.4 was made public. That’s apparently the most attention they’ve drawn in years, as one of the reasons Apple gave for phasing them out was “very low user adoption of Home Screen web apps.”

The Europe’s Digital Markets Act will still bring other groundbreaking changes to iPhone with the release of iOS 17.4. Residents of the EU will get iPhone app sideloading and alternative app stores. The update expected next week also ushers in wider access for tap-to-pay payment systems.

Apple’s full statement

A Friday update to Apple’s developer site spells out the company’s newly changed plan:

“Previously, Apple announced plans to remove the Home Screen web apps capability in the EU as part of our efforts to comply with the DMA. The need to remove the capability was informed by the complex security and privacy concerns associated with web apps to support alternative browser engines that would require building a new integration architecture that does not currently exist in iOS.

“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. 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.

“Developers and users who may have been impacted by the removal of Home Screen web apps in the beta release of iOS in the EU can expect the return of the existing functionality for Home Screen web apps with the availability of iOS 17.4 in early March.”


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