Why has Apple killed Web Apps in Europe?

Once the only way to get your app on iPhone, Steve Jobs "sweet solution" is now officially dead in Europe as Apple gets heavy handed following the EU's digital markets act

Why has Apple killed Web Apps in Europe?

Apple has confirmed in its upcoming iOS 17.4 release that it will no longer support home screen Web Apps, or Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) in EU member states.

The move comes as a retaliation to the EU enforcing its Digital Markets Act, forcing Apple to open up iOS in the region to alternative app stores, giving developers and publishers more access to the platform and more powers to put what they want on board.

Complying with the DMA plus allowing the continuing support of so-called Web Apps - apps that use Safari's webkit to behave like apps - has proven a step too far for Apple, requiring too much work and policing and representing a significant security risk.

Apple state that web apps are constructed "directly on WebKit" - the same engine utilized by Safari - thereby enabling web apps to "adhere to the security and privacy model for native apps on iOS." Now, with the advent of the DMA and the opening of iOS such a 'way in' represents too much of a threat to security.

The only and best option - they claim - is to remove support for Web Apps. i.e. If you want the DMA, sure, you can have it, but this is the price European developers, publishers and consumers must pay in return.

What even are Web Apps?

Web Apps came to be way back in early iPhone history, before the invention of Apple's App Store. Famously resistant to there even being an App Store (and anyone other than Apple being able to put apps onto his new iPhone) Web Apps were the compromise that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs allowed following the rapid uptake of the device and demands from the world's development community. He famously called the half-step workaround a "sweet solution" to the problem.

Web Apps would run on Safari, appearing like apps, but essentially being shortcuts to webpages… But soon Jobs and co bowed to pressure and opened the Apple App Store allowing 'proper' apps on board and subsequently earning them billions in the process. Now that's a sweet solution…

Now with the DMA and Apple being forced to make Europe-specific changes to iOS having such a conduit to iOS alongside the pre-existence of Web Apps is a loophole too far, and with the greater access to iOS being bound by law, Apple's only option for a quiet and (relatively) safe life for Apple users (who expect grade-A security 24/7) is to axe Web Apps. Just to be on the safe side.

According to the iPhone maker adhering to the DMA by enabling homescreen apps would require “an entirely new integration architecture," which is deemed impractical considering the other changes it has already made and that “malicious web apps could read data from other web apps and recapture their permissions to gain access to a user’s camera, microphone or location without a user’s consent.”

Apple went on to argue that browsers could install Web Apps without the user's awareness and that as such, the inclusion of alternative browser engines in the EU (as part of the DMA) now poses a security risk,

Does any of this matter?

Axing the provision of Web Apps in iOS in Europe - following the beta update to iOS 17.4 - means that developers in the region will no longer be able to design and offer a Web App version of their webpage and users with pre-existing Web Apps will see them no longer function.

Websites added to the homescreen now function solely as bookmarks, opening a new tab in the browser, rather than serving as standalone services that can potentially send notifications and display badges.

Prior to iOS 17.4, PWAs on iOS could store data independently from a user's browser session, making it a convenient way to access sites without the need for repeated sign-ins. Certain services such as Facebook Gaming, leverage Web Apps as a workaround to bypass the Apple App Store.

However, the fact is that 'genuine' apps now very much 'a thing', so it's highly likely that users and devs won't notice or care. Apple themselves cite “very low user adoption” of homescreen apps as another reason to axe support.

“We expect this change to affect a small number of users,” says Apple. “Still, we regret any impact this change - that was made as part of the work to comply with the DMA - may have on developers of home screen Web Apps and our users.”

As such Apple's Web App ban sits more as pointed prick in the EU's legal arguments rather than anything actually upsetting for developers or users.

Nontheless certain smaller devs are up in arms already. "This issue is significantly impacting our user experience and hindering our ability to deliver seamless services to our customers," wrote one developer.

Staff Writer

Isa Muhammad is a B2B writer and video games journalist with 5+ years experience covering games, interviewing industry professionals, tracking industry trends and understanding the market.