Good news: iOS 17.4 won’t end web apps on iPhone in the EU

For a while it seemed that Apple would put an end to installing web apps on an iPhone in the EU from iOS 17.4, but fortunately that is no longer the case. Apple is came back on their previous decision. It is not yet clear whether this is due to all the criticism.

Since iOS 16.4 it has been possible to install web apps on your iPhone. Apple previously no longer wanted to allow this in the EU because, according to them, the new rules meant that they could no longer safely offer web apps. Fortunately, this is now gone.

No change for web apps (new)

When Apple announced that it would no longer support web apps in the EU, the company received a lot of criticism. It seemed that Apple was deliberately thwarting web apps through the new regulations regarding the offering of alternative app stores. There were also reports that the decision was taken by the EU to research. It is still unclear whether these are the reasons why web apps will now be available.

Below you can read the original message, in which Apple indicated that it could no longer support web apps in the EU for security reasons. So it doesn’t seem to be such a problem anymore, which is striking.

— Original message —

Web apps in short

Web apps are apps that can be accessed via a web browser. Unlike traditional iOS apps, web apps are not installed on the user’s device. This means they are not dependent on the operating system they are running on. Instead, web apps are hosted on a server and accessed over the Internet.

Web apps can range from simple pages of information to complex apps with advanced functionality, such as social networking, online games, and business applications. In addition, web apps can also send push notifications, save settings locally and be displayed in full screen, just like a mobile app.

End for web apps in the EU

In March 2024 the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in. This European law states that “gatekeeper” companies must open their services and platforms to other companies and developers. As a result, a lot of changes take place on the iPhone. This way you will soon be able to install apps outside the App Store via Sideloading, but also use alternative browser engines. This latest change brings an end to iPhone web apps in the EU.

Alternative browser engines

With the new law, the European Union obliges Apple to allow alternative browser engines. Currently, all browsers, including Chrome, Firefox and Opera, use Apple’s own WebKit. You can see this as the underlying engine that makes a web browser possible. This is actually the same as Safari and developers can use it with their own ‘theme’.

As of iOS 17.4, this is a thing of the past and developers in the EU can use their own engine. Unfortunately, this means that Apple can no longer support Progressive Web Apps (PWA) in the EU.

Place web apps on the home screen

Security at risk

When a website offers a web app, it must comply with strict security measures that also apply to regular apps. For example, a web app may only use its own piece of storage space on the iPhone and store data locally. They do not have access to data from other apps and can only use parts when permission has been given.

All these security measures are incorporated in WebKit. Because other browser engines must now also be allowed, security can no longer be guaranteed. This is because rogue web apps can bypass Apple’s security measures by using a different engine. These web apps can even be installed unnoticed and use data from other apps and components without the user realizing this. This is partly because web apps are allowed to work in the background, something a website in Safari cannot.

New system needed

To ensure that no rogue web apps can be installed, Apple must build a completely new system for Progressive Web Apps. This not only takes time, but according to Apple it is not possible because they have to meet all kinds of requirements according to the new EU rules. In addition, web apps are not yet widely offered by websites and developers and support is low. For these reasons Apple decided to drop support for web apps in Europe.

What now?

Do you happen to use web apps on your iPhone? Then, from iOS 17.4 onwards, these will no longer be opened in full screen, but in a web browser. This could be Safari, or another browser that you have installed as your default web browser. Features such as push notifications, remembering certain settings or progress are restricted and will no longer work.

Web apps still available on iPad

Web apps will continue to be available on the iPad, because EU legislation only applies to large-scale devices and services. The EU has determined that the iPhone is seen as a ‘Gatekeeper’, but the iPad is not. That’s why PWAs remain available on the iPad and, for example, sideloading is only available on the iPhone and not on the iPad.

Mandatory in the EU

Unfortunately, Apple does not offer the option to ‘ignore’ EU law. Apple must make all these adjustments, even if the user does not want it. Although application sideloading offers more flexibility when installing apps, it is important to be careful as it can come with risks such as installing malicious software.

Users should always carefully check that the source of the app is trustworthy and that the app is requesting the correct permissions. This allows you, for example, to install fake bank applications to commit fraud. This is one of the reasons why Apple did not allow sideloading for years. Apple cannot eliminate those risks, but within the limitations of the DMA, the company will take steps to reduce them.

Manage and delete iMessage apps in Messages for iPhone and iPad

Unfortunately, the changes are mandatory and as a user you cannot choose to leave it at the ‘old’, so that, for example, you can only install App Store apps and use web apps, just like outside the EU. The only thing you can do is not update to iOS 17.4 or newer, but that’s not really an option. A switch that would undo the changes would have been interesting, but the EU is not allowed to do that.

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