Apple makes it official: No Home Screen web apps in European Union

iBiz expresses regret for the impact of its entirely avoidable decision

Apple confirmed on Thursday it will not support Home Screen web apps – commonly referred to as Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) – on iOS devices in European Union member states under its forthcoming iOS 17.4 release.

As The Register noted last week, the second beta release of iOS 17.4 – which includes code intended to comply with the EU's Digital Markets Act (DMA) – broke PWAs in Europe. EU users should still be able to open Home Screen web apps, but within their browser window rather than as a stand-alone app, and without specific functions like Push notifications.

Apple made this change without notice to developers, despite Cupertino's repeated insistence that web apps represent an alternative to native iOS apps for those unable or unwilling to abide by its platform restrictions.

Finally, Apple has offered an apology of sorts, and has tried to soften the blow by suggesting few people actually bother installing web apps on their iOS Home Screen.

"We expect this change to affect a small number of users," the fruit cart wrote in an explanatory note covering its obligations under the DMA. "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."

This is significantly impacting our user experience

That's cold comfort for those who have been adding their voices to a WebKit bug thread about the – a PWA that no longer works under the iOS 17.4 beta in the EU.

"This issue is significantly impacting our user experience and hindering our ability to deliver seamless services to our customers," wrote one developer. "This is impacting 50K+ of our app users." Others expressed similar sentiment.

Apple did not respond to a request to quantify Home Screen web app installation on iOS – a situation of its own making as a consequence of half-hearted support for web APIs.

Despite Apple's suggestion that hardly anyone uses PWAs, some major players have invested in them. Adobe last year highlighted a dozen exemplary PWAs from orgs like Starbucks, Uber, Pinterest, Tinder, and Spotify. "PWAs provide an excellent user experience no matter what device the user is browsing on," Adobe claimed at the time.

Apple's rationale for dropping PWA support is that it would take a lot of work to comply with European regulations. That said, Apple could have started the process back in November 2022 when the DMA took effect – or when Apple was designated as a gatekeeper last September.

Home Screen apps under iOS depend upon WebKit and its security architecture. The DMA requirement for support of alternative browser engines would require decoupling that integration and creating code that lets Home Screen apps interact securely with multiple 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," explained Apple, the second most valuable company in the world by market capitalization.

"And so, to comply with the DMA's requirements, we had to remove the Home Screen web apps feature in the EU."

PWAs are considered to be more than just web apps because they provide functions normally associated with native platform apps – like file system access, NFC and offline support, and home screen installation on mobile and desktop devices.

Depriving them of Home Screen installation – which allows them to run in their own window rather than within a browser pane – and other lost functions degrades the user experience and makes them less capable of competing with native apps. Incidentally, native apps generated $1.1 trillion in App Store revenue in 2022.


Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, which challenged Apple's platform-based self-preferencing in court with only limited success, condemned the iGiant's decision.

"More bad faith compliance and lies from Apple, this time falsely claiming that Safari is the only trustworthy web browser – in order to kill web apps, which they touted in Epic v Apple as a viable substitute to native apps," he posted. "Shame on this once great and now greatly diminished company."

Maximiliano Firtman, a web developer who works on PWAs, added, "The technical reasons behind the decision published in the document are childish and it contains many lies."

The changes Apple is planning, he said, mean that in the EU, Apple will delete user data associated with PWAs without notice, and that Web Push notifications will stop working, among other consequences.

"Safari on iOS 17.4 is reverting web app functionality to what was available with iPhone OS 2.0, 16 years ago," he warned.

Safe and secure apps that Apple can't tax, block, or control [are] terrifying to them

The Open Web Advocacy, an organization of web developers, agrees.

"It's telling that this is the feature that Apple refused to share. And it makes sense, the idea that users could install safe and secure apps that Apple can't tax, block, or control is terrifying to them," it notes.

"Even Apple admits their sandbox is, to quote them, orders of magnitude more secure than that of native apps. They tried claiming to the UK regulator that Safari was more secure than other major browsers but decisively lost that argument. So this is their new tactic. Kill off a competitor while saying the EU made them do it.

"Apple has had 15 years to allow third party browsers the ability to compete in web app functionality and nearly two since they knew they would be legally compelled to do so. Clearly the backlash has caught them off guard and that's why they had to rush out this panicked response, the only significant update they have made to their compliance proposal." ®

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