Apple Now Says Never Mind, Progressive Web Apps Will Continue to Work in WebKit in the E.U.

Two weeks ago, Apple confirmed it would roll back the capabilities of Progressive Web Apps in the E.U. to the days of iPhone home screen bookmarks. It said it would need to do this to comply with the Digital Markets Act, implying it interpreted alternative browser requirements to apply equally to web apps:

[…] 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. And so, to comply with the DMA’s requirements, we had to remove the Home Screen web apps feature in the EU.

However, in an update to that page, Apple is now undoing this regression, as noted by Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

With today’s announcement, Apple has reversed course and said that Home Screen web apps will continue to exist as they did pre-iOS 17.4 in the European Union. “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,” Apple explains today.

This means that all Home Screen web apps will still be powered by WebKit, regardless of whether the web app is added using Safari or not – exactly as it works today and has for years.

Apple is framing this as a decision it made because it is just so dang nice — “[w]e 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”. If this is true, that means its earlier statement must have been wrong — there was no legal rationale for web app regressions, only a preference.

A more likely explanation is that the DMA is complicated and Apple is still figuring out what changes it mandates in iOS. This is a big package of legislation that needs interpretation. Apple’s lawyers now seem to think PWAs can still be WebKit-only. Whether regulators will agree is something we will find out when iOS 17.4 is released and, at the same time, whether Apple was correct to blame the law.

Update: Michael Acton, Financial Times:

The European Commission welcomed Apple’s announcement, saying that it had “directly or indirectly” received more than 500 complaints about the company’s original plan.

“Contrary to Apple’s public representation, the removal of Home Screen Web Apps on iOS in the EU was neither required, nor justified, under the Digital Markets Act,” a commission spokesperson added.

A version of this entire debacle which is fair to Apple is that it misunderstood its obligations, and would never have degraded PWAs in the E.U. if not for its too-careful interpretation of the law. But it does not get to take credit for undoing its mistake.