Apple Reverses Course Over EU Ban On Web Apps

Apple Store, Beijing, China. Image credit: Unsplash

Apple to allow iOS web apps in EU after previously planning to disable them as Digital Markets Act ‘compliance’ measure

Apple has reversed course on plans to disable web apps on its iOS architecture, a decision it had blamed on the EU’s incoming Digital Markets Act rules.

The shift is part of Apple’s ongoing manoeuvres with EU regulators over the DMA, which Apple has criticised.

Web apps allow a web page to function in a way similar to an app, launching from the home screen, running full-screen and being able to send push notifications and store data.

Such apps bypass Apple’s App Store and are thus able to circumvent its commission charges, but have limited functionality.

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Image credit: Unsplash

New rules

Apple largely disabled web apps in a test version of the upcoming iOS 17.4 release for EU users, turning them into a simple home screen shortcut that opened a page in the Safari browser, a move that raised protests from developers and came under scrutiny from European Commission regulators.

The company said its move was necessary to comply with the DMA, arguing that the new regulations would require web apps to be able to use engines other than Apple’s own WebKit and that this would introduce security risks that were not permitted under the new law.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

“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,” the firm said.

‘Security and privacy concerns’

However, it said “existing” apps would continue to work and would “continue to be built directly on WebKit and its security architecture”, indicating it is not planning to allow the use of alternative browser engines.

Alternative browser engines would introduce “complex security and privacy concerns”, the company said.

The EC said it had “directly or indirectly” received more than 500 complaints about Apple’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,” the Commission said.

Developer protests

Companies have a 7 March deadline for making changes to comply with the DMA.

Non-profit group Open Web Advocacy organised an open letter to Apple chief executive Tim Cook protesting the original plan, which by Friday had received nearly 5,000 signatures.

Apple announced new developer terms in January to comply with the DMA, but a competition lawyer said the terms showed “disdain” for regulators.

“Apple is not seriously complying with the DMA,” wrote Damien Geradin, a professor of law at Tilburg University and visiting professor at University College London, in an analysis, and suggested the Commission would be forced to take legal action against Apple.