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Apple looks to be killing web app capabilities. A new EU law might be why.

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Yet another headache is in store for iPhone app developers, courtesy of Apple.

Over the past few weeks, reports have spread of the iOS 17.4 beta 2 removing progressive web apps (PWAs) and the ability for those web apps to send push notifications much like mobile apps.

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An example of a popular PWA is the Starbucks web app, which works like an app across all mobile platforms, can be saved to the desktop, and allows users to place orders and receive special offers as push notifications, all without requiring the user to download an app.

Up until iOS 17.4 beta 2, iPhones allowed users to save specific websites on their iPhone home screen in this way, and the sites could be opened as stand-alone apps. Apple first launched web app capabilities in the earliest days of the iPhone back in 2008. Showing its continued commitment to web apps, Apple announced in 2022 that web apps would be able to generate push notifications. That commitment now appears to be wavering.

Initially thought by some to just be a bug, the latest version, iOS 17.4 beta 2, includes new language when attempting to open a web app that makes it clear that there's something more in the works here.

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As 9to5Mac reports, some EU-based users are receiving a prompt when trying to open a web app under the new iOS beta that reads that web apps "will open from your default browser from now on." This obviously would defeat the whole purpose of a PWA, which the user is meant to treat like an app rather than a website. 

Furthermore, with this change, these websites lose out on web app capabilities like push notifications, a feature that was only recently launched on iOS. In addition, data stored in PWAs are being wiped as the web app no longer opens and pushes users to the web browser.

However, some app developers are finding that the situation isn't so straightforward. Developers who spoke to AppleInsider claimed that some PWAs work, although capabilities like push notifications were no longer available.

What's Apple doing?

The majority of developers reporting these web app changes in iOS 17.4 beta 2 are based in the European Union. That's likely because Apple's decision here coincides with the EU's new Digital Markets Act (DMA).

As part of the DMA, Apple can no longer require that web browser developers use Apple's WebKit. Since these web apps are all based on these policies, requiring Safari and WebKit, these could be temporary changes in order to comply with the DMA. After all, this is a beta version of iOS.

But that may not be the case either. Apple was accused of "malicious compliance" just a few weeks ago regarding its changing of certain rules due to the DMA.

The DMA legislation is meant in part to be a consumer-protection law, encouraging competition by forcing Apple to allow developers to distribute their apps through alternative marketplaces, and circumventing Apple's stringent App Store terms and the company's revenue share model. When Apple rolled out a set of new App Store policies in the EU, they were roundly criticized in the industry by the leaders of companies like Meta, Spotify, Xbox, and Epic Games as an attempt to profit off the DMA-required changes — creating paths for developers that make alternative marketplaces cost more than if they just abided by Apple's App Store guidelines.

Apple could now face similar accusations over this web app issue — namely that it's weaponizing its former WebKit requirement as a way to make developers feel punished by the new EU laws.

Apple has yet to comment on the web app situation in iOS 17.4 beta 2, so as of now it's unclear what the future holds for PWAs and website push notifications on iPhone. We'll just have to wait and see.

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