iOS 17.4 Released With Support For App Stores In The EU
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 06 March 2024

I have written about Apple's approach to complying with regulation, characterizing it as malicious compliance. It also seems that Apple is a master of creating the unintended consequence and letting it enemies, i.e. the regulators, suffer as a result.

Apple has long used the excuse that programmers could create web apps, PWAs, if they wanted to avoid the App Store charges, thus proving that the App Store is not a monopoly.  Now in the EU Home Screen Web apps will no longer be supported:

"The iOS system has traditionally provided support for Home Screen web apps by building directly on WebKit and its security architecture. That integration means Home Screen web apps are managed to align with the security and privacy model for native apps on iOS, including isolation of storage and enforcement of system prompts to access privacy impacting capabilities on a per-site basis."

The action seems to be a direct response to the instruction from the EU to allow third party browsers. The argument is that these browsers cannot be as secure as WebKit . But of course they could be if Apple made the APIs needed for the job. With iOS 17.4 PWA apps will no longer open without browser chrome, but will open directly into a browser thus revealing that they are just packaged websites.


Tim Sweeney CEO of Epic Games, responsible for the legal action in the US against the Apple monopoly, commented on X:

"I suspect Apple’s real reason for killing PWAs is the realization that competing web browsers could do a vastly better job of supporting PWAs - unlike Safari’s intentionally crippled web functionality - and turn PWAs into legit, untaxed competitors to native apps."

It has long been a complaint that Safari did a poor job of supporting PWAs, resulting in a lower uptake of the technology and more profit for the App Store.

Soon after the start of the complaints Apple seems to have relented:

UPDATE: Previously, Apple announced plans to remove the Home Screen web apps capability in the EU as part of our efforts to comply with the DMA. The need to remove the capability was informed by the complex security and privacy concerns associated with web apps to support alternative browser engines that would require building a new integration architecture that does not currently exist in iOS.

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. 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.

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.

Early March is now here and iOS 17.4 is here with Home Screen web app support and the far-too-expensive ability to use third party apps stores. There are unconfirmed reports that Apple is using the physical GPS location of the Apple ID to stop users from simply using a VPN to access app stores in the EU. There is also a note in the support document that suggests that users will lose access to the EU app stores if they move outside the EU.

Apple twists and turns to hang on to its 30% take on sales of apps which makes it product valuable to users. Without the apps in the App store the iPhone would be far less attractive and there is an argument that Apple should be paying the developers for making its product actually useful. 

Without us the iPhone would be just a phone.


More Information

Update on apps distributed in the European Union

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 06 March 2024 )