Apple Starts Disabling Web Applications on iPhones in Europe, Citing Security Reasons

In a significant move, Apple has commenced the withdrawal of support for Progressive Web Apps (PWA) on iPhones owned by users in the European Union. The apps have ceased functioning in the region on all beta versions of iOS 17.4, with Apple confirming that this is an intentional move. With the release of the stable version of iOS 17.4, all EU users will lose application support.

In its developer section, Apple has stated that it has disabled ‘Home Screen web apps’ for EU users. Adjusting to the ‘Digital Markets Act’ (DMA) standards would require a ‘completely new integration architecture’, which Apple found ‘impractical’ given all the new introductions in the region. A provision of DMA requires Apple to open its platform to alternative browser engines.

PWAs operate ‘directly on WebKit’, Safari’s engine that allows the apps ‘to comply with the security and privacy model of native iOS applications’. However, once upgraded to iOS 17.4, websites already added to the main screen will convert into shortcuts that open a new tab in the browser instead of stand-alone services with push notification support. This feature, introduced by Apple only the previous year, will be lost.

Progressive web apps allow for data storage separate from the browser, providing quick access to specific sites without continuous logging in. Some services, such as Facebook Gaming, use the web application format to bypass Apple App Store and its commission fees. However, with the advent of alternative browser engines on iOS in the EU, this format—to Apple, started posing security threats: ‘malicious web applications could read data from other web apps, intercept their permissions to access the camera, microphone, or user’s location without their consent’. Apple also highlighted that browsers could install web apps without user consent, a functionality that has been present on Android for many years.

Apple concludes, ‘While we expect this change to affect a small number of users, we regret any impact this change, made in the course of ensuring DMA compliance, may have on home screen web app developers and our users’. In addition to ensuring compliance, the ‘very low popularity’ of this feature was cited as another reason for disabling support.

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