Apple announced it is ending support for PWAs in the EU – and reversed its decision two weeks later

Johanna Farin Sales Manager, Solita

Published 29 Feb 2024

Reading time 7 min

At the beginning of 2024, rumours started circulating in the developer community: could Apple be ending support for the increasingly popular PWAs in EU? In mid-February, Apple confirmed the move is real and a consequence of a new EU regulation – meaning we witness yet another battle between tech giants and lawmakers, with consumers and app development companies as collateral damage.  

Around two weeks later, at the beginning of March 2024, Apple withdrew its decision and announced that they will continue to support the Home Screen web apps capability in the EU after all. The new announcement came soon after the European Commission has announced its intention to launch an in-depth investigation into Apple Inc., examining whether the tech giant may be abusing its market dominance by restricting access to Progressive Web Applications (PWAs). According to Apple, they “received requests to continue to offer support for Home Screen web apps in iOS”.

Whether it was due to EU pressure on Apple, or a backlash from the software developer community, we may not know the reasons for the withdrawal. What is certain is that such a significant and surprising decision – and its reversal just weeks later – is likely to undermine trust in the tech giant.

I spoke to Solita’s developers about what these decisions mean and, more importantly, what app-developing companies should understand about the issue, and what considerations they should be making.

By reading this blog post you get an understanding of the following aspects:

  • Apple was about to kill PWAs in the EU – what is happening?
  • What exactly is a PWA and why does this matter?
  • Considerations from a Business Perspective
  • Migrating from a PWA to a native iOS

Apple was about to kill PWAs in the EU – what is happening?

In mid-February 2024, Apple confirmed on its developer support page iOS no longer supports PWAs for users in the European Union. Previously, the discontinuation of web app support has been visible in each iteration of the iOS 17.4 beta, with users experiencing persistent issues – leading to rumours of Apple breaking PWAs. Quite soon Apple confirmed that this was their intentional move. The news shocked the developer community, and the EU started planning an investigation about Apple.

Two weeks later Apple reversed its decision. On their developer support page, they stated that “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.”

According to Apple, their original decision was a consequence of a new EU regulation, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which requires companies like Apple to open their core platforms to third parties to enable competition. Apple claimed potential security risks and impracticality in implementing alternative browser engine integration for PWAs, leading to their removal.

The decision – as well as Apple’s reasoning behind it – drew criticism from developers and tech companies alike, who argue that Apple is using DMA compliance to increase control and revenue. Critics viewed Apple’s actions as undermining the intended purpose of the DMA to provide more options for consumers and developers.

What exactly is a PWA and why does this matter?

A Progressive Web App (PWA) is a type of web application that uses modern web technologies to provide a user experience like native mobile apps. PWAs used to offer features like offline functionality, push notifications, and home screen installation. In recent years, PWA technology has evolved significantly, driven by advancements in web standards, browser capabilities, and developer tools.

The reasons behind choosing PWAs are often related to cost-effectiveness and cross-platform compatibility, meaning that other than Android and iOS, users can install PWAs in e.g., iPadOS, Windows, Xbox, MacOS, and Linux.

Many well-known companies have launched PWAs, including giants like Starbucks and Pinterest, and reported significant increases in order diversity, daily active users, core engagements and ad revenue rate with PWAs.

No wonder Apple wants their slice of the revenue.

Apple’s decisions are significant for several reasons: they highlight the clash between Apple’s control over its ecosystem and regulatory efforts to promote competition. Additionally, they raise concerns about the balance between security and openness in platform policies. The decisions could also influence future regulatory actions and industry practices regarding platform governance and competition.  

“Our company has a PWA – what can we do?” – Considerations from a business perspective

From the perspective of businesses considering the development and maintenance of PWAs, the decision often hinges on whether they can absorb the so-called “Apple tax” imposed on transactions made through iOS apps. This tax, typically around 30%, can significantly impact the profitability of services offered through PWAs on Apple devices.

  • Assessing the value proposition of PWAs: If a PWA merely replicates the functionality of the mobile website without additional benefits, its creation may be questioned from the outset.
  • Financial viability and Apple’s taxation: If the revenue generated from a PWA cannot sustain the substantial deduction imposed by Apple’s tax policies, companies may consider ceasing services to Apple customers altogether. While this decision may provoke a backlash from some users, it is about prioritising long-term profitability.
  • Navigating leadership perspectives: Apple often encourages businesses to prioritise native app development, thereby reinforcing the notion of exclusivity within its ecosystem. However, the ultimate metric for decision-making remains: will the investment in app development and maintenance yield greater returns than the costs incurred?

Migrating from a PWA to a native iOS application?

If your business considerations end up supporting a native app option, the migration path from a PWA to a native iOS application needs to be planned carefully. The bad news is, that there is no obvious and easy path for porting your existing codebase to a native app. However, there are diverse options to consider; each path requiring detailed analysis. In case you need help analysing feasible options and technical details, please contact us at Solita. We will assist you.

  1. Build a native iOS app from scratch: The obvious (and often the most expensive) option is to develop a native iOS application from the ground up. While this approach offers complete control over the app’s design and functionality, it requires considerable time and resources. A total rebuild gives the option to reconsider the concept of the app and start with the most valuable features for customers.

  2. Incremental migration: Companies can also opt for an incremental migration approach, gradually transitioning features from the PWA to a native iOS app. This involves identifying core functionalities that are critical for the iOS platform and prioritising their implementation in the native app. Meanwhile, less critical features can remain in the PWA or be gradually phased out over time. This option highlights the importance of design and understanding customer needs.
  3. Utilise cross-platform development frameworks: Cross-platform development frameworks, such as React Native and Flutter, enable developers to build applications that run on multiple platforms using a single codebase. This approach can streamline the migration process by allowing developers to leverage existing code from the PWA while adapting it to native iOS requirements. While cross-platform frameworks offer efficiency and code reusability, they may not provide the same level of performance or platform-specific features as native development.
  4. Native app container: Another option is to convert the PWA into a hybrid app that combines elements of both web and native applications, allowing developers to package your existing web app using a native wrapper for distribution on the App Store. This is a feasible option, but it is good to bear in mind that Apple reviews each application and decides whether it can be published in App Store or not. Apple’s minimum requirements state e.g. that “Your app should include features, content, and UI that elevate it beyond a repackaged website.” So, you must design your application with native functionalities in mind. Depending on the implementation, hybrid apps may suffer from performance limitations and may not fully leverage native iOS capabilities. Still, native wrappers are a common solution even without the PWA transition necessity.

Not every use case requires native app functionalities. Considering your business case, keep also this option on the table: Continue to use the browser, accepting the loss of app functionality (like push notifications). The PWA support ends for app functionality, so it’s no longer like a native app – but if your business use case can handle not being a native app but running in Safari and being easily accessible from home screens – then you have easy path. 

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