Something's happening to progressive web apps in iOS 17.4, but they're not dead

Apple's halfhearted Web Push support has been added to iOS 16.4

Users on social media are decrying that Progressive Web Apps were killed off by Apple in iOS 17.4, but the reality is much more complex.

Under the Digital Markets Act, Apple is required to allow alternative browser engines other than WebKit in iOS for EU users, and iOS 17.4 is being updated with this in mind. Some users took to Twitter/X to decry that the changes are killing progressive web apps on the iPhone.

Other reports cast some doubt on the initial reports of doom and gloom. In short, new reports have claimed that if the Progressive Web App is configured correctly, it will run fine on iOS 17.4.

The problem first appeared in the first beta version of iOS 17.4. The second beta screen states that Progressive Web Apps will “open from your default browser.” Apple, adding a warning in the second beta, suggests that this feature will remain, but no one knows in what state at the moment.

However, the situation is changing. There are clearly changes, and it is unclear what will happen next month.

Apple and Progressive Web Apps

Apple Support for progressive web apps has never been good. Other platforms have good support for Chromium-based browsers, which will be allowed in the EU for the first time with iOS 17.4 — which probably gives rise to Apple's limitations.

Even with limited support for Safari, it appears that Apple has significantly tightened the requirements for installing and downloading progressive web apps in the EU.

In the evening we spoke with several developers from the EU. According to these developers, Progressive Web Apps are still working, but there are challenges. As long as the web app has properly configured service workers and manifests, Safari will at least still load them in a separate browser window.

On the issue side, as of February 9, 2024, many Progressive Web Apps as coded do not work correctly. In general, push notifications don't work when they are created by Progressive Web Apps. In addition, in the second beta version of iOS 17.4, the memory of previously installed applications has been cleared.

The testing process and beta development are still in the early stages. So while the EU restrictions appear to be deliberate, it is unclear whether they are at fault.

Ultimately, EU users will have to see what happens next month, as iOS 17.4 must be released by March 8 to comply with the Digital Markets Act.

The changes extend beyond the EU. Progressive web apps for iOS or iPadOS are also seeing some changes in the US, but they are not as restrictive as in the EU. Notifications still work and storage hasn't been removed in the second beta of iOS 17.4, but just like in the EU, some of the ones that worked before no longer work.

So, early in the iOS 17.4 beta process, it's unclear how this will all change when all is said and done.

“We have no choice but to wait,” one developer who spoke with us said in translation. “DMA requires [Progressive Web Apps] to run on iPhone.”

We're not convinced by the developer's claim that Apple should allow Progressive Web Apps. Under the EU Digital Markets Act, Apple must allow them to work if they work in Safari, but if they don't work in Safari, they are not required to allow them to work in any other browser.

Some beta users in the EU have not yet been affected. Others are angry.

“Apple is trying to get away with everything it can,” another developer added (also translated).

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