< Back to articles

iOS 17.4 changes for PWAs

Daniel RidzoňDaniel Ridzoň
March 18, 2024

Update notice

Please note that the following blog was written based on the initial announcement from Apple, stating that PWAs would no longer function within the EU. However, following numerous requests opposing this change, Apple has revised its statement, and PWAs will continue to work within the EU. Therefore, consider this blog more as an informative source about PWAs and their comparison to native iOS apps.

Recently, iOS developers have voiced significant backlash over Apple's implementation of changes affecting how PWAs will stop functioning in the EU on iOS devices in the upcoming versions of iOS (iOS 17.4+).

In the following text, I will briefly explain what PWAs even are, what are their benefits and their limitations, what is the reason for the upcoming changes and what will be their consequences.

What is PWA?

Progressive Web Applications are cross-platform applications that operate within a web browser's framework. Typically, they are developed using standard web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. PWAs can be installed and accessed as standalone apps on various platforms, including mobile and desktop, by visiting their respective websites in a browser. Despite being web-based, PWAs offer offline functionality as they are cached locally on the user's device.

Apple introduced the first version of PWA already in the year 2008 with the iOS 2.0 update. Later they made further improvements to the PWAs so they could behave almost like native apps – for example in the year 2022 they added support for push notifications.

Benefits & Limitations of PWAs

Although PWAs do not offer all the capabilities that can be used inside native applications, they offer many benefits over the native apps:

Simplified installation

  • Users don’t have to be redirected twice during installation. They can install the PWA directly from the website, while native apps must be installed from the platform app store.
  • Fewer steps required for installing the app result in a greater conversion ratio.
  • For example, average time spent on Pinterest went up by 40 %, revenue by 44 % and engagements by 60 % (compared to the previous mobile web). [1]

Easier delivery of updates

  • PWAs are not bound to the platform store policies. Unlike the native apps, where each update needs to go through a review process to check if the app complies with the platform policies, PWAs can be delivered instantly without waiting for the intermediary approval.

Decentralized distribution

  • Centralized distribution creates a single point of failure.

  • When the app is distributed through the native app store, you are not in control of the availability of the app. The platform might take it down for many possible reasons. For example:

  • In 2020, Fortnite was removed from the App Store because developers tried to use a third-party payment system to avoid a 30 % cut, which Apple takes from in-app transactions.

  • In 2021 a social network app Parler was removed from the App Store as Apple was concerned about moderation issues.

  • In 2018 the blockchain wallet MetaMask was removed from Google Play as it allowed users to mine crypto on the device.

This is a significant advantage for Web 3 apps, as decentralized distribution aligns with one of the core concepts of Web 3.

Avoiding platform app store policies

As already mentioned PWAs do not need to comply with app store policies. Here are some policies that might be a reason for avoiding using the native app distribution:

  • Minimum functionality – App shouldn’t be just a repackaged website.
  • Content moderation – If the app shows content generated by users, it needs to be moderated (for example providing methods for reporting inappropriate content).
  • Cryptocurrency mining – Apps cannot be used for mining cryptocurrencies unless the computing is performed elsewhere (you can use the app only for a remote start of mining on a server).

Smaller fees

  • PWAs do not need to comply with the store's strict rules forcing developers to use official in-app payment systems, which take up to 30 % cut from the provided digital content. They can offer alternative payment solutions (for example Stripe’s cut is only 2,9 % and 30 cents from each transaction)
  • Even though buying NFTs is not against the App Store rules, you are still forced to use the official payment system with the 30 % cut. Therefore many Web3 apps do not offer their full functionality on the native apps. For example you can buy NFTs only on OpenSea PWA, whereas the native app is just an online catalog of the offered content.

What will change?

In short, starting with iOS version 17.4 PWAs in the EU will lose most of their features, they will become just dummy links on a home screen which redirects the user to the website. Although Apple says [2] that it will have a minimal impact on their functionalities and it will affect only a small number of users, that might not be the case, as many businesses rely on their functionality.

Why the change?

Starting in March 2024 EU’s new legislation of Digital Markets Act (DMA) [3] will become active. DMA sets rules for large digital platforms, which should create a fairer and more contestable environment inside of them. For example, Apple will introduce into the iOS: support for alternative marketplaces, alternative browser engines (browser won't be required to be based on the WebKit), alternative contactless payment applications and many others.

Even though there are also many caveats with the changes mentioned above (such as notarization of third-party apps and core technology fees) let's focus on the implications for PWAs. According to Apple [4], they are discontinuing support for PWAs in the EU due to concerns about security. They argue that allowing other web engines to install PWAs on the device would compromise security, as Apple would not have control over the architecture's security. Apple's response to the DMA legislation appears to align with compliance, but they are strategically undermining efforts where possible.

What will be the consequences?

In many cases, where PWAs are used just to streamline the user experience and optimize application revenue, businesses will need to rewrite the application to the native version and distribute it through the official App Store (or alternate store). This might cost them a lot of extra time and money, which they have already invested in the R&D of PWAs.

It will be even worse for apps that use PWAs, as their functionalities won’t allow them to be published in the App Store. Great examples of these applications are most cryptocurrency apps and Web 3 apps in general.

So what should I do? Either you will have to implement the native app for iOS, or you will have to keep using the PWA in the new less functional state. Either way, we’re ready to help.

Daniel Ridzoň
Daniel Ridzoň
iOS developerBesides iOS development and studying at FIT CTU, Dan enjoys photo and video creation, drone flying, AR/VR app development and sports.

Are you interested in working together? Let’s discuss it in person!

Get in touch >