iOS 17.4 beta just broke iPhone web apps — but only in the EU

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(Image credit: Shutterstock)

iPhone’s Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are a great feature to have, since it lets web pages run almost like native iOS apps — which can be a crucial lifeline for services that aren’t App Store-approved. Unfortunately it seems as though Apple may have just limited this feature, but only in the EU.

First spotted by Open Web Advocacy, the newly released iOS 17.4 beta 2 seems to have put web apps at a major disadvantage in the EU. The new software seems to prevent web apps from opening in a full-screen window, limiting them to a tab in the Safari browser. 

Tapping a web app icon means users in the EU are asked if they want to open it in Safari, and after confirming they’re told the web app will “open in your default browser from now on”. The new window has no dedicated windowing, long-term local storage or even notifications. Essentially it’s just a shortcut to a bookmarked webpage.

While this can be a useful thing to have, it’s not what iPhone web apps are actually supposed to do. 

It’s not entirely clear what’s happening here. The fact only the EU seems to be affected suggests this problem is related to changes Apple is implementing because of the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The new legislation has forced Apple to open iOS to third party app stores, with the relevant changes arriving as part of iOS 17.4.

Since Apple doesn’t really want to support third party app stores, these DMA-required features are geo-locked to iPhones owned and registered within the EU. It’s possible that the changes made to support third party app stores, and DMA features like open NFC payments, have somehow broken the web app functionality. 

That would explain why there haven’t been reports of this happening elsewhere, and also a good example of why software goes through beta testing in the first place. Sometimes software changes can make old features break, and there’s no way of predicting that until large numbers of people start using the software.

Apple hasn’t commented on the issue yet, but here’s hoping that the problem gets fixed. Considering some services, including game streaming platforms like Xbox Game Pass, are still totally reliant on iPhone web apps to operate. Since the public version of iOS 17.4 has to be released by March 7, in accordance with DMA rules, Apple better hustle and get the problem sorted out.

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