In a huge relief to developers and supporters of the open web, and under immense backlash, Apple has cancelled its plan to sabotage Web Apps!. This ends weeks of fear and uncertainty for developers and users.

We would like to say a massive thank you to the DMA team as Apple's decision is no doubt related to the investigation they had opened. But our most heartfelt thanks are to the thousands of developers who took the time to fill in our survey and sign the open letter, to show Apple that developers and businesses can't be used as pawns. We are grateful for your help and no doubt will need it again - know that your voices were heard in Brussels and Cupertino, and have made a difference.

The battle is not over, This simply returns us back to the status quo prior to Apple's plan to sabotage Web Apps for the EU. Apple’s over a decade suppression of the web in favour of the AppStore continues worldwide, and their attempt to destroy web apps in the EU is just their latest attempt. If there is to be any silver lining, it is that this has thoroughly exposed Apple’s genuine fear of a secure, open and interoperable alternative to their proprietary App Store that they can not control or tax.

How did we get here?

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) became law on 14 September 2022 and designated gatekeepers were given a 6 month grace period to comply with the regulations. Since Apple was certain to be designated this means they had almost one and half years to make the required changes.

However over the last 5 months, Apple took a different approach, one where it has continuously tried to undermine the DMA at every step, including:

On 28th of January 2024, they pulled a new trick: break all Web Apps in the EU entirely. We first noticed it in the first beta for iOS 17.4.

Initially they tried to keep it a secret. Extraordinarily there was no mention of this in their DMA compliance plan, the iOS beta notes or the Safari beta notes. Given how detailed these typically are and the magnitude of the change, it is impossible that this was an oversight. Clearly Apple was attempting to sneak this past the developers, users and regulators to provide everyone minimal time to respond.

Over the next two weeks, Apple’s silence was deafening. No reply was given to a Safari/WebKit ticket, Apple developer forums, twitter discussions, and no statement was provided to the many journalists seeking comment.

After 2 weeks, in the face of steadily increasing developer and media backlash, Apple was forced to rush out this statement where they confirmed they were deliberately breaking Web Apps and that it had been planned. Astonishingly the iOS and Safari release notes have still not been updated.

We, of course, had to act. We immediately informed the DMA team and then launched a series of surveys to demonstrate how detrimental this would be to businesses and users in the EU. We had over a thousand responses in a few short days and this allowed us to hand the EU excellent information about the immediate cost of Apple breaking Web Apps.

We then worked shifts around the clock to launch our incredibly successful open letter to Tim Cook. The letter has already garnered worldwide support and has had 4264 individuals and 441 organisations sign. Signatures include two European MEPs (Karen Melchior & Patrick Breyer); a number of significant EU companies such as social media platform Mastodon; and individuals (advocating in their personal capacity) who work for SwissLife, Tchibo, W3C, Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, Vivaldi, BBC, Financial Times, ​​Red Hat, Oracle, Amazon, Wikimedia, Vercel, Netlify, Shopify, Spotify, AirBNB, Berlin University of the Arts, Open State Foundation - Netherlands, Cloudflare, Meta, Chase, Squarespace, Reddit, Atlassian, Maersk, Paypal, Salesforce, block, Adobe, ebay, Zynga, and thoughtworks; and many other developers and organisations from over 100 countries.

What happens next?

While this is a stunning victory for the web, it is just one part of a longer battle.

Since iOS’s inception Apple has essentially banned third party browsers from competing on iOS. All browsers currently on iOS are essentially re-skinned versions of Safari.

Further Apple has set a ceiling on Web App functionality by denying them access to key features they need to compete. Apple has deliberately ensured that web apps are hidden in the operating system, and have not provided the ability to show an install button as they do with native apps.

Combined with significant bugs, this has suppressed the uptake of Web Apps on mobile devices globally. Despite this, a significant number of consumers and organisations use them as a secure, open, interoperable and untaxed alternative to Apple’s and Google’s proprietary App Stores.

This has also been noted by multiple regulators world wide:

Apple generates revenue through its App Store, both by charging developers for access to the App Store and by taking a commission for payments made via Apple IAP. Apple therefore benefits from higher usage of native apps on iOS. By requiring all browsers on iOS to use the WebKit browser engine, Apple is able to exert control over the maximum functionality of all browsers on iOS and, as a consequence, hold up the development and use of web apps. This limits the competitive constraint that web apps pose on native apps, which in turn protects and benefits Apple’s App Store revenues. UK CMA - Interim Report into Mobile Ecosystems
(emphasis added)

The code of conduct for mobile OS services could require Designated Digital Platforms to allow third-party browser engines to be used on their mobile OS. This could allow third-party providers of browsers and web apps to compete on their merits. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

Mandatory use of WebKit and reluctance to support web apps in browsers (Apple) Third-party browsers are forced to provide services based on WebKit, which lacks support for web apps, and competition through ingenuity among browsers may be impeded. Japan’s Headquarters for Digital Market Competition

The reason the DMA states to open up browser engine competition (and iOS is the only major consumer operating system that bans competing engines) was to prevent gatekeepers from stopping third party browsers using their own engines to bring features to “web software applications”. This is stated in the act itself:

When gatekeepers operate and impose web browser engines, they are in a position to determine the functionality and standards that will apply not only to their own web browsers, but also to competing web browsers and, in turn, to web software applications. Digital Markets Act
(emphasis added)

The fight is not over and will not be over until Apple allows both browsers and web apps to compete fairly on all their platforms globally. OWA will continue to work with both the EU Commision and regulators worldwide.

In particular readers should look out for:

We couldn’t do this without you!

The enormous impact we’ve had over the last few weeks could not have been achieved without your support! Thank you to everyone who submitted a response to a survey, signed the letter or shared our calls to action on social media. We couldn’t have done this without you.

Behind the scenes, a small team of dedicated volunteers have worked almost non-stop for the past month to build and launch our surveys, open letters, social media campaigns, translate content, provide technical advice and write multiple lengthy regulatory submissions.

We’d like to personally thank, John Ozbay, Jasper Van den Ende, Lukasz Olejnik, Bruce Lawson, Runos, Mysk, and Stuart Langridge for their support and we’d like to especially thank the open letter team, for putting in near full-time hours to keep the letter up and running 24/7, namely, Art Müller, Steven Beshensky, Jasper Van den Ende, Nick Chomey, Roderick Gadellaa and Angela Ricci. We’d like to say thank you to so many people at different organisations, who also fought hard on our side.

OWA is incredibly grateful for your time and dedication and the web will be forever in your debt.

We’d also like to thank everyone who has donated time or money, and all of our friends, family and colleagues who have allowed us the space and time to dedicate ourselves to this work in this extremely high-pressure moment. Thank you. ❤️

How can you help?

OWA has so much more work to do advocating for the web all over the globe. We will always need your support, and you can do that in many ways: