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Is Apple breaking PWAs out of malicious compliance?

Update 16 Feb: Yes. Apple are indeed breaking PWAs out of malicious compliance.

As the showdown between the European Union and Your Best Friend Apple looms (27 days, according to OWA’s Digital Markets Act Countdown), it appears that Apple is intending to break PWAs in iOS 17.4 beta 2:

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are still disabled for EU users in #iOS 17.4 beta 2. But now there’s a new pop-up. The pop-up somehow indicates that PWAs are disabled intentionally, rather than being a bug

Open 'PWA Todayooo' in Safari. 'PWA Todayooo' will open in your default browser from now on.

… It will be a major blow for EU users if iOS 17.4 is released without PWA support. Many major European companies have already converted their native iOS apps into PWAs, mainly to skip the unnecessary overhead imposed by the App Store, such as app distribution and the App Review.

As Thomas Steiner reported “Newly installed apps always open in the browser. There doesn’t appear to be a standalone mode anymore”, thereby robbing PWAs of their central UI feature: the ability to open full-screen and appear identical to a Native app.

Presumably Apple doesn’t want PWAs to open in third-party browsers that have more powerful features than Safari, because those would directly compete with native apps in its own App Store. However, in the EU, it can’t privilege PWAs in Safari with its own private APIs any more. And so its solution, in its spirit of malicious compliance, seems to be “if we can’t have them, nobody can!”. This contradicts Apple’s messaging that web apps are a viable alternative to native:

If the App Store model and guidelines are not best for your app or business idea that’s okay, we provide Safari for a great web experience too.

Has Apple the Good Shepherd turned into a sheepdog in the manger? Perhaps people are reading too much into this; perhaps it’s a bug in the beta – but the appearance of the pop-up message suggests it’s by design.

Whatever it is, it demonstrates the lack of trust in the web development world that Apple even cares about doing the right thing, and only wants to make it as hard as possible for developers and their businesses to take advantage of the new freedoms under the DMA.

I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that this contravenes the DMA’s anti-circumvention articles:

The gatekeeper shall not degrade the conditions or quality of any of the core platform services provided to business users or end users who avail themselves of the rights or choices laid down in Articles 5, 6 and 7, or make the exercise of those rights or choices unduly difficult, including by offering choices to the end-user in a non-neutral manner, or by subverting end users’ or business users’ autonomy, decision-making, or free choice via the structure, design, function or manner of operation of a user interface or a part thereof.

Let’s see what the EU says.

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