Why Apple is blocking the future of apps

The path of app development leads to Progressive Web Applications — with Apple blocking the way.

What is a Progressive Web App (PWA) you say? It’s a set of new technologies (mostly Service Workers, App Shell) that allow a website to behave a lot like a native app. It allows a website to be used offline, send push notifications, install on your home screen among other things.

The technology is available right now on Chrome, Firefox, Android browser and even Opera has some support. It’s not available on any flavour of Safari or 3rd party browser on iOS. Microsoft’s Edge’s support is under development, Safari is only under consideration, in a 5 year plan.

Why is that?

Apple have a lot to lose. Web apps don’t require an App Store, which hurts Apple in multiple ways:

  • Developers don’t need to pay to submit an app. This doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but $100/yr * number of apps is pretty big.
  • Apple won’t receive a cut of app and in-app purchases. This is a much bigger deal, and is growing.
  • Apple won’t control the discoverability of apps and any promotion fees that go with it. Who will? The most popular search engine of the day (Google).
  • The same web app will work across any device, evening out the app playing field. iPhone will no longer be the first and sometimes only supported device for new apps.

The technology is available and is really useful. I’ve come across many situations where the main reason for creating a native app over a web app is offline use. Being able to instantly run an app from a search results page (no download, approve to install, install, open, upgrade) is huge improvement. App discoverability at the moment is horrible, and weighted to the big players.

How long can Apple hold out? What can make them come into line?

Apple have a track record of not succumbing to outside pressures — e.g. removing the headphone jack, removing floppy disks and then cd/dvd, not allowing the Adobe Flash player. Maybe if enough developers and companies create “killa” PWA’s, and the iPhone community protest, or start buying Pixel phones, Apple will come along for the ride.

Some links for further reading