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mHealth's upcoming dilemma: Apple stops UIWebView support

person looking at graphs

figure listing the impact on mHealth apps

A brief background

As per the latest announcement, Apple App Store will not accept new applications using UIWebView after April 2020 and will stop supporting existing apps from December 2020.

This majorly impacts all the hybrid applications developed using Ionic and Cordova framework as they use UIWebView during compilation to run native code.

What does this announcement mean for healthcare organizations?

Healthcare organizations often employ mHealth applications for patient collaboration, care management, regulatory compliance management, and similar operations. As always, the cost of a potential failure of such an application is very high in the healthcare context and needs to be prevented at the earliest.

Any mHealth applications using Cordova / Ionic framework should be updated before Dec 2020 to avoid issues/failures on iOS devices with version iOS 12 & above.

If your organization uses any such mHealth application, it necessitates an urgent need to change the underlying technology to ensure long term utilization of the application.

Enterprises need an approach that will implement changes and migrate to new APIs without comprising & affecting several users using the current version of app. It also needs to ensure backward compatibility, safeguard local data saved on the user’s device, confirm platform support, and finally successfully execute current automation test cases, security & performance of the app.

What are the likely problems you will encounter?

    • Apple will reject the app if an update is submitted without removing references to UIWebView
    • Users with version iOS 12 and above will not be able to use the app smoothly without an updated version
    • Major functionalities like authentication, session & local storage, native file paths, etc. will start breaking if the app is not updated
    • Users will not be able to use features provided by new API: WKWebView

Planning for the next steps

It is apparent that any mHealth application using UIWebView is ‘living on borrowed time’. Diligent business leaders need to plan for the next steps and transition to a long-term solution.

    • When to start the transition: Multiple factors like application size, number of users, how old the application is, last updated version, number of Cordova plugins used, etc. define the transition time. Also, other aspects like app approval on the store, changes in current production code, security testing, performance testing have to be considered before the update is submitted to the App store. Given the fact that the deadline is Dec 2020, updates need to be started sooner to avoid any impact on the current user base of the application
    • Issues with quick fixes: Many approaches and quick fixes have been discussed with regards to fixing UIWebView issues, but most of them are temporary fixes and do not guarantee app rejection by Apple. There have been instances where replacing UIWebView with new APIs have impacted many core features like oAuth, local storage using session cookies, native file paths, CORS implementation, etc.
    • What technology to choose while updating apps: Updating apps needs to be thought through and requires an approach that performs a successful assessment before implementing changes. Assessment should include evaluation of the impact of deprecations on the current version, platform compatibility, identifies possible risks/constraints, security, performance & plan to release an updated version, etc.

Instead, these are the questions that need to be pondered upon:

    • What approach is a good fit for the existing application?
    • What’s easier and yet scalable to adapt to?
    • What helps in long term advantages -scalability, security, performance, well-documented, etc.?

Final Thoughts

Deprecation issues need to be handled and manage without neglecting the stability and performance of the mHealth amHealth-impactpp & without affecting the current user base.

CitiusTech Mobile team has the expertise & has a well-defined approach for fixing the issues caused due to deprecations in a time frame of 3 to 6 months based on the effort required to make changes on current functionalities. To know more about our healthcare-specific mobile health practice visit here.


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