Apple seems to be planning something very interesting with Safari and its support for web apps on iPhones. It is working on features that make such applications seem to work much more like native apps.
This could be good news for any application publisher looking to offer apps and services to Apple’s mobile platforms outside of the App Store.
What’s the story?
The recently reported changes to Safari 16.4 for iPad OS 16.4 and iOS 16.4 are both available in the first beta.
Safari gets over 135 features in this release, including tempting-sounding improvements like Import Maps, Media Queries, and more. But the real improvements are around the home screen web apps.
Now iPhones can add a website icon to their home screen since the device first appeared. Those icons became web apps for the home screen, so you can summon the service with a tap and it will work just like any other app apart from Safari.
During the first year of the iPhone’s existence, Apple took the position that all third-party apps on the device are web apps; that changed when the App Store was born.
So, what’s new?
What’s new now is that Web Push support is being added to Home Screen web apps. This allows developers to send push notifications to users via Push API, Notifications API, and Service Workers.
It could work like this: You are logged into a website that provides a service and you choose to turn it into a Home Screen Web app. Now that app/site can send you personalized notifications about your service, such as when a new feature is added or new products are available.
As elsewhere on mobile, users can approve or decline the permissions for these interactions. And those permissions can be managed on an app-by-app basis in Notification Settings and handled by Apple’s Focus tool, letting you block those you don’t want to hear from.
So now we have web apps that are much more like iOS apps.
What else is new? A Badging API, so those apps can show how many messages or notifications are available to the user, just like Mail. Apple has also made it possible to host multiple instances of an app on the home screen – so maybe you have a favorite site called Online Classic Games I Like and have web apps for seven different games displayed on your screen. Any of those different web services will be able to communicate with you – even if those games use the open AV1 codec, which Apple is about to introduce support for.
This isn’t the only addition: Apple is now enabling third-party browsers to add sites and web apps to the Home screen from the Share menu. And there’s more — web app developers can use it too screen orientation, user activation, screen awake And web codecs APIs.
These let the app understand what the orientation of the screen might be, respectively; prevents the device from locking or dimming the screen when a web app is running; monitor user interaction to ensure the app is still in use and not sleeping; and provide much better control over media processing for web apps.
All these improvements make web apps much more powerful on iOS.
What does this mean?
At its simplest, this means that web apps have the potential to become much more powerful and much more iOS-like than before, with developers taking advantage of the ability to deliver more complex app interactions.
But as Apple continues to draw more attention to the App Store’s business practices, it’s hard not to suspect that this could end up being one of the company’s most important responses. has planned these challenges.
After all, if you can tune into a web app or web service and interact with it like an iOS app through any web browser, then the only thing that might be missing is the payment system. We will see.
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