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Apple’s relationship with web apps will improve in 2023

During the WWDC 2022 keynote, Apple announced Web Push to improve web app notifications – but Apple’s relationship with technology has always been fragile.

WebKit Logo

When the iPhone was first created, Steve Jobs was against allowing third-party apps on the device. He wanted developers to create web applications that could be used with Safari.

Web standards such as HTML5 were key to making it a viable platform for apps. This type of markup language structures multimedia content and interactive elements.

Apple has been working to improve HTML5 performance on its devices. When the company introduced iOS 8 in 2014, it included WKWebView, a new browser engine for running hybrid apps as well as native apps.

Jobs adopted HTML5 as an alternative to Adobe Flash. When he wrote “Thoughts on Flash” in 2010, he praised companies such as Netflix and YouTube for embracing HTML5 video content.

Apple also encouraged web apps with iOS 13. It purged low-quality apps from the App Store and said some features and functionality are best delivered through Safari.

Web Push in macOS Ventura
Web Push in macOS Ventura

Apple pushing users away from web apps and into the App Store with native apps and rules is the main accusation from critics.

When it launched in 2008, Apple imposed a 30% fee for publishing an application on its platform. Jobs praised the native apps and said they were better than their web brethren.

This has been the subject of lawsuits, but it’s not the only facet of the app debate. After the Telegram web developer shared a 10-point list of iOS Safari issues in April, Telegram founder Pavel Durov wrote about it.

Posted on June 13, Durov said the comments from UK regulator Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provided “an accurate summary”.

CMA’s conclusion to its year-long study of mobile ecosystems concerns browsers on iOS, which is another facet of the app debate.

Apple prohibits third-party browser engines so that every browser on iOS and iPadOS is based on the company’s WebKit engine. As a result, according to CMA, the company has little incentive to improve WebKit and is stifling consumers and businesses.

The aim is to fend off rivals such as Google’s Blink browser engine. It is part of the open-source Chromium project and its stated mission is to make the web a central point for accessing information.

Google Chrome uses Blink on all platforms it runs on except iOS. The iOS version of Chrome uses WebKit, which means Google is forced to keep pace with Apple.

WebKit is open source and the mission of the project is a general purpose content engine for browsers and applications. Browsers should stick to displaying content instead of apps, according to the message.

Developers want web apps because they can run on any platform without the rules and restrictions of app stores.

Apple is moving forward, albeit slowly. The web application experience in its operating systems will improve, as revealed in the June keynote.

Also, joining the Apple Developer Program to send web push notifications will not be a requirement.

Web push

The feature won’t arrive until 2023 and consists of the Push API, Notifications API, and Service Workers working together.

A Service Worker is a piece of JavaScript code that works on behalf of a web domain, separate from an open browser tab.

Safari icon
Safari icon

Websites will not be allowed to send push notifications without user permission. A website can only request a push subscription in response to a mouse click or keystroke.

Users can click a “subscribe” button and click Authorize in the authorization dialog that appears. Notification toggles for websites are in the device settings, just like native apps.

The Push API uses a JavaScript interface that allows a website to use a push subscription. The ServiceWorker API supports push messages and the Notifications API allows a service worker to send notifications without needing the browser to be open.

In macOS Ventura, a new daemon called webpushd is installed as LaunchAgent. It takes push subscription requests from web pages and turns them into push subscriptions with the Apple Push Notification service.

The result is that web apps will feel closer to native apps. Using the Share Sheet in Safari, users can add a web app page to the home screen to blend in.

Apple may be improving web apps to appease developers or regulators watching its control over the App Store. The company could also adopt these apps as a secondary ecosystem, so it won’t be forced to allow sideloading.

Right now, in June 2022, it looks like the release of Web Push in 2023 will be good for users and developers.

Read on AppleInsider