Apple may integrate Service Workers into WebKit, support next-gen web apps in Safari

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Apple this week began work toward integrating Service Workers, an API that lets browsers run background scripts, into WebKit, suggesting the company might one day support a form of next-generation web app in iOS.




Apple quietly revealed work on the technology in an update to its WebKit Feature Status webpage this week, which now shows Service Workers as "In Development," reports The Register.

As noted by Fortune, which also reported on the change, Service Workers comprise part of a larger Google-backed web technology initiative that allows developers to build specialized software known as Progressive Web Apps.

Unlike traditional iOS apps, web applications powered by Service Workers and other related APIs do not require downloads. In theory, PWAs allow browser-based apps to effectively compete with native software. Users need only direct their browser to a supported website to use said apps, links to which can be added to mobile OS home screens for easy access. The browser-based apps also support push notifications.

Service Workers allow PWAs to operate without a network connection by fetching cached content. The API also improves discoverability in search engines.

As an internet advertising company, Google is championing the effort for obvious reasons, but others have hopped on board as well. Internet browser developers Mozilla and Opera are also working on the solution, while Microsoft pledged support in May.

If they gain momentum, PWAs could mark a significant rethinking in how consumers interact with apps. Users would no longer be required to download or update software from dedicated repositories like the iOS App Store, while developers would only need to build a single app version, rather than one for each operating system.

PWAs shift power from the OS to the browser.

Whether Apple plans to incorporate PWA technology into a future version of Safari remains unclear, but the company is clearly investigating potential integrations. Aside from the recent announcement, Apple has remained expectedly quiet about its plans for Service Workers.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    edited August 2017
  • Reply 2 of 13
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 287member
    “...while developers would only need to build a single app version...”  - sounds a lot like the signed Java applets of yore.  And just as with that technology, this one will bring with it massive opportunities for security issues.

    Apple has done a pretty good job keeping the app store curated and free of malware.  I don’t see how curation is possible in this brave new world.  Obviously Android users don’t have much to lose - they’re already used to the wild west - but for iPhone owners, this seems like a step back.
    lolliverjony0
  • Reply 3 of 13
    Isn't this just a resurgence of thin-client -- I.e., browser based apps that were gaining popularity until Apple introduced the App Store in ~ 2008 and got everyone to fall back in love with thick-client apps?
    lolliver
  • Reply 4 of 13
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,121member
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Wouldn’t this mostly effect free apps with little utility beyond the website anyway?
    which in turn let’s them better distinguish the value of native apps that really need to be native and push the price of those up?

    at the same time they say introduced the iCloud store that brought these apps together in one spot and synced them across the customers devices that could have all the stickiness of the current platform at lower cost and better revenue. 
  • Reply 5 of 13
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,886member
    Curb your enthusiasm, AI... That's not what you think. They're just trying to give the Web a more civilized aspect, that's all. That has nothing to do with shifting the power "from the OS to the browser". Within that jungle of trackers, ads, ad blockers and adware called "Web technologies", such efforts may be needed from time to time to clean-up things.
    lolliver
  • Reply 6 of 13
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,228moderator
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    There are cases where a web service with a single deployment has advantages over native like faster updating, bypassing regulations etc but they always degrade the experience for the end user. They still run in the browser so you have to deal with the browser navigation UI. HTML layout doesn't behave or render like native apps. Games don't have anywhere near the same performance as native, as much an order of magnitude difference, so a fraction of the battery life. They don't get access to the local filesystem for security reasons so image/video editors don't work and you have to figure out how to deal with app states. They won't even replace a lot of the apps that are little more than glorified web pages because they were made as apps for recognition and to have that native experience.

    Javascript is a lot better with ES6 but it's still not designed to be like a native development language and every app that is deployed is effectively open source.

    The main thing that needs to be sorted for web apps is consistency across browsers. There's still things that break even between Chrome and Safari and they are both based on Webkit, diverging now because of the split with Blink. HTML5 audio support differing between them, differences in WebGL support.

    Native on iOS won because Apple made it so easy to deploy apps that offered a great user experience. Web apps will keep improving but they'll always be missing key features and performance that make native better. There would have to be a better reason than the deployment and updates for most apps to switch away from native, especially when web views can be embedded in native apps.
    macplusplusStrangeDays
  • Reply 7 of 13
    designrdesignr Posts: 524member
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    I agree that PWAs are the future, but disagree that Apple is ahead of the game, especially compared to Google. Apple lags in two vitally important areas: Service Workers and manifests. A third, prompt to save to home screen, is also important.
  • Reply 8 of 13
    designrdesignr Posts: 524member
    mattinoz said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Wouldn’t this mostly effect free apps with little utility beyond the website anyway?
    which in turn let’s them better distinguish the value of native apps that really need to be native and push the price of those up? 
    Actually there are probably a much wider range of apps that would work just fine as PWAs while brining additional benefits to developers/creators as well as consumers. With where technology for PWA is today, there are far fewer reasons to build native today than even a few years ago.
  • Reply 9 of 13
    designrdesignr Posts: 524member
    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    There are cases where a web service with a single deployment has advantages over native like faster updating, bypassing regulations etc but they always degrade the experience for the end user.
    There are more reasons than just those. And, well designed, like anything else doesn't have to degrade the experience for users. That's not inherent to web apps.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    They still run in the browser so you have to deal with the browser navigation UI.
    Not true.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Games don't have anywhere near the same performance as native, as much an order of magnitude difference, so a fraction of the battery life. 
    They don't get access to the local filesystem for security reasons so image/video editors don't work and you have to figure out how to deal with app states.
    Games won't likely go this route anyway. I don't think anyone is suggesting PWAs are the right solution for every app. Just like native isn't the right solution for every app.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    They won't even replace a lot of the apps that are little more than glorified web pages because they were made as apps for recognition and to have that native experience.
    I disagree. You can get pretty damn close these days. And that "close enough" will be good enough for many cases.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    The main thing that needs to be sorted for web apps is consistency across browsers. There's still things that break even between Chrome and Safari and they are both based on Webkit, diverging now because of the split with Blink. HTML5 audio support differing between them, differences in WebGL support.
    But developers developing native apps for both platforms have to deal with far deeper differences than these.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Native on iOS won because Apple made it so easy to deploy apps that offered a great user experience. Web apps will keep improving but they'll always be missing key features and performance that make native better. There would have to be a better reason than the deployment and updates for most apps to switch away from native, especially when web views can be embedded in native apps.
    Yeah, but those gaps won't matter for a surprising number of apps.

  • Reply 10 of 13
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Service Workers already exists in Firefox and Chrome don't they?
    I thought they already did in Safari.
    Good thing I didn't put any in my current web site that's tending towards looking like an app.
    bradipao
  • Reply 11 of 13
    designrdesignr Posts: 524member
    foggyhill said:
    Service Workers already exists in Firefox and Chrome don't they?
    Yes, and I believe coming soon in IE as well.


    foggyhill said:
    I thought they already did in Safari.
    Not yet. That's what this news is about, they finally started development on it.

    bradipao
  • Reply 12 of 13
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,244member
    designr said:
    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    There are cases where a web service with a single deployment has advantages over native like faster updating, bypassing regulations etc but they always degrade the experience for the end user.
    There are more reasons than just those. And, well designed, like anything else doesn't have to degrade the experience for users. That's not inherent to web apps.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    They still run in the browser so you have to deal with the browser navigation UI.
    Not true.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Games don't have anywhere near the same performance as native, as much an order of magnitude difference, so a fraction of the battery life. 
    They don't get access to the local filesystem for security reasons so image/video editors don't work and you have to figure out how to deal with app states.
    Games won't likely go this route anyway. I don't think anyone is suggesting PWAs are the right solution for every app. Just like native isn't the right solution for every app.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    They won't even replace a lot of the apps that are little more than glorified web pages because they were made as apps for recognition and to have that native experience.
    I disagree. You can get pretty damn close these days. And that "close enough" will be good enough for many cases.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    The main thing that needs to be sorted for web apps is consistency across browsers. There's still things that break even between Chrome and Safari and they are both based on Webkit, diverging now because of the split with Blink. HTML5 audio support differing between them, differences in WebGL support.
    But developers developing native apps for both platforms have to deal with far deeper differences than these.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Native on iOS won because Apple made it so easy to deploy apps that offered a great user experience. Web apps will keep improving but they'll always be missing key features and performance that make native better. There would have to be a better reason than the deployment and updates for most apps to switch away from native, especially when web views can be embedded in native apps.
    Yeah, but those gaps won't matter for a surprising number of apps.

    Native apps aren't trying to be a single solution for all platforms, that's the difference. Web apps are and still having rendering differences is a pain since it's a single codebase where with native you have different code bases. Two projects for two platforms is easier to manage IMO than one codebase for multiple browsers. 

    Also, a single web UI cannot reproduce native platform UI on multiple, different platforms. See Java. 
    edited August 2017
  • Reply 13 of 13
    designrdesignr Posts: 524member
    designr said:
    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    There are cases where a web service with a single deployment has advantages over native like faster updating, bypassing regulations etc but they always degrade the experience for the end user.
    There are more reasons than just those. And, well designed, like anything else doesn't have to degrade the experience for users. That's not inherent to web apps.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    They still run in the browser so you have to deal with the browser navigation UI.
    Not true.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Games don't have anywhere near the same performance as native, as much an order of magnitude difference, so a fraction of the battery life. 
    They don't get access to the local filesystem for security reasons so image/video editors don't work and you have to figure out how to deal with app states.
    Games won't likely go this route anyway. I don't think anyone is suggesting PWAs are the right solution for every app. Just like native isn't the right solution for every app.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    They won't even replace a lot of the apps that are little more than glorified web pages because they were made as apps for recognition and to have that native experience.
    I disagree. You can get pretty damn close these days. And that "close enough" will be good enough for many cases.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    The main thing that needs to be sorted for web apps is consistency across browsers. There's still things that break even between Chrome and Safari and they are both based on Webkit, diverging now because of the split with Blink. HTML5 audio support differing between them, differences in WebGL support.
    But developers developing native apps for both platforms have to deal with far deeper differences than these.


    Marvin said:
    vannygee said:
    PWAs are the future of the web and Apple is already ahead of the game in comparison to Google, without explicitly working on it, with features as simple as uploading files. If Apple really brings out the true potential of PWAs then we should see a decline in native app usage where Apple gets that nifty 30%
    Native on iOS won because Apple made it so easy to deploy apps that offered a great user experience. Web apps will keep improving but they'll always be missing key features and performance that make native better. There would have to be a better reason than the deployment and updates for most apps to switch away from native, especially when web views can be embedded in native apps.
    Yeah, but those gaps won't matter for a surprising number of apps.

    Native apps aren't trying to be a single solution for all platforms, that's the difference. Web apps are and still having rendering differences is a pain since it's a single codebase where with native you have different code bases. Two projects for two platforms is easier to manage IMO than one codebase for multiple browsers. 

    Also, a single web UI cannot reproduce native platform UI on multiple, different platforms. See Java. 
    I wasn't saying that native apps were trying to be a single solution for all platforms...I was suggesting that many people think that native is the right solution for all applications. That's less true today than in the past.

    There are challenges to be sure. Like with any approach. The question is whether the benefits of PWAs exceed these challenges. My point is simply that they will for far more apps than most imagine.

    Fundamentally, the best thing about this news is that it sounds like Apple is going to make PWAs more of an option on their platform, which is good. Ultimately the market will determine, by which option people chose, what will be successful. In reality it probably won't be an either/or thing but a both/and thing. Both approaches (native and PWA) will have success in different ways for different situations.
    edited August 2017
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