How Apple is Supporting Progressive Web Apps (PWA)?

By Lori Caricofe

Lori Caricofe
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When we check the recent activities and updates by Apple, they clearly suggest that businesses should consider using Progressive Web Applications i.e. PWAs instead of native apps. Some of these actions of Apple include removing some of the existing apps from the App Store and blocking access to some others and corporate applications. The important thing to note here is that meanwhile they have begun adding support for service workers and the web manifest specification to iOS Safari web browser.

It has been noticed that Apple has been aggressively dumping applications from the iOS App Store which were built using iOS app development because they use app generation or template based services. Apple gives section 4.2.6 of their App Store review guidelines as a reason to remove these apps.

“4.2.6 Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.”

Apple used this guideline to cleanse the App Store. They have removed a large number of apps considered to be copies, clones, fraudulent, abandoned or not-64 bit compatible. Although this action is not something that would affect the legitimate business trying to engage customers. It is just an act of cleaning the App Store from the bad clutter.

This move from Apple is a clear hint that they are promoting Web Application Development and moving ahead with the growing concept of PWA. But important thing to note here is that how will the extended support of Service Workers in Safari browser impact enterprises? Are mobile apps being challenged by PWA for the iOS platform? What will be the future of iOS app development for the App Store now after this move by Apple? Let’s discuss these things in detail here in this article.

Role of Service Workers in Safari 11.1:
Support for Service workers is an important Safari update for the version 11.1 which is also applicable in the latest versions 12.1. These service workers have added support for background scripts that can proxy network requests. After such major additions to the latest Safari browser, it is now easy to implement background scripts for accessing offline web applications and faster loading of web pages. Service workers enable developers to build web applications that can function even when the device is not connected to the internet.

What this means is that, the developers can now move in the direction of applications which are saved to the home screen, similar to any other normal app. These kind of apps function in an extensive manner by allowing users to access the camera from within the web app along with background synchronization. The main characteristic of such an app is that it can be accessed online as well as offline hence providing users continued access to the website. Actually this was an industry-wide initiative which allows iOS developers to build web applications called Progressive Web Apps (PWA) that are cached by service workers to work online as well as offline mode without any problem.

Cross-Platform Apps Which Run on All Browsers and Platforms:The developers who were looking for building cross-platform apps with enterprise-class secure conferencing solutions which work across all standard-complaint browsers, are more happy now with this Apple’s approach. Check these exact words of Apple during the launch of Service Workers: —

“Offline applications are important to the web. After HTML5 first tried to accommodate them with the Offline Application Cache, the Service Workers specification was created as a successor. This standard describes new APIs focused on using JavaScript to handle resource loading for a web page without network access. While work continues, we’re excited to enable Service Workers by default in this release.”

Other than the support for Service Workers, Apple is also working on a Web App Manifests specification and will tell more about it soon as it is another breakthrough technology which would be needed to implement Progressive Web Applications (PWA) in the Safari browser. This convergence of Web App Manifests and Service Workers is leading to the development of JavaScript based apps which can run even from the home screen.

Apple Clearly Giving Preference to the Web Apps Over the Ones in the App Store:
Expert Developers are saying that this ultimate move of Apple towards introducing support for Service Workers is actually the Apple’s strategy to give priority to web apps over the ones sold in the App Store. Working on it deeply, it is found that web apps actually has got an upper hand over the simple and basic apps in the Apple App Store. Although it is unlikely that the web applications would take over the complex enterprise apps of the App Store. Certainly the web based apps have redefined the meaning of usability across platforms but it would take more time for them to replace complex kind of apps in the App Store.

Actually Apple has always been in keen support of web apps since early years when its then CEO Steve Jobs had said that there is a need to create support for app development on iOS when there was available support for Web 2.0 apps through the Safari web browser. Although that concept was not continued as new smartphone platforms came into the market but Apple now looks like that it is more serious now about making the transition to web apps this time. But it will be important to see how iOS developers can handle the mechanism of building simple, user-friendly and intuitive web apps to beat the other apps available in the Apple App Store. Right now so many of the developers are discussing about this latest preference of Apple as they look forward to contribute in this direction in the best possible manner.