iOS doesn’t support Progressive Web Apps, so what?

Written by Jason Grigsby on

One common argument for why organizations aren’t investing in Progressive Web Apps is that iOS doesn’t support them. Hogwash.

Here’s why organizations should invest in Progressive Web Apps regardless.

Photo of Macbook Pro, iPad and iPhone
Source: Pixabay

Progressive Web Apps still work on iOS

Just because iOS doesn’t support every aspect of Progressive Web Apps1, doesn’t mean that Progressive Web Apps won’t work on iOS.

The “progressive” part refers to progressive enhancement which is a philosophy of web development that argues for providing a baseline experience and then enhancing the experience if the browser supports it. More advanced browsers get the full bells and whistles.

A Progressive Web App done right doesn’t leave anyone out.

Progressive Web Apps perform better on iOS

Despite the fact that iOS doesn’t support the full feature set of Progressive Web Apps, early evidence indicates that Progressive Web Apps perform better on iOS than the sites they replace.

AliExpress saw an 82% increase in iOS conversion after moving to a Progressive Web App. That is a smaller increase than they saw for all browsers (104%), but most businesses would happily accept an 82% increase in conversion.

The Washington Post has seen a near 5x increase in user engagement. I asked Joey Marburger, Head of Product for The Washington Post, what the impact had been on iOS versus Android. He replied:

So even though iOS doesn’t “support” Progressive Web Apps, The Washington Post is seeing a similar increase in engagement.2

It seems likely that organizations that take on the work necessary to make their site perform well as a Progressive Web App will likely see some benefits on iOS.

Perhaps our first clue that The Washington Post was seeing improvements on iOS should have been this animated gif comparing the speed on Mobile Safari. (My apologies for the flashing of the gif. It is in the original image.)

Billions of people use browsers that support Progressive Web Apps

I don’t know the exact number of people who are on browsers that support Progressive Web Apps. It is always difficult to find real numbers about browser market share.

Here’s what I do know. Progressive Web Apps are fully supported by Chrome and Opera. Firefox supports nearly all of the features of Progressive Web Apps. Microsoft Edge is working on them.

Google announced in April that Chrome has more than 1 billion users on mobile. Add Opera, Firefox, and soon Edge, and you’re talking about billions of people and the majority of mobile web users.

Chrome celebrated its 50th release by announcing that it had 1 billion mobile users.

Apple appears to be warming to Progressive Web App technology

It is dangerous to read too much into what Apple might implement in the future, but there are some signs that they may be working on technology related to Progressive Web Apps.

Last fall, the WebKit project published an unofficial, full-of-caveats five-year plan. In regards to service workers, the document says, “Becoming a more frequent request. We should do it.”

Service workers are probably the most important technology for Progressive Web Apps. Plus, the Fetch API, which is part of service workers, recently landed in Safari Technical Preview 12.

Other features, such as Add to Home Screen and Push Notifications, are available in some form in Safari, but are not implemented in standard ways.

Officially, service workers remain “Under Consideration,” and we have no way of knowing if Apple will support other Progressive Web App features.

But there is some reason for hope. And if they do support these standards in the future, what you build today will automatically work.

Progressive Web Apps benefit all users

The biggest argument for not letting iOS hold you back is the fact that the steps you take to build a Progressive Web App benefit everyone.

Working on a Progressive Web App means focusing on performance. It requires you to make sure your user experience is optimized for mobile devices.

I firmly believe that the path to a Progressive Web App is far more important than the destination. Providing a better and faster user experience benefits everyone.

Person holding an iPhone with the camera looking at train tracks heading into the distance
Source: Kaique Rocha

  1. For the sake of completeness, the major Progressive Web App features that iOS does not support are service workers, push notifications and installation to the home screen through a browser-provided prompt. 
  2. For more details on why this might be, see my recent research into the behavior of The Washington Post’s Progressive Web app on iOS
Jason Grigsby

Jason Grigsby is one of the co-founders of Cloud Four, Mobile Portland and Responsive Field Day. He spends far too much time obsessing over mobile and the web. Follow him at @grigs.

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Comments

Thanks for the fine article. Regarding "iOS doesn’t “support” Progressive Web Apps" - Shouldn't it be "Safari (on iOS) doesn’t “support” Progressive Web Apps" ? Couln't one install Chrome on iOS, and have support for Progressive Web Apps - on iOS?

Mads Vering

Replies

Unfortunately, Apple requires any application parsing web technology on iOS to use their WebKit engine. So Chrome on iOS is restricted to the rendering features of WebKit. No service workers. No notifications.

Good Article for understanding the drawback of move to PWA in future development. I'm using Magento 2 for e-commerce platform. my client would like to understand PWA can be next phrase of development to improve UI performance.

I'm interested only in pne thing: do Microsoft Edge and Windows 10 support PWA? Yes they do. That's enough for me (and for enterprise)

Even if iOS doesnt have all progressive functionalities, its still a good to program the web apps in javascript technologies. Sooner or later ios will include webpush and android chrome users are big in most countries in the world. We recently launched www.selio.com in Spain and most of the users are android. The metrics are amazing, we have pivoted as a company!

Damn, is ios still not supporting web push notifications? How far they want to crawl behind? And what is their reason not to implement this? Terrible and sad!

Replies

In Apple's defense, they do support push on desktop Safari. And in private conversations with their team, they've indicated that they are already seeing push notification fatigue from their customers and worry that this is a developer-driven desire and not something that users want.

I see their perspective, but I think users can manage their notifications and being able to establish a relationship without having to install an app, might help decrease that sense of fatigue.

That said, all of the web sites that implement push notifications poorly—particularly the ones that immediately prompt to send you push notifications on first page load without explaining why someone would care—they are undermining the argument.

The best way to convince Apple to support push is to build compelling use cases and use it responsibly.

We have compelling case studies, of not one but 17 retailers increasing sales from day 1. If we were to send these case studies, where we would send them to. Also if push is a fatigued, why allow even apps to do it. Its frankly a bullshit argument. We run wigzo, and sent one billion push notifications in 2016. Our ebook is a hit, and frankly retailers in most country love us. Where do we write to apple to show this data?

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If you publish case studies, I can make sure they get to the people I know at Apple. And if you publish case studies, you'll help everyone.

Replies

Great idea, i have already published two of them. We are making more as we speak. Can i send you those two on your email? I just want to make sure they reach the right people. Where do i send it through?

What about inline video, DRM issues, and so on?

Also part of the Apple business model is build on the cut they take on in-app purchases. I guess this could be a blocker when it comes to Apple all in on supporting PWA.

Any thoughts on this?

Replies

What about inline video, DRM issues, and so on?

There has been a movement afoot to add DRM to web video. I have no idea what the status of that is. But that's a problem for a select number of sites (e.g., the Netflixs of the world).

Also part of the Apple business model is build on the cut they take on in-app purchases. I guess this could be a blocker when it comes to Apple all in on supporting PWA. Any thoughts on this?

I suppose it is possible. I think people overestimate what Apple makes more from the App Store. In 2015, the App Store generated $6B in revenue. That's a lot, but it is only 3.5% of Apple revenue for the year. And there is no accounting in there for the cost of running the App Store.

My conversations with Apple folks has been that they're much more concerned about the experiences and what differentiates them from other platforms than the revenue associated with an app. If they have an exclusive app that shows off unique capabilities of iOS or Apple Hardware, but it doesn't generate any revenue for Apple, Apple likely won't care. They want to see hardware first and foremost.

All that said, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what Apple's motivations are. As noted above, Progressive Web Apps still work on iOS and show improvements for iOS users. Building great experiences using Progressive Web Apps is the best way to convince Apple that they're missing out.


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