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

Programming - Apr 19, 2024

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

Just because iOS doesn’t support every aspect of Progressive Web AppsFootnote 1 , 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.

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.Footnote 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.)

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.

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.

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

Footnotes

  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.  Return to the text before footnote 1
  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 Return to the text before footnote 2
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