In Apple’s list of WebKit features, service workers were listed as “under consideration” until last month, when that was quietly switched to “in development”. Service Workers are one of the scripts that are critical to making Progressive Web Apps work: could this change mean that iOS support for Progressive Web Apps is imminent? If so, this would be great news for users, developers, and publishers.
In his piece for the Google Developers blog, Matt Gaunt describes Service Workers as “a script that your browser runs in the background, separate from a web page, opening the door to features that don’t need a web page or user interaction”.
Matt jumps into the technical side of service workers, and also explores what is needed. His piece is a great read for those with a technical interest in how the API works, and should have publishers dreaming of the new and exciting possibilities that service workers—and therefore PWAs—could deliver.
Why Apple Changed Its Mind On Service Workers
Did this change happen because of Greg Blass’ blog post from July 25? In this post, Greg railed against “Apple’s refusal to support Progressive Web Apps”, that he saw as “a detriment to the future of the web”. While it’s unlikely that this post was itself responsible, it captured a strong sentiment among developers: when they are forced to code in Objective-C/Swift exclusively for iOS it “hurts small dev shops, stifles innovation” and “makes startups much more difficult to get going”.
Of course, native apps can offer smooth reading experiences and unique engagement opportunities while fulfilling a unique purpose, but the lack of support for PWAs means that end users suffer.
Users in this discussion around Greg’s piece debate the pro’s and con’s of Apple supporting Service Workers. Some argue that support for the technology will result in a poorer app experience for iOS users, and that given Apple’s scale the company is in a position to be able to demand apps are written in its proprietary code. But with Android (which supports PWAs) having such a dominant market share globally, more and more developers will create cross-platform experiences in more accessible development languages. It makes sense for Apple to begin accepting the technology too, and to be prepared when the wave of PWAs arrive soon.
(If you are on Android and would like to take a PWA for a test drive, check out The South African’s PWA powered by Marfeel. Simply visit the website on mobile and use the install banner to download the PWA, or access your browser menu choose the “add to homescreen” button.)
It’s exciting news that Apple are working on Service Workers, but only time will tell how they progress. If Progressive Web Apps can make their way to iOS, more users, developers, and publishers will enter a better and more cohesive web. Stay tuned for our post on the benefits of PWAs for publishers.