Innovation in Mobile Browsers, and the iPhone

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

Last week I wielded the mighty power of Twitter to say this:

If you use an iPhone I feel a bit sorry for you, because you’re missing out on the really innovative stuff happening in mobile browsers.

A few people asked me what I meant by that, perhaps thinking that I was criticising iPhones in general (I wasn’t[1]), so I want to take a moment to elaborate on my statement. To do that, I’ll begin with a story.

On the day that I sent the tweet, I had earlier received this notification on my Android phone (and watch):

Android phone and watch showing a Facebook notification

The content of the message isn’t relevant; the important thing here is that this is a notification from Facebook, and I don’t have the Facebook app installed on my phone. Neither did I have the Facebook web app open in my browser at the time I got this notification.

The reason I saw this notification is that the last time I visited I was shown a dialog asking if I wanted to allow notifications (I did):


And the reason I saw this dialog is because Facebook have recently implemented the Notifications API, using Service Workers, on their mobile site—if your browser supports it. And my browser does, because I don’t use an iPhone.

I’ve written before about how, in my opinion, the long-term health of the open web is at risk. Paul Kinlan recently gave a talk, The Future of the Web on Mobile (I highly recommend reading this), in which he more plainly states the form of that risk – but also states the measures that are in the works to combat it. In short, to make the web more competitive with native apps while keeping its existing advantages.

These measures include details such as an improved flow for adding a home screen launcher, and making a web app feel part of the operating system with browser chrome theme colours and a loading screen background colour declared in the manifest. Beyond this, the critically important service workers allow for offline file caching, background syncing, and the push notifications that started all this ruminating – and which should soon be further extended to allow user interaction. And, slightly further in the future, new hardware APIs like Bluetooth and NFC will permit interaction with the physical web.

The implementation of these innovations is largely being led by Chrome, but they’re also available or incoming (to varying degrees) in Firefox and Opera. And none of those browsers are available on iOS. Now, as far as I know, Apple could also be working on a lot of this in Safari – but that’s updated annually at most, so realistically, unless they change their release pattern, the earliest iPhone users will be seeing any of this is September 2016.

So that’s what I meant when I said:

If you use an iPhone I feel a bit sorry for you, because you’re missing out on the really innovative stuff happening in mobile browsers.

[1] My working title for this post was ‘iPity the Fools’, which works as a gag but sounds like flame bait, which is not my intention. iPhones are great, I just think Apple’s browser policy is awful and they don’t prioritise the web.

2 comments on
“Innovation in Mobile Browsers, and the iPhone”

  1. […] Innovation in Mobile Browsers, and the iPhone […]

  2. Just download Chrome on your iPhone?