Innovation in Mobile Browsers, and the iPhone

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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 m.facebook.com I was shown a dia­log ask­ing if I want­ed to allow noti­fi­ca­tions (I did):

chrome-notification-dialog

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.

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“Innovation in Mobile Browsers, and the iPhone”

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  2. Just down­load Chrome on your iPhone?