New Safari features will make iPhone web apps feel more like native apps

Apple’s Safari browser in iOS and iPadOS 16.4 is gaining support for features like web push notifications, making iPhone web apps work more like native apps.

The browser now supports new technologies like web push notifications to improve the experience of using Progressive Web Apps (aka web apps) on the iPhone.

Apple also has relaxed some of the restrictions related to third-party browsers, which are now permitted to add web apps to the Home Screen.

Safari is adopting several new web features

Illustration showing an Apple Safari logo set against a blue gradient background
  • Safari will support push notifications from web apps such as Google Maps, Uber and Instagram. Once approved, web notifications will show up in the Notification Center and on the Lock Screen, just like notifications from native apps.
  • Third-party web browsers like Google Chrome can now add web apps to the Home Screen. Before iOS 16.4, only Safari could do that.
  • Extension syncing will ensure you use the same Safari extensions on your iPhone, iPad and Mac, making the user experience more consistent.

Web push notifications

Web apps won’t be permitted to send you notifications without permission. Web notifications will only work for web apps you’ve added to your Home Screen. Furthermore, web developers must explicitly enable support for this feature.

Additionally, you’ll need to turn on notifications in the web app’s settings and respond positively to a prompt asking whether you’d like to allow notifications.

Brady Eidson and Jen Simmons, WebKit blog:

A web app that has been added to the Home Screen can request permission to receive push notifications as long as that request is in response to direct user interaction—such as tapping on a Subscribe button provided by the web app. iOS or iPadOS will prompt the user to give the web app permission to send notifications.

From that moment, notifications from said web app will appear in the Notification Center, Daily Summaries, on the Lock Screen and your paired Apple Watch alongside notifications from native apps (this is already supported on macOS).

Web apps will display the number of unread notifications on icon badge, just like native apps. You’ll be able to manage web notifications and how they appear in your notification settings, just like you would notifications for native apps.

You will also be able to filter web notifications using Focus modes.

Adding web apps to the Home Screen

With iOS 16.4, you can add a web app to the Home Screen using a third-party browser like Chrome. Before iOS 16.4, only Safari could add a web app to the Home Screen. You’ll choose Add to Home Screen from the share sheet, which will bring up an interface to add a web app to your Home Screen.

Saving a web app to the Home Screen ensures it launches in fullscreen, with no browser interface visible. Another significant change: Such web apps will launch in the third-party browser that added them to the Home Screen.

Previously, these things opened exclusively in Safari.

Developers can even provide an iOS-sized icon for their web app to appear on the Home Screen. Yet another exciting change: you can add multiple instances of the same app to the Home Screen.

iPhone web apps are about to become much more powerful

Summing up, Safari in iOS 16.4 and iPadOS 16.4 has adopted several web technologies, including the Push API, Notifications API, Badging API, WebCodecs API, Screen Wake Lock API, Import Maps, Media Queries, Service Workers, additional codecs for video processing (AV1), device orientation APIs and more.

The move will make web apps on the iPhone behave much more like their native counterparts. Web apps will be able to automatically adapt their interface between portrait and landscape modes, prevent your device from going to sleep when using a web app, and more. All told, there are 135 new features for Safari in iOS 16.4.

Useful Safari tutorials