One of the side effects of running several focussed conferences into various aspects of front end development as we do with our series of online conferences is you really do get a good understanding of what’s happening with the Web platform–the technologies themselves, in browsers, developers’ perspectives, and more broadly still the place of the Web in society more widely.
So today, after Google’s I/O conference last week, with a slew of new Web features announced, a new found dynamism to Safari’s Technology Preview releases, and some other interesting developments I thought I’d bring together some of these trends for this weeks newsletter.
Resurgence in CSS (and Safari)
Apple, with Safari in the early 2000s, and a huge amount of innovation (canvas, animation, transformation, web fonts and other CSS features) in and around the time of the launch of the iPhone was as responsible as anyone for the resurgence of the Web after some moribund times as Internet Explorer (and Windows) became increasingly dominant around the turn of the millennium.
Recently, many have expressed concern about Safari on the iPhone (where webkit has a monopoly as the sole browser engine, regardless of the browser you use) holding back innovation on the Web platform (more on that issue another time), but it’s exciting see so much innovation particularly around CSS, in Safari as well as other browsers.
In short a wave of new features, many focussed less on visual effects and more on addressing issues around architecting complex large scale CSS are arriving (or have already arrived) in Browsers.
Regulators and legislators turn to the web (browsers)
In 2001 at the height of the market dominance of Internet Explorer (a perfectly natural phrase to older web folks, one which might seems odd to those more recent to Web development) the United States Government brought an anti monopoly case against Microsoft, for (among other things) bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows Operating System.
In 2021 and 2022, regulators and legislators around the world have been turning their attention to mobile platforms, particularly iOS and Android. This attention has a strong focus on App Stores, but also on search engine and browser competition, and will likely have far reaching if not always easy to predict implications.
What increasingly seems likely is the European Union will, with the EU’s Digital Markets Act, require Apple, as the Register reported recently, “to allow browser competition on iOS devices”.
The Register quotes The Platform Law Blog, an expert publication on platforms related regulation and legislation, who conclude
Article 5 point (e) has been expanded to capture instances where the gatekeeper requires business users to offer or interoperate with a web browser engine. This is most likely meant to address Apple’s policy of requiring all browsers running on iOS to utilize Apple’s WebKit browser engine – a policy which the UK CMA has recently found may have restricted the development of web apps, among others.The leaked “final” version of the Digital Markets Act: A summary in ten points
There seems to be a number of trends, including governments and regulators responding to the “techlash” against huge technology platforms leading to the prospect of considerable regulation of technology platforms, not just in the EU, but in more traditionally regulation averse jurisdictions like the US and UK.
The sense is growing that we will see the EU (and likely other jurisdictions) require iOS to allow alternative web browser engines.
It remains to be seen whether other barriers to adoption Web applications face, such as access to device APIs like Bluetooth and NFC, long available to native apps on these platforms, access to devices’ notifications systems, and the ability to install Web applications on a parity with native app installation will be something that is also required of these platforms.
But it does certainly feel that the use cases and value of Web applications is only going to increase on mobile they gain more parity with native apps.
I Replaced My Native iOS App with a Cross-Platform Web App and No One Noticed
Let’s finish with a bit of a case study, from Australian developer Chris Nielsen, about an app he’s developed, and what happened when it went from being a native iOS app to being a web app (still delivered as a native iOS app).
Reports of the web’s death are greatly exaggerated.
Learn more at Code
We’re covering the web platform, and PWAs, in depth at Code, our online conference in September. So if learning more about these sort of trends, and the capabilities of the web platform you can harness to deliver amazing web based experiences, we’d love to see you there!