Last Updated on
March 15, 2024

Do PWAs Work on iPhone? The State of Progressive Web Apps for iOS

Key takeaways:
  • PWA iOS support was removed and then reinstated for EU users in early 2024.
  • Regardless of region, Progressive Web Apps only work with the Safari browser, and have certain limitations compared to native iOS apps.
  • It’s still worthwhile to build a PWA for your website, but for best results, consider converting your site to a native app as well.

In this article, we’re going to break down how (or if) Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) work on iOS devices.

PWAs are a great way to serve a better website experience to visitors on mobile, who account for more than half of all web users today. 

Progressive Web Apps allow you to deliver an app-like experience without the huge expense of native app development. However, as you’ll see, PWAs can’t quite measure up to native apps, especially for iPhone users.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about PWAs on the iOS platform.

Current Status of PWAs on iOS

Progressive Web Apps do work on iOS, though with a few differentiating points. Here’s an up-to-date summary of the state of iOS PWAs.

Apple removed (then restored) PWA support in the EU

The big news regarding iOS PWAs is Apple’s stance on PWAs for EU iOS users.

In February 2024, news came out that Apple had removed support for Progressive Web Apps in the EU.

This was confirmed on their official website documentation. Under the FAQ heading “Why don’t users in the EU have access to Home Screen web apps?”, Apple confirmed that it was a conscious decision (not a bug), to remove PWA functionality in the EU to help comply with the newly passed Digital Markets Act (DMA).

However, Apple has since posted an update to this message, saying that support for Home Screen apps (PWAs) is being brought back:

“Previously, Apple announced plans to remove the Home Screen web apps capability in the EU as part of our efforts to comply with the DMA. The need to remove the capability was informed by the complex security and privacy concerns associated with web apps to support alternative browser engines that would require building a new integration architecture that does not currently exist in iOS.

We have received requests to continue to offer support for Home Screen web apps in iOS, therefore we will continue to offer the existing Home Screen web apps capability in the EU. This support means Home Screen web apps continue to be built directly on WebKit and its security architecture, and align with the security and privacy model for native apps on iOS.”

Source: developer.apple.com

iOS PWAs only work with Safari

To run and install a PWA on an iPhone, the user must use the Safari browser.

While this won’t affect most iPhone users (it’s estimated that around 80% of iOS users use Safari as their default browser), it does lower overall usability of PWAs on iPhones.

No automatic install prompt on iOS devices

Android PWAs can prompt visitors to install the app on their home screen, with a banner that automatically appears when the user lands on the site, which features a button that lets users install the app with one click.

Source

This is not possible on Safari, however. Users need to do this manually. And while it only takes a couple of extra clicks, it significantly decreases visibility for awareness of the fact that the website can be installed on the user’s home screen, and thus will result in significantly fewer installs.

You can use push notifications (with limitations)

Push notifications are possible with PWAs on iOS 16.4 or later. There are a couple of hoops to jump through, however.

You will need to set up an opt-in functionality to get the user’s permission to send push notifications from your Progressive Web App. 

You’ll also need to configure some things (primarily service workers and integration with Apple's Push API) in the backend code of your Progressive Web App to handle push notifications (and permissions received from users).

See more in Apple’s official developer documentation.

Limited data usage, device integration and offline functionality

Progressive Web Apps on iOS offer something closer to an app-like experience, but have a few limitations in terms of how they work offline, and how they integrate with the user’s device, compared to native apps and PWAs on Android.

These include:

  • Storage of offline files limited to 50mb.
  • Limited USB/Bluetooth functionality.
  • No access to advanced payment integrations (Apple Pay does work).
  • No Face ID, Touch ID, ARKit (Augmented Reality).
  • No background sync.
  • No integration with Siri.

No App Store distribution

You can’t publish your Progressive Web App in Apple’s App Store. Generally speaking, users will need to come to your website and install the PWA manually, by saving it to their home screen.

There are workarounds for this - you can use a service (or write code yourself) to create the framework of a native Swift app around your PWA, and publish that app to the App Store. But Apple’s guidelines for apps published in the App Store are relatively strict, so if you choose to go this route, you may find it takes a lot of work to make your PWA app store compliant.

How to Add a PWA to Home Screen on iOS

Though lacking the visibility and one-click install capability of Progressive Web Apps on Android, installing a PWA on iOS is fairly quick and straightforward.

First, the user will need to visit the PWA website. From there, they can add it to their home screen with a three-step process:

  1. Click the “share” button at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Scroll down and click “Add to Home Screen”.
  3. Confirm by clicking “Add”.

This will add a launcher icon to the home screen of the user's mobile device. When the user taps on the app icon, the PWA will open.

Source

Check out this video for a quick walkthrough:

Is Building a PWA Worth It?

Summing up what we’ve discussed above, Progressive Web Apps on iOS are usable, but come with a range of limitations.

  • Support for PWAs was briefly removed for iOS users in the EU, and while it was subsequently restored, it’s a sign that Apple is not totally in favor of PWAs.
  • PWAs on iOS only work with Safari.
  • iOS PWAs don’t have automatic install prompts, have limited offline capabilities and integration with device features, and can’t be published on the App Store.
  • Web push notifications are possible with iOS PWAs, but take extra work to set up, and come with stricter permission requirements from users.

So, with all those limitations considered, is it worth it to build a Progressive Web App?

In our opinion, yes. A Progressive Web App still provides a better user experience, particularly on mobile, than a standard responsive website.

The ability for a user to add it to their home screen is a plus, as is the ability to send push notifications, even if these features are limited compared to native apps and Progressive Web Apps on Android.

Building the necessary components for a Progressive Web App is not a massive undertaking, so unlocking modest benefits for iPhone users (on top of more extensive functionality for users on Android) is likely to be worth it.

Related: 5 Benefits of Building an Ecommerce PWA for Your Online Store

Should You Build a PWA or a Native App?

PWAs are naturally seen as a cheaper alternative to native mobile apps. As we’ve seen, there are certainly a number of shortcomings PWAs have when comparing them to true native apps.

At the same time, PWAs have some advantages:

  • Most importantly, they’re significantly cheaper and quicker to build. You don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a project lasting 6+ months, as you would with a native app.
  • PWAs are discoverable by Google, and offer an improved mobile browsing experience to a wider share of users, by being accessible in the browser.
  • PWAs are naturally cross-platform (outside of not working on certain browsers on iOS), which further adds to convenience for users.

Strictly in terms of user experience and value to a business, PWAs are not as good as native apps. Yet for small businesses with a limited budget, it likely makes more sense to create a PWA website than to invest in fully native apps, or even custom cross-platform apps.

However, with MobiLoud, you can get the best of both worlds - a cheap, efficient PWA combined with a mobile app that can harness the full power of push notifications, enter the app stores, and provide a more immersive user experience on mobile devices - without the huge cost of native apps.

Unlock a Wider Audience and Convert Your PWA to a Mobile App

MobiLoud turns any website into a native mobile app. This gives you access to the benefits of both PWAs and native apps. Instead of choosing between the two, you can build a PWA, then convert it to a mobile app with our done-for-you service.

A few examples of real mobile apps built with MobiLoud

These apps offer 95% of what you’d get from a fully custom native app, but with a much lower investment. Starting from $350 per month, you’ll get apps that look and feel like custom-built apps on iOS and Android, fully synced with your website, with little to no overhead required to maintain.

All the work to build, test and publish your apps is done for you by our team, including submitting your apps to the app stores for approval. Start to finish, the process can take as little as two weeks.

To see what’s possible for your Progressive Web App, learn more about the process and have your questions answered by one of our project managers, book a free consultation today.

Convert your website into a mobile app

Get custom mobile apps for iOS and Android that update automatically with your site and works with your entire tech stack.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Or Book Free Consultation
Preview My App
Rainbow Shops logo.Bestseller's logo.John Varvatos logo.
Only & Sons iOS app.

Read more posts like this.

Thank you! We'll be in touch within 48 hours :)
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Preview My App
Preview My App