With iOS 11.3, Apple has silently added support for the basic set of new technologies behind the idea of “Progressive Web Apps” (PWAs). It’s time to see how they work, what are their abilities and challenges, and what do you need to know if you already have a published PWA.
⚠️ Updated version of this article ⏩ firt.dev
Update: this article is still 100% valid for iOS 12.
If you came here and you still don’t know what a PWA is, let’s start saying there is no unique or precise definition. But it’s an app created with Web technologies that −without packaging or signing− can work offline and can optionally be installed in the operating system where it will look and act like any other app.
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There is no App Store process involved in most platforms−only Edge/Windows 10 is currently forcing PWAs to be in the store.
So you are right, you can now install apps on iOS without App Store approval. That’s probably one reason Apple didn’t mention at all about this new ability; they might not want to confuse users. Not even the release notes on Safari mention the technologies.
Update: iOS 12.2 is now released with some changes; check also this article for complement content: https://medium.com/@firt/whats-new-on-ios-12-2-for-progressive-web-apps-75c348f8e945
Wasn’t Apple the creator of PWAs anyway?
Let’s be honest here; while Google with the Chrome team coined the term PWA, the idea was initially available on Safari at the original iPhone OS. In 2007, Steve Jobs announced “one more thing” in the WWDC: how to develop apps for the original iPhone and it was, surprise, web apps! The App Store was not on the original roadmap, and the native SDK wasn’t available during the first year of the device. From an Apple’s perspective PWAs even today are just “web apps from the home screen,” and the icon is something referred as a WebClip.