Apple TV: A World Without Webviews

Daniel Pasco
Sep 11, 2015 · 5 min read

Our Friend, the Webview …

Webviews are found on every major platform out there: OS X, iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, etc. Generally speaking, most major browsers, such as Safari and Chrome are applications built around a webview. The menus and buttons let you interact with the app, navigate to different sites, etc., but the actual heavy lifting of the browser (e.g., showing you what’s on daringfireball.net) is rendered in the main content pane of the app in an embedded webview.

… Is MIA

Webkit is the framework that Apple uses to allow developers to include webviews in their apps. UIWebview, a UIKit class, provides a simple way to do so. Both of these are missing from tvOS.

No Internet Browsing

If you’re looking at Twitter and someone you follow posts a link, you can click on it and the app will create a webview, load the link in the webview, and show it to you. You get to check out links quickly without ever having to leave the app. The Facebook app uses webviews for the same purpose. And that’s practically the sole reason why apps like NetNewsWire exist in the first place.

A Lot of Broken Applications and a Lot of New Code

Webviews are the Duct tape of the mobile world. I’d estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the major apps out there use webviews somewhere within their apps. Apple’s Mail app uses webviews for your email messages, because webviews can style and render the content very efficiently. NetNewsWire uses them prolifically, particularly in a few features we haven’t enabled in the shipping version yet.

No Web Apps

I’m editing this article in Google Docs while my teammates correct my grammar and editing mistakes, and we’re discussing it in Slack. Both of these applications, and pretty much everything else Google does, are web-based, so those are all gone (not that typing with an Apple TV remote would be awesome — just pointing out the class of applications).

Why Would Apple Do This?

Probably for a variety of reasons. Apple uses webviews for its own products, and TVML has been around for the pre-existing Apple TV models for a while. Apple’s been preparing content for this device for a long time, and needed a mechanism for content providers to use as well, so they certainly know the ins and outs of what the platform can handle well.

Result

No matter what the motivation, there’s going to be a lot of work for people to do, particularly for companies that lean heavily on embedded Web content for their apps. Obviously this is going to be great for users, in terms of a consistent experience.


BPXL Craft

Design and technology articles from the Black Pixel team.

Daniel Pasco

Written by

Renegade polymath, kung fu enthusiast, guitarist, and semi-retired mad scientist. Founder and CEO of Black Pixel, now Director of Engineering at Hypergiant.

BPXL Craft

Design and technology articles from the Black Pixel team. blackpixel.com

Daniel Pasco

Written by

Renegade polymath, kung fu enthusiast, guitarist, and semi-retired mad scientist. Founder and CEO of Black Pixel, now Director of Engineering at Hypergiant.

BPXL Craft

Design and technology articles from the Black Pixel team. blackpixel.com

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store