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Moving Forward with Standalone Web Applications

Back in September 2017, when iOS11 was launched, we were told that WebRTC; an open-source project that provides web browsers and mobile applications with real-time communication, had been integrated into iOS.

“Thank God!”, we thought. The news we were waiting for.

This had been a major headache for us in drpdigital, holding us back with any development using WebRTC. The announcement truly was a milestone for web app developers, alike. By simply gaining access to device cameras, it would open a vast amount of creative opportunities for event apps.

Have a look at some examples here: https://webrtc.github.io/samples/

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Upon release we soon realised that, although this worked, all access to the camera had been disabled in *standalone web app (full screen mode). Previously, we were still able to access the camera via an input file (e.g. for uploading photos).

*a standalone app is when the user saves the web page to their home screen. This creates an app icon and opens the web app in full screen mode, so that it functions similar to a native app that you would download from the app store.

This left us pondering over the following questions:

  • Was Apple trying to push more developers to build native for the app store?
  • Was this a bug that just needed fixing?

In this time of being in the unknown, plenty of developer forums suggested simply moving to Android – bearing in mind Apple do have a tendency of not providing answers and making us developers wait…

Nobody knew the answer.

For us, this influenced what we could offer clients. The use of the camera is becoming more and more prevalent in event apps. It creates elements of social, interactivity and, generally, just a bit of fun.

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The image above is from our 2017 drpbigtalk. In this, we used guided access to lock down the device, but it wasn’t possible without putting the device into standalone (full screen) mode.

Fast forward to April 2018. It’s happened. Apple have come to the rescue with iOS 11.3. But, was this this in the release notes? No. Did Apple announce the fix. Nope. It seems like it was just… fixed.

It appears Apple don’t particularly want to shout to the heavens about supporting web app development but, at least, they are doing it…

"In this time of being in the unknown, plenty of developer forums suggested simply moving to Android – bearing in mind Apple do have a tendency of not providing answers and making us developers wait…"

It appears Apple don’t particularly want to shout to the heavens about supporting web app development but, at least, they are doing it…

https://medium.com/@firt/progressive-web-apps-on-ios-are-here-d00430dee3a7

Now it works, we can talk about all the new features that are now possible to be put into web apps. With WebRTC, accessing the camera opens several
 possibilities along with a whole spectrum of other cool things. Have a look here.

It’s also worth noting that Android devices already do all the above and have done for a while now. Without the Apple support, we wouldn’t have been able to offer some of creative elements we do due to so many users globally using Apple products.

So, although Apple are not 100% there yet, the bugs are being ironed out and the future looks good for web app development. It seems we don’t
 HAVE to build a native app to give users a good experience, more and more can be done in your web browser.

By Gareth Hale - Designer / Developer