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Android and iOS Go HTML5 Friendly With Their Latest Releases

by João Paulo Marques on Nov 17, 2014 |

The two popular mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, may be about to give a boost to the HTML5 development with their latest releases. While Google is removing WebView from Android's core, making it an updatable component, Apple replaced the traditional UIWebView with WKWebView, which has advantages in the performance, stability and functionality of hybrid applications.

Hybrid applications are just like native applications. They are installed from Google Play or the App Store but are developed using technologies such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Each operating system exposes an API that interacts with an engine, which is essentially a browser used to parse, run and display those applications. In Android, this engine is WebView while in iOS it is WKWebView. Developers can then embed Web content into their apps and access components that regular mobile websites cannot access like the camera, file system, NFC, etc.

The WebView has always been part of Android's core and was only updated with a new release of the OS. As Android's releases are normally slow and vary from vendor to vendor, it may not reach all phones and tablets at the same time (if at all), leaving users with outdated features or exposed to security issues. Right after the release of KitKat, the Chrome Developer team acknowledged the problem and their intent to move towards a system of regular updates.

Beginning in Android Lollipop, there is a new feature called Updatable WebView. As the name implies, the WebView will now be updated as a regular app from the Google Play. Not only will this ensure important security updates find their way to the devices, but it will also make new features and APIs available to developers of applications that rely on WebView.

By its turn, Apple has made some moves to embrace even more HTML5 in iOS 8, being the most notorious the replacement of the traditional engine, UIWebView, with WKWebView. In previous versions of iOS, hybrid applications were unable to achieve the same level of JavaScript performance as the stock Safari app because Apple restricted the use of its Nitro JavaScript engine to Safari, leaving UIWebView with a slower version.

Now with the WKWebView API, hybrid apps running on iOS 8 will take advantage of the same optimizations offered to the Safari web browser. Benchmark results shows that JavaScript in these apps can run 4.5x faster than with the old UIWebView API. There is however a bug on the new API, present since beta 4, that can potentially break some hybrid apps.

Besides this major change, iOS 8 now supports the following HTML5 features:

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