iOS 7 Safari: 3 Improvements, 4 New Hurdles

Apple recently released iOS 7, its latest operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPad Touch. iOS 7 is the default for the new iPhone 5S and 5C models, but owners of some older Apple devices can also download it and update their older operating systems.

So, what does this mean for web development? Like most other new operating systems, the iOS 7 offers several new features—some that improve accessibility, and some that introduce new hurdles for mobile web development.

Improvements/new features:

  1. Toolbar tint: The browser’s top toolbar gains a tinted color (which is by default from the background of the page itself).
  2. New gestures: Along with the global control center gesture (swipe from bottom), users can now swipe from the left or right to move back or forward in history.
  3. HTML5 addition: The video element now supports track, which means that subtitles or closed captions can be defined.

Hurdles:

  1. DateTime input removed: While support for this type of input was not strong enough to be used in anything other than vanity projects, it’s a disappointing regression.
  2. Homescreen webapps issues: Standard dialog boxes (alerts, confirmations, and prompts) do not work, external Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI) cannot be opened, which means no links to a new page in Safari, no AppStore, and no Maps, and cookies from the Safari version of the app are not transferred to the Homescreen version (logins, shopping carts, preferences all lost).
  3. New icon sizes: Icons are now 5% larger than before, this means that the standard retina iPhone icon size has increased from 114×114 pixels to 120×120. So icons now need to be re-created by designers.
  4. Major full-screen problems include: top and bottom toolbars only hide upon user interaction (cannot programmatically scroll the page to hide them) and sites with “non-natural” scrolling layouts (either iFrames, or overflow:scroll in CSS) will never hide scrollbars. This means sites like Twitter’s mobile site will have only a miniscule scrollable area in landscape mode.

While the new additions are great to have (iOS Safari adding subtitle support is a major win for accessibility), many of the regressions are confusing and set web development back significantly.

A more suspicious person might wonder if Apple is intentionally kneecapping its browser’s  app functionality to make the creation of web apps (that can be used on all mobile platforms) too complicated, thus steering developers toward  developing native ones exclusively for iOS 7, ultimately controlled and marketed by Apple.