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Apple this week began work toward integrating Service Workers, an API that lets browsers run background scripts, into WebKit, suggesting the company might one day support a form of next-generation web app in iOS.
As noted by Fortune, which also reported on the change, Service Workers comprise part of a larger Google-backed web technology initiative that allows developers to build specialized software known as Progressive Web Apps.
Unlike traditional iOS apps, web applications powered by Service Workers and other related APIs do not require downloads. In theory, PWAs allow browser-based apps to effectively compete with native software. Users need only direct their browser to a supported website to use said apps, links to which can be added to mobile OS home screens for easy access. The browser-based apps also support push notifications.
Service Workers allow PWAs to operate without a network connection by fetching cached content. The API also improves discoverability in search engines.
As an internet advertising company, Google is championing the effort for obvious reasons, but others have hopped on board as well. Internet browser developers Mozilla and Opera are also working on the solution, while Microsoft pledged support in May.
If they gain momentum, PWAs could mark a significant rethinking in how consumers interact with apps. Users would no longer be required to download or update software from dedicated repositories like the iOS App Store, while developers would only need to build a single app version, rather than one for each operating system.
PWAs shift power from the OS to the browser.
Whether Apple plans to incorporate PWA technology into a future version of Safari remains unclear, but the company is clearly investigating potential integrations. Aside from the recent announcement, Apple has remained expectedly quiet about its plans for Service Workers.