Web apps to become first class citizens in iOS 5

HTML 5, CSS 3 and JavaScript-based applications are about to become first-class citizens on Apple’s iOS platform for iPhone and iPad.

Since iOS’ inception, it has always been possible to pin web pages to the home screen in order to create app-like shortcuts to web pages. When iOS 4.3 was released earlier this year, the Safari web browsing app was given a big upgrade with a Nitro JavaScript engine, providing a huge boost in performance.

However, much to the annoyance of developers of mobile-targeting web applications, the updated JS engine was not available to web pages which had been pinned to the home screen – if anything, these were the web pages that needed access to the faster processing! Apple later clarified this as a security precaution: in iOS only memory pages from signed applications can be executed; Nitro’s JIT compilation of JavaScript code violates this (Safari in iOS 4.3 has a special exception to this rule).

This all changes in iOS 5 – the upcoming update to the OS expected later this year. Web pages pinned to the start screen also get the elevated privileges, enabling JIT compilation and the Nitro engine. However, native applications will not be able to take advantage of Nitro, the same security concerns prohibiting the JIT compilation.

With these changes in place, perhaps web application developers will feel they are more able to target mobile users without necessarily requiring that their services have dedicated iOS applications.

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