While pundits have been spending the last few years debating whether native apps are superior to their Web counterparts, Apple has been quietly making improvements to the mobile version of Safari, adding features, increasing performance, and generally ensuring that its devices can deliver a browsing environment that is as close as possible to what is available on the desktop.
Though the updates have often been on the quiet side, the attention is no surprise: One of the salient selling points of the original iPhone OS — as it was called back in 2007 — was that it shipped with a fully-fledged browser.
This focus on Web technologies continues with iOS 8, which will introduce what are perhaps some of the biggest changes to Safari and its underlying technology since the OS's original introduction.
Speed, speed, speed (and safety)
Named Nitro, this "just-in-time" compiler had one major drawback: It was only available when you opened a webpage inside Safari itself. In order to work, Nitro requires special sandboxing privileges that are normally not available to third-party apps; for one thing, it prevents those apps from running code that hasn't been pre-approved by Apple at the time of an app's submission to the App Store.
In iOS 8, however, the new Extensibility features will allow all apps to enjoy the same level of performance as Safari. As long as they opt in to a new embedding mechanism, third-party developers can embed the browser's rendering engine directly into their code in a way that fully enables all of Nitro's enhancements, alongside a few additional performance tricks.
Voyage in the third dimension
The second big announcement to come out of this year's WWDC is the fact that Safari for iOS 8 will, for the first time, be able to render 3D graphics using a device's GPU for hardware acceleration.
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