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4 Web technologies that shine in iOS 8

Marco Tabini | June 17, 2014
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.

To be fair, this feature is not exactly new.WebGL, the technology that makes 3D programming possible on the web, was released in 2011, and has been present in Safari for several versions of iOS. However, Apple chose to disable it by default, and effectively made the technology impossible for third-party apps to use by hiding the software switch that turns it on behind a private API. (The company did make an exception for its own iAd service, however — presumably because it had added control over what would be displayed.)

When iOS 8 finally sees the light later this year, WebGL will be turned on by default, giving users full access to any website that provides content through that technology. This will open the door to new applications that range from virtual showrooms to full-fledged 3D games right in a browser or in an embedded Web view.

One fish, two fish, video fish

The iOS 8 version of Safari comes with a number of video playback enhancements that primarily fall in two categories: power saving and media management.

On the power-saving side of things, Apple has implemented a number of tricks that allow media playback to use less of your battery, particularly when it comes to mixing it with other Web content. Among the most notable features, video is now composited directly in hardware, and technologies like HTTP Live Streaming have been extended to provide fully adaptive video streams that use less bandwidth and load faster.

When it comes to media management, Cupertino's engineers have greatly enhanced the ability for JavaScript to interact with video content, and have even implemented a new technology known as Media Source Extensions that allows JavaScript to manipulate and generate streams directly from within a webpage.

These new features could usher in all sorts of new applications that make use of video on the Web, including time-shifting live streams, interactive multi-angle playback, and more.

Keep calm and continue on

A final set of improvements coming to iOS 8 enhance Safari with support for the operating system's overall Continuity framework, which allows apps to better communicate across devices and even across distribution media.

For example, new APIs in iOS 8 allow apps and websites to share credentials. At the most basic level, this means that you won't have to re-enter your username and password as you switch between the native and Web-based versions of Web-based services like Feedly or Dropbox. On newer devices equipped with Touch ID sensors, which can now be used to unlock credentials held by third-party apps, this could mean that you will never have to type a username and password again, resulting in better security and improved usability.


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