Web apps launched from iOS home screen run slower than in Safari

rottenThis might just be why I found the HTML5 version of Ibis Reader to run so ungodly slow on my first-generation iPod Touch. The Register has determined that iOS runs web applications significantly slower when they’re launched from the home screen than when they’re accessed from the Safari browser. It’s not clear whether this is intentional or accidental, though plenty of people are quick to assume the worst.

[Apple] has a vested interest in its App Store, where it takes a 30 per cent cut of all applications sold, and pure web applications are ultimately a threat to the store, particularly when they’re loaded to the iOS home screen as if they were local apps. "Some people like to think of it as a conspiracy theory, but it could be a bug," [mobile app developer Alex] Kessinger says, referring to the speed issue. "If it is conspiracy, it makes a lot of sense for Apple. If you ‘disallow’ home screen web apps, you prevent people, in a way, from bypassing the App Store."

The main cause of the performance hit seems to be the Nitro JavaScript engine, which is used in Mobile Safari but not when apps are launched from the home screen—Apple is not degrading app performance so much as it just isn’t improving it. There are also differences in caching and rendering that mean the apps can’t run offline and don’t look as good on the screen. An unnamed developer confirms that multiple bug reports have been filed on these issues, but says the Mobile Safari team has indicated they will not be fixed.

This could put a kink in Amazon or other e-book companies’ plans to compete with HTML 5 non-app-store-based readers in the future.  Regardless, Android devices are starting to look better and better.

3 Comments on Web apps launched from iOS home screen run slower than in Safari

  1. Your first generation iPod touch cannot be upgraded beyond iOS 3.1.3. Thus, it never had the Nitro Javascript engine and never will. That device will never get any faster.

    The Nitro Javascript engine first appeared in desktop Safari and then made its way to mobile Safari in iOS 4.3. Being so new, I suppose that we shouldn’t be all that surprised to discover that implementation was lacking in some respects. I’d look for improvement in iOS 4.3.1 or so before positing an Apple power move to marginalize web apps.

  2. An unnamed developer confirms that multiple bug reports have been filed on these issues, but says the Mobile Safari team has indicated they will not be fixed.

    I’d like to see this in writing before I’d believe an unnamed developer quoted in the notoriously anti-Apple newsblog The Register.

    It definitely sound like a bug. According to other unnamed sources in the comments section of that article, this happens only when using certain Apple custom JavaScript functions to hide Safari chrome in a web app.

    Which sound bug-ish to me.

  3. It’s a bug.

    There’s no need for conspiracy theories when Apple has shown no compunctions about banning apps for “Looking At Me In A Funny Way”-level reasons.

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