February 21, 2010

appify: Make Web Apps Look Like iPhone Apps

As you probably know, simple web pages can appear as 'normal' apps on your iPhone (or iPod touch) when you add them to your home screen using Safari's '+' menu. With some changes to the web site you can enhance the 'app feeling' even further. You can:
  • Give it a nice icon
  • Add a startup screen which appears when clicking the icon on your home screen
  • Hide the Safari address bar and the menu
All the details on what you have to do in your code can be found e.g. here.

And voilĂ , your web page looks like a normal iPhone app.

Left: My web page in Mobile Safari
Right: Same page through appify

But what if you cannot change the code (as it might not be your web site)? I wrote a small web app (I called it 'appify') which can do the trick for you. appify adds a new starting page to the web app of your choice, and adds all of the nice features I just listed. And after displaying that starting page, the browser is redirected to the actual web app.

You can appify a web app yourself. Or you simply try it on your iPhone with the appified mobile version of GMail.

Note: All of this is nice but has one drawback: When you click on a link on your appified web page, the iPhone will close the app and open the new page in Safari. This doesn't happen with AJAX web apps where you do not have 'normal' links. So appify might not be too useful for many web pages :-(. But it works great for e.g. GMail.
This does not only affect appify, but all web apps on the iPhone. If you know a way to avoid this, please let me know!

A small interesting details from the implementation: I have to give the user a chance to save the web site on the iPhone home screen BEFORE I redirect to the actual web app. I found an easy way to do this: In JavaScript you can detect if the app is in standalone mode (i.e. it is fullscreen without the address bar and menu):
if (window.navigator.standalone) {
// fullscreen mode

So when we are not in fullscreen mode I do not redirect and the user can save the page to the home screen. When coming through the new home screen icon, Safari runs in standalone mode and the script redirects to the actual app.
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