Why hybrid app developers should love the new iOS 8

Exciting news coming from WWDC for all HTML5 hybrid app developers, notably for Cordova and PhoneGap. Apple’s iOS 8 has a new browser engine called WKWebView. As the name implies, this is a real Webkit-based view that can substitute for the traditional UIWebView. Browser engines allow mobile app developers to embed Web content into their app, a core functionality for most apps.

We did many benchmark tests and figured out that WKWebView has a huge advantage in performance, stability and functionality. We believe WKWebView marks a major improvement in performance for hybrid apps that run on iOS. It is a big step forward.

Both WKWebView and UIWebView provide browser rendering capabilities with a JavaScript execution engine. The question is: How are they different, and how are the iOS 8 browser engines improved compared to iOS 7?

In a nutshell, all HTML5-based hybrid apps will run much quicker and become more stable if they use the new WKWebView engine. Hybrid apps are still often considered infamously slow. This new engine clearly solves a major issue in hybrid app development for iOS devices.

Looking at the numbers
To easily highlight the differences between WKWebView and UIWebView, we made a simple hybrid app that is hosted by WKWebView and UIWebView. All benchmarks were run in the application. We used two iPhone 5s: one with iOS 8 beta and one with iOS 7.1.1.

HTML5 support level test: To begin our comparisons, we executed the HTML5Test.com benchmark. Below are the differences between those three engines. Interestingly, there are some APIs that are only available in WKWebView. Since UIWebView is running on top of WKWebView, we first assumed all of the API sets are inherited. That was wrong.

WebGL is now enabled: Until now, WebGL was a hidden feature in iOS 7 that could not be enabled by the developer. But starting in iOS 8, WebGL is now officially supported in both WKWebView and UIWebView. This is huge for developers who require native-level 3D animation capability, especially for game app developers.