Safari is filled with useful features on the iPhone and iPad. Some of them include an always on desktop mode, configurable site settings, support for content blockers. However, I think people often forget about Safari’s ability to add sites directly to the home screen, especially on the iPhone or iPad.
If you simply dismissed the Add to Home screen option as another elegant way to bookmark sites, then you are surprised. Home screen shortcuts offer several advantages.
Why Create Home Screen Shortcuts
Safari’s ability to add sites to the home screen has been around for years on iPhone and iPad. But this is the eventual support for progressive web applications with iOS 11.3 started to make more sense.
Progressive web apps are websites designed to function as real “ apps ” – though with limitations such as lack of support for notifications – once you’ve added them to the screen. Home. Not all websites are PWAs, but that shouldn’t stop you from reaping at least some of the benefits listed below.
Access sites faster
Safari website shortcuts appear as clean-cut icons shaped after the site’s logos and favicons, making them easily accessible and fairly difficult to miss. Beats before wading bookmarks or bookmarks in Safari when you can load them with a single click directly from the home screen.
But even more useful is the fact that they also appear as “applications” Search (Spotlight), which allows you to easily reduce the footprint if many applications are installed.
Do you hate being distracted by bookmarks and autofill suggestions in Safari? Home screen shortcuts should help you. You can easily visit sites with one click without looking at a Safari tab.
Best of all, these shortcuts also launch certain sites into a dedicated instance of Safari. This means that you can completely give up on distracting browser features. Most notable is the lack of tabs, the address bar, navigation controls, etc. Don’t worry, you can still navigate using effortless gestures.
If you are prone to procrastination, especially when you want to do work on the iPhone or iPad, this “limitation” should probably work wonders. However, there is no way to know if a site will launch in a dedicated Safari instance until you add it to the home screen.
If your favorite websites don’t have related apps on the App Store, then adding them to the home screen should serve as decent alternatives.
For starters, you get appropriate icons that don’t differ from those of dedicated apps. And as mentioned earlier, some of the sites you launch using shortcuts appear without standard browser elements (tabs, address bar, etc.), allowing for an experience very similar to an application.
In addition, sites that actually offer PWA functionality – not much, unfortunately – still work better for emulating real applications. Twitter is a great example. Compare the actual app and PWA side by side, and you’ll only notice a few subtle differences.
For a list of PWA sites, see Appscope.
The ability to operate offline is a key benefit associated with sites that have PWA functionality. They cache a limited amount of web content locally, so you can easily browse a site even if you lose internet connectivity.
It will not matter if the PWA is very online oriented. In the case of Twitter PWA, you can visit the old feeds or pages you’ve visited before, but that’s about it.
Home screen shortcuts are also the best way to replace apps from the App Store and reduce storage space. For example, installing a PWA like Twitter reduces a significant amount of storage otherwise used by the application itself – around 100 to 150 MB. Quite practical if you are carrying a iPhone or iPad with less storage.
PWA caches also have an upper limit of 50MB imposed, so you shouldn’t have to manage temporary file accumulations and related issues.
However, you may not want to replace the dedicated apps that are essential yet. Although PWAs work well, for the most part, they do not support essential features, such as system notifications, background refresh, etc.
How to Add Sites to the Home Screen
Have you decided to add a few sites to the home screen of your iPhone or iPad? So here’s how to do it. The steps below are geared towards iOS 13 and iPadOS, but they also work the same way – apart from the visual changes to the share sheet – in iOS 12 and iOS 11.
Step 1: Visit the site you want to add to the Home screen, then tap the Share Sheet icon. Next, scroll down the share sheet and tap the option labeled Add to Home screen.
Unless you want to create a shortcut to a specific page, stay on the home page of the site while displaying the sharing sheet, especially if you want to emulate the site as an application.
2nd step: Enter a name for the shortcut, then press Add. If you want to rely on search (Spotlight) to access your shortcuts faster, keep in mind the name you give it.
Note: If the site does not provide an appropriate home screen icon, Safari will use a web page snapshot instead.
That’s it. The home screen shortcut is now added. You can start using it immediately. There is no guarantee if a site would actually open in a dedicated Safari window, or if it would even include PWA functionality until you start using it.
Adding sites to the Home screen not only allows you to access your favorite sites faster, but they also provide a more targeted experience. And if a site offers real PWA support, then you are in for a real treat. Don’t expect the same level of functionality you would normally get from a dedicated App Store app – at least not yet – and you should be good.
Although Firefox does not allow you to add sites to the home screen, it is still a fantastic browser for the iPhone and iPad. Find out how it compares to Safari.
Last updated on March 23, 2020