How-To: Create an iPhone Web App

34 Comments

The iPhone OS is pitched as the entire Internet in your pocket…minus Flash. This works most of the time, but what if you just want to design a site or form that looks like a native iPhone App?

This is where iWebKit comes in. iWebKit is a free framework package for creating websites and applications that are optimized for the iPod Touch, iPhone & iPad. The bulk of the framework is CSS3 which can work its magic to makeover any dreadful site and make it look fresh.

I will be covering the web-form aspect of creating an optimized site, but iWebKit has many deeper features that can communicate directly with the OS. Its documentation is excellent, so dig around or check out the demo site on your iPhone to get inspiration.

When designing for the iPhone OS, you should use the iPhone simulator available in the SDK to get an idea of where your design is heading. You can also use Safari to get a pretty close representation, but nothing beats using a real physical device. It’s amazing how cool it feels and you really do get the impression it’s a native application.

Getting Started

Here is what the form looks like on the iPhone before we optimize it.

It’s pretty dull looking, to say the least. Below is the original HTML code being used. We’re going to get Apple-blood running through it and give it a makeover.

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<html><head><title>Test Form</title></head>
<body>
<form method="post">
Name: <input type="text" size="12" maxlength="12" name="name">
Password:<input type="password" size="12" maxlength="36" name="passw"><br />
Gender:<br />
Male:<input type="radio" value="Male" name="gender"><br />
Female:<input type="radio" value="Female" name="gender"><br />
Favorite Food:<br />
Steak:<input type="checkbox" value="Steak" name="food[]"><br />
Pizza:<input type="checkbox" value="Pizza" name="food[]"><br />
Chicken:<input type="checkbox" value="Chicken" name="food[]"><br />
<textarea rows="5" cols="20" name="quote" wrap="physical">Enter your favorite quote!

Select a Level of Education:<br />
<select name="education">
<option value="Jr.High">Jr.High</option>
<option value="HighSchool">HighSchool</option>
<option value="College">College</option>
</select><br />
<input type="submit" name="" value="Submit" />
</form>
</body>
</html>
[/sourcecode]

This code needs to be in an HTML file in the same folder as the iWebKit framework. I called it index.html.

The first step is to add these lines between the <head> tags.

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<meta content="yes" name="apple-mobile-web-app-capable" />
<meta content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" http-equiv="Content-Type" />
<meta content="minimum-scale=1.0, width=device-width, maximum-scale=0.6667, user-scalable=no" name="viewport" />
<link href="css/style.css" type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" />
<script src="javascript/functions.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="homescreen.png"/>
<link href="startup.png" rel="apple-touch-startup-image" />
[/sourcecode]

These lines tell the iPhone browser that this page is designed for it. It also references the CSS, JavaScript and images for the iPhone Home Screen and a startup image.

To create the top title bar we need to enter the following code immediately after the <body> tag.

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<div id="topbar">
<div id="title">Test Form</div>
</div>
[/sourcecode]

If you load up the page in your iPhone simulator browser you will see this bar at the top.

Now we need to start our main content with the following <div> tag.

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<div id="content">
[/sourcecode]

All the form fields will be inside of this <div> and we won’t close it till the end of the form. The first form fields we want are the Name and Password fields.

Replace the original code:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
Name:<input type="text" size="12" maxlength="12" name="name"><br />
Password:<input type="password" size="12" maxlength="36" name="passw"><br />
[/sourcecode]

With this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<ul class="pageitem">
<li class="bigfield"><input placeholder="Name" name="name" type="text" /></li>
<li class="bigfield"><input placeholder="Password" name="passw" type="password" /></li>
</ul>
[/sourcecode]

Our Name and Password fields have now been transformed.

The <ul> container represents the white box while the <li> tag is to signify separate sections inside of the white box. You could also put each of these fields in their own <ul> containers and they would look like two separate boxes. To save screen space, I group similar items together. Now lets replace those old fashioned radio buttons from the Gender question.

Replace this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
Gender:<br />
Male:<input type="radio" value="Male" name="gender"><br />
Female:<input type="radio" value="Female" name="gender"><br />
[/sourcecode]

With this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<span class="graytitle">Gender</span>
<ul class="pageitem">
<li class="radiobutton">
<span class="name">Male</span>
<input name="gender" type="radio" value="M" />
</li>
<li class="radiobutton">
<span class="name">Female</span>
<input name="gender" type="radio" value="F" />
</li>
</ul>
[/sourcecode]

The radio buttons are changed for the better.

Next up are the checkboxes under the Favorite Food question.

Replace this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
Favorite Food:<br />
Steak:<input type="checkbox" value="Steak" name="food[]"><br />
Pizza:<input type="checkbox" value="Pizza" name="food[]"><br />
Chicken:<input type="checkbox" value="Chicken" name="food[]"><br />
[/sourcecode]

With this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<span class="graytitle">Favorite Foods</span>
<ul class="pageitem">
<li class="checkbox">
<span class="name">Steak</span>
<input name="steak" type="checkbox" />
</li>
<li class="checkbox">
<span class="name">Pizza</span>
<input name="pizza" type="checkbox" />
</li>
<li class="checkbox">
<span class="name">Chicken</span>
<input name="chicken" type="checkbox" />
</li>
</ul>
[/sourcecode]

Now instead of check boxes, we get those pretty on/off sliders we’re accustomed to inside the iPhone OS.

The textbox is pretty simple since it just creates a nice white box around the textbox.

Replace:

[sourcecode language=”html”]<textarea rows="5" cols="20" name="quote" wrap="physical">Enter your favorite quote!</textarea><br />[/sourcecode]

With this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<ul class="pageitem">
<li class="textbox">
<textarea name="quote" rows="5">Enter your favorite quote!</textarea>
</li>
</ul>
[/sourcecode]

Lets move on to the dropdown menus. Dropdowns always use the iPhone’s built-in method and help create the feeling of a native app.

Replace this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
Select a Level of Education:<br />
<select name="education">
<option value="Jr.High">Jr.High</option>
<option value="HighSchool">HighSchool</option>
<option value="College">College</option>
</select><br />
[/sourcecode]

With this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<span class="graytitle">Level of Education</span>
<ul class="pageitem">
<li class="select">
<select name="education">
<option value="Jr.High">Jr.High</option>
<option value="HighSchool">HighSchool</option>
<option value="College">College</option>
</select>
<span class="arrow"></span>
</li>
</ul>
[/sourcecode]

Notice the arrow span class adds the down arrow to the right of the selection box.

As far as the form goes, all that’s left is the Submit button and to close the <div> tag.

Replace this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]<input name="Submit" type="submit" value="Submit" />[/sourcecode]

With this:

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<ul class="pageitem">
<li class="button">
<input name="Submit" type="submit" value="Submit" />
</li>
</ul>
[/sourcecode]

Now close the content <div> tag with the following:

[sourcecode language=”html”]</div>[/sourcecode]

Finally, we may want to put a footer at the bottom of our page. It’s nice to also support the iWebKit folks.

[sourcecode language=”html”]
<div id="footer">
<a href="http://iwebkit.net">Powered by iWebKit</a>
</div>
[/sourcecode]

That’s it for the HTML portion. Two nice little touches you can do are for when someone adds the page to their home screen. When browsing the page, click the “+” button and select the Add to Home Screen option. You will see an icon that, by default, is a screenshot of the page. You can customize this by making your own 58×58 pixel image and referring to it in the <head> section. Mine is named homescreen.png and I’ve already included the code at the beginning of the article.

Now when this page is added to the Home Screen, it will look and feel like a native app. Why not have a startup screen displayed while the page loads? iWebKit also has this feature and you simply need a 320×460 pixel image that again, is referenced in the <head> section. I have called mine startup.png.

That’s it, we’re done! iWebKit has many other features that you should check out. You may get some inspiration for an app or at least look good to your boss when you pretty up that old form that’s been around for years. All the files used in this article are also attached for your viewing pleasure along with a short video walkthrough of this tutorial.

Project Files: iwebkit-tutorial-files.zip (94 KB, ZIP)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04KMyqW9Iwg

34 Comments

Darren Campan

Great post, I’ve just created a web app for work and it works a treat. my only issue is the check boxes, is it possible they could say anything else apart from on/off? ideally yes/no.

Ankit

This is not an Iphone App…

This is just a web page that looks like an app, app is something that you download in your iphone/ipad.

In iphone you can create a link to to a web page, and if that web page has a little content, that looks like an iphone app.

Anon

Excellent post.

Is there a way to sell a web app? That is, can I do this entire process, but sell it as an app on the AppStore? (I know it would require some kind of authentication or anyone could just browse to the site.)

I guess, what I’m asking is: can I make a real app, that simply points to the webapp right away (passing some kind of key). That way it will REALLY look like an app.

iPhone Backgrounds

iWebKit is pretty interesting but I don’t think you can post app made with it to app store because as far as i know it cant be compiled to native objective c. You can also use phonegap to make webapps and compile them to objective c which should be accepted in appstore but phonegap works only on mac.

Cezar Augustus Signori

Awesome post!

I don’t really like web apps, but sometimes we have to develop one and if a had found this post like 1 year ago, it would be very useful.

New “web app people” will love it!

Magne

Hi, nice post :)

I was wondering if anybody knows if it is possible to get a contact icon/button beside a textfield and allow visitors to click it and let them select a contact from their iphone. When they have selected the contact, that contacts phone number is sent to the textfield?

Scott

I have used the iwebkit since last summer and it is pretty nice. After a while, I ran into limitation when some css use fixed size. So, I was able to customize it to make textboxes wider and ul/li tags to expand in height if width is too long. So that helped because the website need to be a bit more flexible only when needed.

Pedromiramis

Thanks, Joel. Function follows form. Now I understand the reach of the iWebKit framework.

Joel

The questions + comments arising from this article, not to mention the quality of the code given as examples, definitely show why Apple steps in to prevent anyone from creating apps.

@Pedromiramis: as with all forms in x/html, if you don’t want a standard form interaction you will need to trigger the resulting behaviour via javascript callbacks. Please note, however, to ensure that you do this using progressive enhancement – ie: I can still submit the form like normal and it will work. Hence use event listeners.

Pedromiramis

thanks for this interesting tuturial. Now I’m looking for a way how to open an URL after an option value is selected in the dropdown menu. Is it possible just to add a link or do I have to add some event handling with JavaScript?

Greg

Just as note, the example for download is correct but you are missing rel=”stylesheet” in the first step meta tags. Without it the page would show up nicely but not with the table form expected. The tutorial is very nice though.

JJ

Cool Tutorial – Thanks.
Do you know if this would work on the Android platform?

Francois

I’m not sure my comment went through. I was talking about associating IWebkit with CMS such as Drupal.

We did that in our app and we are very satisfied with the results.

http://www.mobipolls.com gives users the chance to get free ITunes codes simply by answering on-line surveys from their IPhone or IPod touch.

DYI

Fantastic!
This is the best way to have a small iPhone app without the need to run through Apple validation and approval!

DrinkedIn

This is a great posting. We’ve been considering an iPhone application for DrinkedIn and I think that after reading your article, we’ll definitely have it in our roadmap.

I’m curious as to how to leverage the API for GPS functionality. I want location to be part of the app. If anyone has experience with this, please contact the admin at http://DrinkedIn.net as we would be very interested in a project.

Francois

Hi,

I am using a geolocation functionality, but not the one built-in the IPhone. Though I know it is possible to use it from Safari.

Please feel free to test our app

http://www.mobipolls.com

and contact us to discuss this further

jufemaiz

Seriously, can you guys at least apply a modicum of web standards to this.

Favorite Food:
Steak:
Pizza:
Chicken:

should, at a minimum, be:
Favorite Food:
Steak:
Pizza:
Chicken:

Inside the Webb

This is so cool! I just got an iPhone about a month ago and I love it. I have always wanted to create a web app with it, but never really knew where to start

Chris

Apps that you download from the App Store (native apps) are written in Objective-C. Before there was an iPhone SDK, people created web sites that looked like native apps, but were just web pages. Even with native apps, developers are integrating the web into those apps and it’s hard to tell that you’re actually looking at a web page sometimes. This is good if you already have some part of an application that is a web app and don’t want to rewrite it as a native app.

Mike Pascoe

Excellent post!

I have already created an app but I think that the code you have here might be better. I used “iui” and now I am interested in seeing if the iwebkit code performs better.

You can view my webapp from your device here: http://www.mikepascoe.com/3415/

– Mike

Comments are closed.