Safari comes filled with useful functionalities on the iPhone and iPad. Some of them include an always-on desktop mode, configurable site settings, support for content blockers. However, I feel people often overlook Safari’s ability to add sites directly on to the Home screen, especially on the iPhone or iPad
If you have simply dismissed the Add to Home Screen option as just another fancy way to bookmark sites, then you are in for a surprise. Home screen shortcuts yield several benefits.
Why Create Home Screen Shortcuts
Safari’s ability to add sites to the Home screen has been present for years on the iPhone and iPad. But it’s the eventual support for progressive web apps with iOS 11.3 began making more sense.
Progressive web apps are websites geared to function like actual ‘apps’ — albeit with limitations such as a lack of notifications support — once you add them to the Home screen. Not all websites are PWAs, but that shouldn’t stop you from reaping at least a few of the benefits listed below.
Access Sites Faster
Safari’s website shortcuts show up as crisply rendered icons fashioned after site logos and favicons, making them readily accessible and quite hard to miss. Beats having to wade through favorites or bookmarks in Safari when you can load them in a single tap right from the Home screen.
But even more useful is the fact that they also show up as ‘applications’ in Search (Spotlight), which helps you cut through the clutter easily if you have lots of apps installed.
Hate being distracted by favorites and autofill suggestions in Safari? Home screen shortcuts should help. You can easily visit sites in a single tap without looking at a Safari tab.
Better yet, these shortcuts also cause certain sites will launch in a dedicated instance of Safari. That means you can forgo distractive browser functionalities altogether. Most notable is the lack of tabs, the address bar, navigation controls, etc. Don’t worry, you can still navigate using gestures effortlessly.
If you are prone to procrastinating, especially when you want to get some work done on the iPhone or iPad, then this ‘limitation’ should likely work wonders. However, there’s no way to know if a site will launch in a dedicated Safari instance until after you add it to the Home screen.
If your favorite websites don’t have accompanying apps on the App Store, then adding them to the Home screen should serve as decent alternatives.
For starters, you get proper icons that look no different from those of dedicated apps. And as mentioned before, some of sites that you launch using shortcuts show up without the standard browser elements (tabs, address bar, etc.), thereby allowing for a very app-like experience.
Furthermore, sites that actually sport PWA functionality — not a lot yet, sadly — work even better at emulating actual apps. A prime example is Twitter. Compare both the actual app and PWA side by side, and you will only spot a few subtle differences.
For a list of PWA sites, check out Appscope.
The ability to function offline is a key benefit associated with sites that sport PWA functionality. They cache a limited amount of web content locally, so you can easily navigate a site even if you lose internet connectivity.
That won’t matter if the PWA is very much online-oriented. In the case of Twitter PWA, you can visit past feeds or pages that you’ve already visited, but that’s about it.
Frees Up Storage
Home screen shortcuts also offer the best way to replace App Store applications and cut down on storage space. For example, installing a PWA like Twitter cuts down on a significant amount of storage otherwise consumed by the app itself — around 100-150 MB. Quite handy if you carry around an iPhone or iPad with less storage.
PWA caches also have an imposed upper limit of 50 MB, so you should not have to deal with temporary file buildups and related issues.
However, you may not want to replace dedicated apps that are essential just yet. While PWAs work for well, for the most part, they don’t support vital functionalities, such as system notifications, background refreshing, etc.
How to Add Sites to the Home Screen
Decided to add a few sites to the Home screen of your iPhone or iPad? Then here’s how to do it. The steps below are geared toward iOS 13 and iPadOS, but they also work the same — aside from visual changes to the Share Sheet — in iOS 12 and iOS 11.
Step 1: Visit the site that you want to add to the Home Screen and then tap the Share Sheet icon. Afterward, scroll down the Share Sheet, and then tap the option labeled Add to Home Screen.
Step 2: Insert a name for the shortcut, and then tap Add. If you want to rely on Search (Spotlight) to get to your shortcuts faster, be mindful of what you name it as.
Note: If the site does not provide a proper Home screen icon, Safari will use a webpage snapshot in place instead.
That’s it. The Home screen shortcut is now added. You can start using it immediately. There’s no guarantee as to whether a site would actually open in a dedicated Safari window, or if it will even sport PWA functionality until you start using it.
Rack Them Up
Adding sites to the Home screen not only lets you get to your favorite sites faster, but they also allow for a more focused experience. And if a site sports actual PWA support, then you are in for a real treat. Just don’t expect the same level of functionality that you would normally get off a dedicated App Store app — at least not just yet — and you should be good.
Next up: Although Firefox doesn’t let you add sites to the Home screen, it’s still a fantastic browser for the iPhone and iPad. Find out how it stacks up against Safari.
Last updated on 28 December, 2022
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