iOS App Development

Turn Any Website into an App with Automator

Automator Icon

Mac OS X makes it possible to launch webpages as standalone apps from Finder without the need to open Safari. This can be quite handy to get to websites quickly and does away with the usual Safari controls for bookmarking and entering web addresses. Besides this, it’s actually quite cool to see a webpage viewed as an app. What’s more, you can tell the website that you’re using an iPhone or iPad and view those sites on your Mac.

This article shows you how to quickly turn any website into an app using Automator.

Create an App with Automator

The first step is to open Automator from the Applications folder or type the name into Spotlight. When launched, you’ll be prompted to choose the type of document you’d like to create so select Application and hit the Choose button.

Create App
Open Automator and create a new application

From the left-hand side panel there’s a long list of all the available actions. Scroll down the list (or type it into the search box) until you find Get Specified URLs. Double click the item and it’ll appear on the right hand side with the default settings as follows.

Get Specified URLs
Choose Get Specified URLs and add it to the application workflow

Your Automator screen should now look something like the following. Change the default address in the Get Specified URLs box on the right to the website of your choice.

Automator View
Change the default web address to the one you want to view

Now locate the Website Popup action in the list – it’s probably quicker to enter the name in the search field. Once you’ve found it, double click to add to the list of actions on the right as shown below.

Website Popup
Add the Website Popup action to the workflow

The two actions you’ve configured should now contain the website you want to use in the top box, and the lower box presents several options to control the website’s size and user agent (i.e. which browser you are using). For example, you could view the website as it’s intended to be viewed on an iPad or iPhone. There are also options to set the position on screen (such as Centered). Just choose the settings that you feel are most appropriate.

Size and UA
Choose the size and device type using the drop-down options

In our example, we’ll view the Chris Writes website correctly sized for an iPad and so we’ll also set the user agent iPad. This setting tells the web server what device we’re using (or, fools it into thinking we’re on another type) and therefore it’ll give us a version of the site optimised for that type of device if available.

Website Popup Config
We’re opting to view the iPad version of the site in this example

Now that the configuration is complete, select Save from the File menu to finalise everything.

Save App
Once you’ve finished, save the application

When prompted, enter an application name and save location. The file format should be Application. Next, hit the Save button to finish and create the app.

Saving App
Choose a name and location and set the file format to be Application

Automator saves your app in the specified location (such as the desktop) and assigns it the default Automator icon (though you can easily customise icons in Mac OS X).

App Saved
You’ve just create a brand new app from a webpage

Finally, double-click the new icon to launch the app. Depending on which options you’ve selected and the target device, you should see something like that shown below. In this example we set the size so we get a page optimised for an iPad. Note the Cancel and OK buttons at the bottom right of the app – both buttons close the app. A small spinning cogwheel also appears on your main menu bar – you can also close the app by clicking on that and then the little “x” button.

App Open
The Chris Writes website, viewed as an app

Now that you know how to turn any website into an app, you can create dozens more and easily access them from the Dock or Finder, or even access iPhone and iPad-specific versions of websites on your Mac!

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About the author

Roland Banks

I've been passionate about Apple ever since I bought my first iPod followed by a white polycarbonate MacBook in 2007. I currently own a MacBook Pro Retina, an iPad Mini Retina, and an iPhone 6.

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