Does ‘one web’ mean ‘one website’?

Filed under: mobile,opinion,web development — jaydublu @ 5:05 pm

Ongoing discussions with a colleague about the most appropriate way to deliver websites that are mobile friendly, led him to send me a link to a blog posting in the Opera Community: ‘Open Standards, One Web, and Opera‘. He reckons this demonstrates his view that you should build a standards compliant site, and leave it to standards compliant browsers to adapt. For the record my view is that whilst this approach may work most of the time, better experience can be given to the visitor if you tailor the code being delivered by the server to suit device capabilities.

Summarising the main argument of the piece:

We believe very strongly in 2 main principles:

  1. One Web — first coined by the W3C, the one Web principle is what it implies — there should be one single Web that can be accessed by any Web—enabled device, not different content for different devices — this is unsustainable, and a maintenance nightmare — having to maintain several versions of the same content can be really frustrating. The “one Web” is made possible by…
  2. Open standards. Technologies such as CSS and HTML are open — they are free for anyone to use and get involved in the evolution of, and because they are also standards, pages created using them should be viewable on any device by anybody, as long as user agent vendors follow the standards. Most vendors, including ourselves, are making a pretty good job of this these days, mostly (hint — there is still a bloated giant out there that has trouble with standards, despite controlling over 70% of the browser market. We won’t name any names…) Proprietary standards, that is, standards that are not free for anyone to use and lock you in to having to use a single/few company’s products, are bad for the one Web, and are often inaccessible (that is, not usable by users with disabilities) and expensive to develop with.

I can’t and won’t argue against either point – I believe in them too, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with the implication that ‘one web’ implies ‘one website’ – i.e. one set of code that gets delivered to all devices.

That’s getting a bit close to ‘lowest common denominator’ where you don’t use particular techniques or features if not supported by all devices you’re building for, or another risk is that you’re abandoning a chunk of your audience for the sin of not using a standards compliant browser (that could be 90%+ of your potential audience!)

Where in those two principles does it say you can’t adapt code a bit to suit device capabilities – and before I get screamed at for suggesting multiple sites / thousands of separate templates / layouts etc. note the phrase ‘a bit’ – and use some of the power going spare in our modern day servers? A pragmatic approach rather than dogmatic.

‘One Web’ is about content – reading what the W3C say about One Web in their Mobile Web Best Practices:

“One Web means making, as far as is reasonable, the same information and services available to users irrespective of the device they are using. However, it does not mean that exactly the same information is available in exactly the same representation across all devices. The context of mobile use, device capability variations, bandwidth issues and mobile network capabilities all affect the representation.”

i.e. The content should be the same, but the way it’s being presented could be adapted to suit the device.

Not all devices / browsers are equal – some have very special needs, particularly mobile ones. Even if they can render full standards compliant web pages, there are problems of bandwidth and memory. Mobile devices will perform better with nice light pages, whereas Desktop users are perfectly happy with big bloated ones.

Screen size and navigation – yes I love the iPhone’s zooming, but at the end of the day when you start to read a site or try and use the navigation, the screen is only 320×480 pixels, and a fat finger is less precise that a mouse. So the likelihood is that a navigation system that works well at 1024×768 with a mouse, might be a bit fiddly on an iPhone, let alone a mobile using a simulated mouse or keys, on the other hand something simple enough for a mobile might be really tame on a Desktop.

But which standard? xhtml is getting wider support within higher spec phones now, but it’s still widely regarded that XHTML-MP is supported by the overwhelming majority of mobile browsers. And what about old phones that prefer WML? Just because you’re sending different markup to different devices doesn’t mean that the markup used won’t be standards compliant.

In summary – ‘one web‘ – yes. ‘Use standards‘ – yes. But adapt the output a bit to better match device capabilities. If my understanding is right that’s also what the W3C is saying.

Bye-bye handheld stylesheets?

Filed under: mobile,opinion,web development — jaydublu @ 5:55 pm

opera.jpgFirst Safari mobile on the iPhone, now Opera Mini 4, it would seem that the trend for mobile browsers is to pretend they’re a Desktop, and to persuade sites not to dumb down the presentation enabling the browser to wow us with zooming etc. they’re ignoring handheld stylesheets. However, new CSS3 features like media queries which allow different stylesheets to be included based on for example screen size.

As discussed on Unintentionally Blank a few weeks back, the reasoning seems to be to save the users from the developers who apparently all want to dish up ‘dumbed down’ sites for mobile devices.

But surely we all agree that mobile devices are not desktop devices – you use them in different contexts and have different requirements. Whilst I appreciate that not all mobile users want a dumbed down site, let’s have choice rather than imposition. And taking away tools that can have a positive benefit if used properly is removing choice.

iPod Touch

Filed under: mobile,review — jaydublu @ 6:31 pm

I finally got my hands on the iPod Touch I got the team for R&D – cheaper than an iPhone – and have spent a bit of time with it myself.

First thing I should say is that dissapointingly I find I really, really like it – it’s a stunning device that’s hard to fault; at least inital impressions are that way.

It’s a perfect size and weight, screen is clear and bright, and as for the ‘touch’ user interface – well what can I say other than ‘wow!‘?

I’ve played a bit with the music and video playing capabilities, and they’re just stunning, but most of my attention has been, unsurprising, on the browser.

Despite my initial shock that the thing won’t accept xhtml-mp markup, so although it is a mobile device you can’t treat it as such (at least not the way I’d like to with a custome xhtml-mp view of a site) I can see a way past that as it makes a pretty fair stab at rendering the full site. With the zooming feature – the double tapping is just genius – and wifi connectivity meaning the bandwidth isn’t much of an issue, it really is feasible to browse most sites in the full fat version without needing a slimmed down markup.

But, if the site hasn’t been sympathetically designed – and the one big irritant is lines of text that are too long to be able to read in one screenfull so you have to keep scrolling backwards and forwards – it’s easy to get less than satisfied. And if you’re on an iPhone with limited (and expensive) bandwidth optimised graphics etc. wuold be a big bonus. And having seen sites specifically designed for the iPhone e.g. iphone.facebook.com – they’re just so much nicer to use than the full one.

I’m working on a concept proving site at the moment from first principles, using tera-wurfl for device detection, and Smarty templates to deliver different styling of the same content to different devices. I’ve not yet settled on my preferred approach but when I do I’ll publish it somewhere.

One thing is for certain – I’m now more comfortable with the idea that you don’t treat iPhone (or iPod Touch) the same as a ‘normal’ phone, but don’t think you should ignore it either and feed it a site designed for big screens.

iPhone is different!

Filed under: mobile,rants,why? — jaydublu @ 10:33 am

I once posted something about ‘why the fuss about the iPhone‘ – I still don’t get it.

We’re a few months away from having the thing released here, but in the mean time there’s the iPod Touch which is most of the iPhone without the phone. Since the bit I’m interested in is the web browser and the Internet features – it’s ideal so I got one for the team for R&D.

I pointed it at one of the sites I’d optimised for mobile devices following recognised best practice (e.g. Luca Passani’s Global Authoring Practices for the Mobile Web) and was not hugely surprised that it rendered the desktop version as my mobile detection didn’t pick up the User Agent.

A quick tweak to get it to spot that ‘iPod’ is a mobile device and … Safari throws an error.

It turns out that Safari Mobile doesn’t support xhtml-mp!

So to get an iPhone friendly version of a site you can’t use your mobile version and keep it xhtml-mp. I see Facebook have a mobile version using xhtml-mp, and a special iphone version without a doctype.

Do I feel a return to the bad old days of browser sniffing and multiple versions of sites? Oh dear!

Why do Apple always have to be different?

Nokia N95

Filed under: mobile,review — jaydublu @ 9:27 am

Time for a new phone I thought, and I’ve been hankering for something a bit more high tech for some time. So having been reading about iPhone vs N95 I thought I’d find out what the computer has become.

First impressions – compared to my old K750i it’s big, but then it’s got that lovely big screen. However it’s been living in my pocket quite well for a few days now, so I don’t think it’s too big.

It’s a new interface to learn – I had Nokia before my last two Sony Ericssons and loved it and moaned about having to learn the SE, but you get used to things don’t you? Accepting that I still have to learn keyboard shortcuts etc. the current issues I have are getting confused with when the keyboard will lock, and the text entry could do with a preview of what the next button press will do. And the camera takes too long from going ‘click’ and freezing the picture, to actually taking the image and storing it (I suspect something in the order of half a second?), so you often miss what it was you were trying to shoot – especially in lower light.

Of course my main interest was the Internet browsing, and it was … underwhelming. I really don’t agree with the apparent trend to try and get mobile devices to render normal web pages on small screens. It’s a bad compromise, and will do nothing to encourage websites to make an effort to improve their rendering for lesser browsers. So it tries to render full pages, with a zoom function and a cursor, but it’s still a mobile device with a small screen and vastly reduced input device. And they’ve even removed one of the most useful features of phone browsers – using the keyboard hotkeys for fast navigation. Point it at a site optimised for mobiles, and I’m sure it’s great (although I haven’t yet found a shining example).

This is my initial reaction after not enough time – I will explore more as I’m very keen indeed to partake in helping the mobile internet evolution progress.

I was fascinated by the GPS functionality, having read so much about that’s the way mobile devices were going to go – and I was frankly very disappointed. It takes an age to get the GPS functionality lit up and knowing where it is, and it’s very flakey. And I don’t know that you can automatically geotag pictures. It may be the future, but it’s not here yet from what I see.

I haven’t yet explored the music / video / 3G features yet – I’m rationing the excitement.

I hate the commercialisation of phones – demo games, subscribe to additional features, constantly having to worry what doing anything will cost you. But I suppose it’s the price you have to pay for subsidised handsets etc.

That’s about it. Other than that it’s a phone.

iPhone musings

Filed under: mobile — jaydublu @ 12:36 pm

I happened to be passing Cameron Moll’s Authentic Boredom site which I delve into every now and then, and read with interest his revisiting of predictions on the iPhone some time after the release, and having been using one. Now I haven’t had the oppotunity to play with one yet, and as described elsewhere I’m less than impressed with Windows Mobile offerings.

“As for the iPhone overall — hardware, software, user experience — I remain completely satisfied and even in awe in some instances. The deeper I dive into the UI, the more I’m impressed with decisions made at every level within the experience of using it. Simply stated, this is one killer device.”

OK, that makes me want to give one a spin – perhaps they are worth the hype. But then I want to get my hands on a Nokia N95

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Apple iPhone – what’s the fuss?

Filed under: mobile,opinion,why? — jaydublu @ 5:24 pm

I’m sorry, I may not have been paying attention, but why is the Apple iPhone such a big deal?

Yes it does email, and lets you browse the web and take pictures, but so do most phones. OK it’s in a sexy Apple designed case, and has a natty user interface, but there are many other damned sexy phones out there too.

It now seems even the OS is being kept under wraps – if you want to put an app on the phone develop it as a web app – much as you would with any other phone.

So what’s the big deal?