Questioning mobile browsers
I’m off to Amsterdam later this week for Mobilism, a design and development conference with a focus mobile devices. I won’t be giving a talk—there are far more qualified and talented people on the roster—but I will be moderating a panel. I love moderating panels.
My panelists will be exemplars of that strange breed of supernerd, the browser maker. Specifically, the mobile browser maker. More specifically still, Opera, RIM and Nokia.
So if you’ve got a question that you’d like answered by any or all of these representatives, let me know. I’ve got a few questions of my own but I’m looking for more ammunition.
Okay. Let ‘er rip. Comments are open (gasp!).
How about showcasing their agendas for browser compatibilities? Or a list of features they support now, as well as a public-facing list of features they plan on implementing? Also, specific features they think require more attention, with an emphasis on features that will provide richer experiences by the user but without forgetting the needs/desires of developers and designers… Something along those lines, I suppose.
Anyways, question for mobile browser developers: as a Web application developer, I feel much more comfortable making a mobile-Web interface for our software than a native app. However, we’ve had pull from customers and users to having "something" in the app store or market.
How can I put mobile Web first and still have an app presence? Cross-platform development tools? Light, Prism-style Web app wrappers?
I would like you to print out my comment and consider it carefully as you rock back and forth in front of a crackling fire.
How close are we to arrive at a blissful scenario where building mobile webapps comes with true cross-platform compliance as a given? Here, I used "cross-platform" as iOS + Android + RIM + Nokia + Opera.
I’d like you to ask Nokia if they’d consider, as a soon-to-be massive producer of Windows phones, using their influence as a major producer to push Microsoft to adopt WebKit. MSFT has done some great work on IE9/IE10, but I’d still rather see them just adopt WebKit and set up IE to allow for incremental rendering engine updates, so they can improve their browser as fast as the competition.
Significant mobile browser evolution has plateaued over the last year or two = with a solid conspiracy theory being that innovation is throttled by the need to competitively market the number of native apps in platforms’ stores and marketplaces.
One optimistic hypothesis is that only a little more browser implementation might be required to tip us towards an exciting mobile web singularity: one in which the mobile medium (or ‘modality’, if one is feeling conservative) suddenly becomes far more interesting and pervasive than its desktop precedent.
To me, there are two notable gaps. One more seamless OS hosting of apps built with web technology (‘add to homescreen’ but done right). The other is providing device access APIs in a consistent and trusted way.
The latter in particular will help reshape a lot of inappropriate old-web paradigms. Imagine how you might be able to entirely avoid web registration forms with (opt-in) asynchronous app access to a device’s SMS subsystem for example. NFC, camera, PIM etc etc - there’s a lot of new colour that can be added to today’s (otherwise quite flat) web.
Witness the stratospheric interest in PhoneGap - a community solution to both these problems - and the sort of novel uses that web technology can now be put to as a result.
Anyway, to cut a long diatribe short; some discussion points as per the original request:
How can dominant browser manufacturers - particularly those not on this panel - be encouraged to reinvest in browser innovation (at least beyond the occasional -prefix-cool-css3-thing) ahead of native. Is this actually an opportunity for late entrants (to the native race) like Noksoft or RIM?
It feels there are still gaps in the mobile web/browser ecosystem. What do you think is missing? Lobby groups? Developer resources? Best practices? User education? Where are these going to come from?
With the exception of Apple, mobile browser documentation is utterly tragic. When are you going to fix that?
Stop me now… I could go on all day.
I’m wondering why the support for handheld in the media attribute for the link tag has been dropped by all mobile browsers and wasn’t the support implemented in the first place 4-5 years ago? Is there still a need and validity for using handheld as an media option, should it be brought back or are media quires enough?