Tags: firefox

5

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Installing Progressive Web Apps

When I was testing the dConstruct Audio Archive—which is now a Progressive Web App—I noticed some interesting changes in how Chrome on Android offers the “add to home screen” prompt.

It used to literally say “add to home screen.”

Getting the “add to home screen” prompt for https://huffduffer.com/ on Android Chrome. And there’s the “add to home screen” prompt for https://html5forwebdesigners.com/ HTTPS + manifest.json + Service Worker = “Add to Home Screen” prompt. Add to home screen.

Now it simply says “add.”

The dConstruct Audio Archive is now a Progressive Web App

I vaguely remember there being some talk of changing the labelling, but I could’ve sworn it was going to change to “install”. I’ve got to be honest, just having the word “add” doesn’t seem to provide much context. Based on the quick’n’dirty usability testing I did with some co-workers, it just made things confusing. “Add what?” “What am I adding?”

Additionally, the prompt appeared immediately on the first visit to the site. I thought there was supposed to be an added “engagement” metric in order for the prompt to appear; that the user needs to visit the site more than once.

You’d think I’d be happy that users will be presented with the home-screen prompt immediately, but based on the behaviour I saw, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Here’s what I observed:

  1. The user types the URL archive.dconstruct.org into the address bar.
  2. The site loads.
  3. The home-screen prompt slides up from the bottom of the screen.
  4. The user immediately moves to dismiss the prompt (cue me interjecting “Don’t close that!”).

This behaviour is entirely unsurprising for three reasons:

  1. We web designers and web developers have trained users to dismiss overlays and pop-ups if they actually want to get to the content. Nobody’s going to bother to actually read the prompt if there’s a 99% chance it’s going to say “Sign up to our newsletter!” or “Take our survey!”.
  2. The prompt appears below the “line of death” so there’s no way to tell it’s a browser or OS-level dialogue rather than a JavaScript-driven pop-up from the site.
  3. Because the prompt now appears on the first visit, no trust has been established between the user and the site. If the prompt only appeared on later visits (or later navigations during the first visit) perhaps it would stand a greater chance of survival.

It’s still possible to add a Progressive Web App to the home screen, but the option to do that is hidden behind the mysterious three-dots-vertically-stacked icon (I propose we call this the shish kebab icon to distinguish it from the equally impenetrable hamburger icon).

I was chatting with Andreas from Mozilla at the View Source conference last week, and he was filling me in on how Firefox on Android does the add-to-homescreen flow. Instead of a one-time prompt, they’ve added a persistent icon above the “line of death” (the icon is a combination of a house and a plus symbol).

When a Firefox 58 user arrives on a website that is served over HTTPS and has a valid manifest, a subtle badge will appear in the address bar: when tapped, an “Add to Home screen” confirmation dialog will slide in, through which the web app can be added to the Android home screen.

This kind of badging also has issues (without the explicit text “add to home screen”, the user doesn’t know what the icon does), but I think a more persistently visible option like this works better than the a one-time prompt.

Firefox is following the lead of the badging approach pioneered by the Samsung Internet browser. It provides a plus symbol that, when pressed, reveals the options to add to home screen or simply bookmark.

What does it mean to be an App?

I don’t think Chrome for Android has any plans for this kind of badging, but they are working on letting the site authors provide their own prompts. I’m not sure this is such a good idea, given our history of abusing pop-ups and overlays.

Sadly, I feel that any solution that relies on an unrequested overlay is doomed. That’s on us. The way we’ve turned browsing the web—especially on mobile—into a frustrating chore of dismissing unwanted overlays is a classic tragedy of the commons. We blew it. Users don’t trust unrequested overlays, and I can’t blame them.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that ambient badging is a better user experience than one-time prompts. That opinion is informed by a meagre amount of testing though. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been doing more detailed usability testing of both approaches. I assume that Google, Mozilla, and Samsung are doing this kind of testing, and it would be really great to see the data from that (hint, hint).

But it might well be that ambient badging is just too subtle to even be noticed by the user.

On one end of the scale you’ve got the intrusiveness of an add-to-home-screen prompt, but on the other end of the scale you’ve got the discoverability problem of a subtle badge icon. I wonder if there might be a compromise solution—maybe a badge icon that pulses or glows on the first or second visit?

Of course that would also need to be thoroughly tested.

Singapore

I was in Singapore last week. It was most relaxing. Sure, it’s Disneyland With The Death Penalty but the food is wonderful.

chicken rice fishball noodles laksa grilled pork

But I wasn’t just there to sample the delights of the hawker centres. I had been invited by Mozilla to join them on the opening leg of their Developer Roadshow. We assembled in the PayPal offices one evening for a rapid-fire round of talks on emerging technologies.

We got an introduction to Quantum, the new rendering engine in Firefox. It’s looking good. And fast. Oh, and we finally get support for input type="date".

But this wasn’t a product pitch. Most of the talks were by non-Mozillians working on the cutting edge of technologies. I kicked things off with a slimmed-down version of my talk on evaluating technology. Then we heard from experts in everything from CSS to VR.

The highlight for me was meeting Hui Jing and watching her presentation on CSS layout. It was fantastic! Entertaining and informative, it was presented with gusto. I think it got everyone in the room very excited about CSS Grid.

The Singapore stop was the only I was able to make, but Hui Jing has been chronicling the whole trip. Sounds like quite a whirlwind tour. I’m so glad I was able to join in even for a portion. Thanks to Sandra and Ali for inviting me along—much appreciated.

I’ll also be speaking at Mozilla’s View Source in London in a few weeks, where I’ll be talking about building blocks of the Indie Web:

In these times of centralised services like Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, having your own website is downright disruptive. If you care about the longevity of your online presence, independent publishing is the way to go. But how can you get all the benefits of those third-party services while still owning your own data? By using the building blocks of the Indie Web, that’s how!

‘Twould be lovely to see you there.

Plug in and huffduff

Beer o’clock in Brighton begins shortly after work ends on a Friday evening. That’s when the geeks of Brighton unshackle themselves from their keyboards and monitors to congregate in a pub. If the weather is good, it’ll be a sunny pub. Last friday the Clearlefties descended on The Eagle where we were joined by Ribotians and others.

Glenn showed up and we proceeded to geek out on our usual favourite topics; microformats and data portability. He had spent the day hacking on a Firefox plug-in. If you haven’t tried his Identify extension, do yourself a favour and install it—it’s quite astounding.

I mentioned that I had tried to hack together my own Firefox extension for Huffduffer but was thwarted by my lack of skill in reverse-engineering and penetrating the documentation. I wanted to provide a fairly simple behaviour: right-click on a link to an audio file and select an option to huffduff it.

Two days later I got an email from Glenn with a file attached …a Firefox extension he built for huffduffing. Fantastic!

I hacked around with the JavaScript a little bit (adding a check to make sure the hyperlink being right-clicked was pointing to an audio file) and added Huffduffer icons from Paul’s icon set. Meanwhile Glenn added a little touch of genius; using Firefox’s built-in microformats parser to check for values on the page and pre-fill the Huffduffer form with them.

Anyway, grab the Huffduffer Firefox plug-in for yourself and give it a whirl.

Next time it’s beer o’clock in Brighton, I owe Glenn a beer.

Geode

There’s been some really interesting stuff coming out of Mozilla Labs lately. The latest toy is a plugin called Geode.

It’s based on the W3C editor’s draft geolocation API. In a nutshell, it allows you to provide your location to a website at the click of a button. You can try it for yourself on Pownce.

Now, I have no idea where it’s getting the location data from—probably a mixture of WiFi and network information a la Plazes—but I don’t need to know or care. What’s important is that it works. It works to such an extent that it’s close to being indistinguishable from magic. Sitting in the Clearleft office at 28 Kensington Street in Brighton, Geode updated my Pownce location as 9 Kensington Street in Brighton. That’s pretty damn close.

Little by little, we’re getting there:

I look forward to the day when geostamps are as ubiquitous as timestamps. If every image, every blog post, every video, every sound file had a longitude and latitude as well as a date and time… I can’t even begin to imagine the possibilities that would open up.

Microformats 1:01—Exporting microformats via bluetooth

On the last day of XTech 2007 I abducted Ian and forced him to shoot a quick video of a microformats demo that I didn’t have a chance to include in my presentation.

The video is one minute and one second long. It’s a quick demo of John McKerrell’s bluetooth version of the Tails plugin.

YouTube

Here’s a transcript of the 1:01 minutes of video:

This is my website. This is my mobile phone. My website has microformats. This is a version of the Tails plugin for Firefox. It exposes all the microformats I have on my website. I can convert and export those microformats as vcard, iCal, whatever I want. With this version of the plugin I can also export to bluetooth. So let’s take an event for example. I click on bluetooth. My computer asks me which device to export to. I have previously paired up my phone. So now I’m going to send the event to that device. And there we go. I have now exported from the World Wide Web onto my mobile phone. Easy!

The video is released under a Creative Commons attribution license. You are free to share, remix, caption and translate this video (as long as you provide attribution).