But real problems are messy. Tech culture prefers to solve harder, more abstract problems that haven’t been sullied by contact with reality. So they worry about how to give Mars an earth-like climate, rather than how to give Earth an earth-like climate. They debate how to make a morally benevolent God-like AI, rather than figuring out how to put ethical guard rails around the more pedestrian AI they are introducing into every area of people’s lives.
Friday, May 19th, 2017
Friday, July 15th, 2016
The roadmap for progressive web apps from Microsoft; not just their support plans, but also some ideas for distribution.
Saturday, June 25th, 2016
The Progressive Web App Dev Summit
I was in Amsterdam again at the start of last week for the Progressive Web App Dev Summit, organised by Google. Most of the talks were given by Google employees, but not all—this wasn’t just a European version of Google I/O. Representatives from Opera, Mozilla, Samsung, and Microsoft were also there, and there were quite a few case studies from independent companies. That was very gratifying to see.
Almost all the talks were related to progressive web apps. I say, “almost all” because there were occasional outliers. There was a talk on web components, which don’t have anything directly to do with progressive web apps (and I hope there won’t be any attempts to suggest otherwise), and another on rendering performance that had good advice for anyone building any kind of website. Most of the talks were about the building blocks of progressive web apps: HTTPS, Service Workers, push notifications, and all that jazz.
I was very pleased to see that there was a move away from the suggesting that single-page apps with the app-shell architecture model were the only way of building progressive web apps.
Need to do more to change the perception that a progressive web app must be a single-page client-rendered app #pwadevsummit— Jake Archibald (@jaffathecake) June 21, 2016
There were lots of great examples of progressively enhancing existing sites into progressive web apps. Jeff Posnick’s talk was a step-by-step walkthrough of doing exactly that. Reading through the agenda, I was really happy to see this message repeated again and again:
In this session we’ll take an online-only site and turn it into a fully network-resilient, offline-first installable progressive web app. We’ll also break out of the app shell and look at approaches that better-suit traditional server-driven sites.
Progressive Web Apps should work everywhere for every user. But what happens when the technology and API’s are not available for in your users browser? In this talk we will show you how you can think about and build sites that work everywhere.
Progressive Web Apps should load fast, work great offline, and progressively enhance to a better experience in modern browsers.
How do you put the “progressive” into your current web app?
You can (and should!) build for the latest and greatest browsers, but through a collection of fallbacks and progressive enhancements you can bring a lot tomorrow’s web to yesterday’s browsers.
I think this is a really smart move. It’s a lot easier to sell people on incremental changes than it is to convince them to rip everything out and start from scratch (another reason why I’m dubious about any association between web components and progressive web apps—but I’ll save that for another post).
The other angle that I really liked was the emphasis on emerging markets, not just wealthy westerners. Tal Oppenheimer’s talk Building for Billions was superb, and Alex kicked the whole thing off with some great facts and figures on mobile usage.
In my mind, these two threads are very much related. Progressive enhancement allows us to have our progressive web app cake and eat it too: we can make websites that can be accessed on devices with limited storage and slow networks, while at the same time ensuring those same sites take advantage of all the newest features in the latest and greatest browsers. I talked to a lot of Google devs about ways to measure the quality of a progressive web app, and I’m coming to the conclusion that a truly high-quality site is one that can still be accessed by a proxy browser like Opera Mini, while providing a turbo-charged experience in the latest version of Chrome. If you think that sounds naive or unrealistic, then I think you might want to dive deeper into all the technologies that make progressive web apps so powerful—responsive design, Service Workers, a manifest file, HTTPS, push notifications; all of those features can and should be used in a layered fashion.ambient badging that Alex was talking about? Opera is doing it. The importance of being able to access URLs that I’ve been ranting about? Opera is doing it.
Then we had the idea to somehow connect it to the “pull-to-refresh” spinner, as a secondary gesture to the left or right.
Nice! I’m looking forward to seeing what other browsers come up with it. It’s genuinely exciting to see all these different browser makers in complete agreement on which standards they want to support, while at the same time differentiating their products by competing on user experience. Microsoft recently announced that progressive web apps will be indexed in their app store just like native apps—a really interesting move.
The Progressive Web App Dev Summit wrapped up with a closing panel, that I had the honour of hosting. I thought it was very brave of Paul to ask me to host this, considering my strident criticism of Google’s missteps.
Initially there were going to be six people on the panel. Then it became eight. Then I blinked and it suddenly became twelve. Less of a panel, more of a jury. Half the panelists were from Google and the other half were from Opera, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Samsung. Some of those representatives were a bit too media-trained for my liking: Ali from Microsoft tried to just give a spiel, and Alex Komoroske from Google wouldn’t give me a straight answer about whether he wants Android Instant apps to succeed—Jake was a bit more honest. I should have channelled my inner Paxman a bit more.
Needless to say, nobody from Apple was at the event. No surprise there. They’ve already promised to come to the next event. There won’t be an Apple representative on stage, obviously—that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it? But at least it looks like they’re finally making an effort to engage with the wider developer community.
All in all, the Progressive Web App Dev Summit was good fun. I found the event quite inspiring, although the sausage festiness of the attendees was depressing. It would be good if the marketing for these events reached a wider audience—I met a lot of developers who only found out about it a week or two before the event.
I really hope that people will come away with the message that they can get started with progressive web apps right now without having to re-architect their whole site. Right now the barrier to entry is having your site running on HTTPS. Once you’ve got that up and running, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to add a manifest file and a basic Service Worker—to boost performance if nothing else. From there, you’re in a great position to incrementally add more and more features—an offline-first approach with your Service Worker, perhaps? Or maybe start dabbling in push notifications. The great thing about all of these technologies (with the glaring exception of web components in their current state) is that you don’t need to bet the farm on any of them. Try them out. Use them as enhancements. You’ve literally got nothing to lose …and your users have everything to gain.
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
Here’s the video of the panel I moderated yesterday at the Progressive Web App Dev Summit. I had to get a bit Paxman at times with some of the more media-trained panelists.
Friday, June 10th, 2016
I think I’ve gotten tired of Google telling me “This is how you have to build websites now.” Or Apple coming down from the mountain once a year saying “Here are the two new products you will buy this year.”
Thursday, March 31st, 2016
Seems like ages since I’ve seen Saqib. He’s been working on something very nifty indeed:
…Seeing AI, a research project that helps people who are visually impaired or blind to better understand who and what is around them. The app is built using intelligence APIs from Microsoft Cognitive Services…
Monday, March 21st, 2016
On universal design: “We’re reframing disability as an opportunity.”
One day someone will write a history of the Internet, in which that great series of tubes will emerge as one long chain of inventions not just geared to helping people connect in more ways, but rather, to help more and more types of people communicate just as nimbly as anyone else.
Thursday, February 4th, 2016
Microsoft are officially on board with implementing Service Workers in Edge:
Roadmap Priority: High — We intend to begin development soon.
Monday, March 2nd, 2015
Any sufficiently advanced vision piece is indistinguishable from Black Mirror.
Tuesday, January 27th, 2015
Everyone who calls for WebKit in Internet Explorer is exactly the same kind of developer who would have coded to Internet Explorer 15 years ago (and probably happily displayed the best viewed in badge).
It’s happening again, and every petulant, lazy developer who calls for a WebKit-only world is responsible.
Thursday, January 22nd, 2015
First, the browsers competed on having proprietary crap. Then, the browsers competed on standards support. Now, finally, the browsers are competing on what they can offer their users.
Wednesday, January 7th, 2015
This a great step-by-step walkthrough from Rey on setting up a remote version of Internet Explorer for testing on Mac.
Thursday, November 13th, 2014
I mentioned this a little while back, but it’s worth remembering just how many people are using Opera Mini …and how many more are about to join them.
Bring it on!
Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
This is fascinating—it looks like there might be an entirely practical reason for Microsoft to skip having a version 9 of Windows …and it’s down to crappy pattern-matching code that’s supposed to target Windows 95 and 98.
This is exactly like the crappy user-agent sniffing that forced browsers to lie in their user-agent strings.
Monday, August 25th, 2014
Opera Mini is about to be installed as the default browser on a few more million phones.
Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Monday, August 4th, 2014
One more reason why you should never sniff user-agent strings: Internet Explorer is going to lie some more. Can’t really blame them though—if developers didn’t insist on making spurious conclusions based on information in the user-agent string, then browsers wouldn’t have to lie.
Oh, and Internet Explorer is going to parse -webkit prefixed styles. Again, if developers hadn’t abused vendor prefixes, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
Monday, January 21st, 2013
A good explanation of the litany of woes that comes from Internet Explorer 8 being the highest that users of Windows XP can upgrade to. It’s a particularly woeful situation if you are a web developer attempting to provide parity. But there is hope on the horizon:
2013 will see the culmination of all these issues; support for IE 8 will drop of rapidly, users of XP will find an increasingly broken web, the cost of building software in XP organisations will increase.
Saturday, October 27th, 2012
There is an elephant in the Microsoft store.
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012
Nishant gives a great overview of the responsive redesign of the Microsoft home page, ably abetted by the Paravel gang.