Tags: mobile

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Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Progressing the web

Frances has written up some of the history behind her minting of the term “progressive web app”. She points out that accuracy is secondary to marketing:

I keep seeing folks (developers) getting all smart-ass saying they should have been PW “Sites” not “Apps” but I just want to put on the record that it doesn’t matter. The name isn’t for you and worrying about it is distraction from just building things that work better for everyone. The name is for your boss, for your investor, for your marketeer.

Personally, I think “progressive web app” is a pretty good phrase—two out of three words in it are spot on. I really like the word “progressive”, with its echoes of progressive enhancement. I really, really like the word “web”. But, yeah, I’m one of those smart-asses who points out that the “app” part isn’t great.

That’s not just me being a pedant (or, it’s not only me being a pedant). I’ve seen people who were genuinely put off investigating the technologies behind progressive web apps because of the naming.

Here’s an article with the spot-on title Progressive Web Apps — The Next Step In Responsive Web Design:

Late last week, Smashing Magazine, one of the largest and most influential online publications for web design, posted on Facebook that their website was “now running as a Progressive Web App.”

Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. Progressive Web Apps are for the hardcore web application developers creating the next online cloud-based Photoshop (complicated stuff), right? I scrolled on and went about my day.

And here’s someone feeling the cognitive dissonance of turning a website into a progressive web app, even though that’s exactly the right thing to do:

My personal website is a collection of static HTML files and is also a progressive web app. Transforming it into a progressive web app felt a bit weird in the beginning because it’s not an actual application but I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and PWAs still offer a lot of additional improvements.

Still, it could well be that these are the exceptions and that most people are not being discouraged by the “app” phrasing. I certainly hope that there aren’t more people out there thinking “well, progressive web apps aren’t for me because I’m building a content site.”

In short, the name might not be perfect but it’s pretty damn good.

What I find more troubling is the grouping of unrelated technologies under the “progressive web app” banner. If Google devrel events were anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for thinking that progressive web apps have something to do with AMP or Polymer (they don’t). One of the great things about progressive web apps is that they are agnostic to tech stacks. Still, I totally get why Googlers would want to use the opportunity to point to their other projects.

Far more troubling is the entanglement of the term “progressive web app” with the architectural choice of “single page app”. I’m not the only one who’s worried about this.

Here’s the most egregious example: an article on Hacker Noon called Before You Build a PWA You Need a SPA.

No! Not true! Literally any website can be a progressive web app:

That last step can be tricky if you’re new to service workers, but it’s not unsurmountable. It’s certainly a lot easier than completely rearchitecting your existing website to be a JavaScript-driven single page app.

Alas, I think that many of the initial poster-children for progressive web apps gave the impression that you had to make a completely separate app/site at a different URL. It was like a return to the bad old days of m. sites for mobile. The Washington Post’s progressive web app (currently offline) went so far as to turn away traffic from the “wrong” browsers. This is despite the fact that the very first item in the list of criteria for a progressive web app is:

Responsive: to fit any form factor

Now, I absolutely understand that the immediate priority is to demonstrate that a progressive web app can compete with a native mobile app in terms of features (and trounce it in terms of installation friction). But I’m worried that in our rush to match what native apps can do, we may end up ditching the very features that make the web a universally-accessible medium. Killing URLs simply because native apps don’t have URLs is a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bath water:

Up until now I’ve been a big fan of Progressive Web Apps. I understood them to be combining the best of the web (responsiveness, linkability) with the best of native (installable, connectivity independent). Now I see that balance shifting towards the native end of the scale at the expense of the web’s best features. I’d love to see that balance restored with a little less emphasis on the “Apps” and a little more emphasis on the “Web.” Now that would be progressive.

If the goal of the web is just to compete with native, then we’ve set the bar way too low.

So if you’ve been wary of investing the technologies behind progressive web apps because you’re “just” building a website, please try to see past the name. As Frances says:

It’s marketing, just like HTML5 had very little to do with actual HTML. PWAs are just a bunch of technologies with a zingy-new brandname.

Literally any website can—and should—be a progressive web app. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I was at an event last year where I heard Chris Heilmann say that you shouldn’t make your blog into a progressive web app. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He repeats that message in this video chat:

When somebody, for example, turns their blog into a PWA, I don’t see the point. I don’t want to have that icon on my homepage. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Excuse me!? Just because you don’t want to have someone’s icon on your home screen, that person shouldn’t be using state-of-the-art technologies!? Excuse my French, but Fuck. That. Shit!

Our imaginations have become so limited by what native mobile apps currently do that we can’t see past merely imitating the status quo like a sad cargo cult.

I don’t want the web to equal native; I want the web to surpass it. I, for one, would prefer a reality where my home screen isn’t filled with the icons of startups and companies that have fulfilled the criteria of the gatekeepers. But a home screen filled with the faces of people who didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to publish? That’s what I want!

Like Frances says:

Remember, this is for everyone.

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Left to our own devices. — Ethan Marcotte

Your website’s only as strong as the weakest device you’ve tested it on.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Daring Fireball: Scott Gilbertson: ‘Kill Google AMP Before It Kills the Web’

If you are a publisher and your web pages don’t load fast, the sane solution is to fix your fucking website so that pages load fast, not to throw your hands up in the air and implement AMP.

Pretty strong meat there from Gruber.

(I’m not going to link through to the Register article though—that rag does not deserve our attention.)

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Think you know the top web browsers? – Samsung Internet Developers – Medium

So do you really know which are the top browsers, both amongst your existing customers and your potential audience? Perhaps it’s worth taking a closer look; it might just be time to check your site in some of the lesser-known, yet popular browsers like UC, Yandex and Samsung Internet.

Monday, March 20th, 2017

World Wide Web, Not Wealthy Western Web (Part 2) – Smashing Magazine

The second part of Bruce’s excellent series begins by focusing on the usage of proxy browsers around the world:

Therefore, to make websites work in Opera Mini’s extreme mode, treat JavaScript as an enhancement, and ensure that your core functionality works without it. Of course, it will probably be clunkier without scripts, but if your website works and your competitors’ don’t work for Opera Mini’s quarter of a billion users, you’ll get the business.

But how!? Well, Bruce has the answer:

The best way to ensure that everyone gets your content is to write real, semantic HTML, to style it with CSS and ensure sensible fallbacks for CSS gradients, to use SVG for icons, and to treat JavaScript as an enhancement, ensuring that core functionality works without scripts. Package up your website with a manifest file and associated icons, add a service worker, and you’ll have a progressive web app in conforming browsers and a normal website everywhere else.

I call this amazing new technique “progressive enhancement.”

You heard it here first, folks!

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

AMP Conf: Day 1 Live Stream - YouTube

Here’s the panel I was on at the AMP conference. It was an honour and a pleasure to share the stage with Nicole, Sarah, Gina, and Mike.

Monday, March 6th, 2017

World Wide Web, Not Wealthy Western Web (Part 1) – Smashing Magazine

Bruce widens our horizons with this in-depth look at where and how people are accessing the web around the world.

In this article, we’ve explored where the next 4 billion connected people will come from, as well as some of the innovations that the standards community has made to better serve them. In the next part, we’ll look at some of the demand-side problems that prevent people from accessing the web easily and what can be done to overcome them.

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

We built a PWA from scratch - This is what we learned

A nice straightforward account of building and testing a progressive web a… I mean, website.

I think every website from now on should use some of the Progressive Web App features. It’s even confusing to call it “Apps” as it applies to all websites and apps.

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

What AMP (Maybe) Means for News Developers - Features - Source: An OpenNews project

So if AMP is useful it’s because it raises the stakes. If we (news developers) don’t figure out faster ways to load our pages for readers, then we’re going to lose a lot of magic.

A number of developers answered questions on the potential effects of Google’s AMP project. This answer resonates a lot with my own feelings:

AMP is basically web performance best practices dressed up as a file format. That’s a very clever solution to what is, at heart, a cultural problem: when management (in one form or another) comes to the CMS team at a news organization and asks to add more junk to the site, saying “we can’t do that because AMP” is a much more powerful argument than trying to explain why a pop-over “Like us on Facebook!” modal is driving our readers to drink.

But the danger is that AMP turns into a long-term “solution” instead of a stop-gap:

So in a sense, the best possible outcome is that AMP is disruptive enough to shake the boardroom into understanding the importance of performance in platform decisions (and making the hard business decisions this demands), but that developers are allowed to implement those decisions in standard HTML instead of adding yet another delivery format to their export pipeline.

The ideal situation looks a lot more like Tim’s proposal:

I would be much more pleased with AMP if it was a spec for Google’s best-practice recommendations rather than effectively a new non-standard format. By using standard HTML/CSS/JS as the building blocks, they’re starting on the right foot, but the reliance on a Google-decreed AMP JavaScript library, use of separate AMP-specific URLs, and encouragement to use a Google-provided CDN are all worrying aspects.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Exciting times: 2017 and the web - Tales of a Developer Advocate by Paul Kinlan

Paul takes a look at the year ahead on the web and likes what he sees. There’s plenty of new browser features and APIs of course, but more interesting:

The web reaching more people as they come online with Mobile. There is still a huge amount of potential and growth in India, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, all of Africa. You name it, mobile is growing massively still and the web is accessible on all of these devices.

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

10 things I learned making the fastest site in the world

Behind the amusing banter there’s some really solid performance advice in here. Good stuff.

Client Side Rendering (CSR), or as I call it “setting money on fire and throwing it in a river” has its uses, but for this site would have been madness.

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

What Comes Next Is the Future (2016) on Vimeo

Matt Griffin’s thoughtful documentary is now available for free on Vimeo. It’s a lovely look at the past, present, and future of the web, marred only by the brief appearance of yours truly.

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The (Not So) Secret Powers Of The Mobile Browser – Smashing Magazine

A run-down of all the functionality that you get in browsers these days. One small quibble with the title: most of the features and APIs described here aren’t limited to mobile browsers. Still, this is a great reminder that you probably don’t need to create a native app to get the most out of a mobile device.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Browsers, not apps, are the future of mobile - Inside Intercom

I wrote a while back:

There’s a whole category of native apps that could just as easily be described as “artisanal web browsers” (and if someone wants to write a browser extension that replaces every mention of “native app” with “artisanal web browser” that would be just peachy).

Here’s some more thoughts along the same lines:

We’re spending increasing amounts of time inside messaging apps and social networks, themselves wrappers for the mobile web. They’re actually browsers.

There’s an important take-away to this:

The web is and will always be the most popular mobile operating system in the world – not iOS or Android. It’s important that the next generation of software companies don’t focus exclusively on building native iOS or Android versions of existing web apps.

Just make sure those web apps render and work well in the new wave of mobile browsers – messengers. Don’t build for iOS or Android just for an imaginary distribution opportunity. Distribution exists where people spend most of their time today – social and messaging apps, the new mobile browser for a bot-enabled world.

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

Installing web apps on phones (for real)

Henrik points to some crucial information that slipped under the radar at the Chrome Dev Summit—the Android OS is going to treat progressive web apps much more like regular native apps. This is kind of a big deal.

It’s a good time to go all in on the web. I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring. Personally, I feel like the web is well poised to replace the majority of apps we now get from app stores.

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

Less JavaScript

Every front-end developer at Clearleft went to FFConf last Friday: me, Mark, Graham, Charlotte, and Danielle. We weren’t about to pass up the opportunity to attend a world-class dev conference right here in our home base of Brighton.

The day was unsurprisingly excellent. All the speakers brought their A-game on a wide range of topics. Of course JavaScript was covered, but there was also plenty of mindfood on CSS, accessibility, progressive enhancement, dev tools, creative coding, and even emoji.

Normally FFConf would be a good opportunity to catch up with some Pauls from the Google devrel team, but because of an unfortunate scheduling clash this year, all the Pauls were at Chrome Dev Summit 2016 on the other side of the Atlantic.

I’ve been catching up on the videos from the event. There’s plenty of tech-related stuff: dev tools, web components, and plenty of talk about progressive web apps. But there was also a very, very heavy focus on performance. I don’t just mean performance at the shallow scale of file size and optimisation, but a genuine questioning of the impact of our developer workflows and tools.

In his talk on service workers (what else?), Jake makes the point that not everything needs to be a single page app, echoing Ada’s talk at FFConf.

He makes the point that if you really want fast rendering, nothing on the client side quite beats a server render.

They’ve written a lot of JavaScript to make this quite slow.

Unfortunately, all too often, I hear people say that a progressive web app must be a single page app. And I am not so sure. You might not need a single page app. A single page app can end up being a lot of work and slower. There’s a lot of cargo-culting around single page apps.

Alex followed up his barnstorming talk from the Polymer Summit with some more uncomfortable truths about how mobile phones work.

Cell networks are basically kryptonite to the protocols and assumptions that the web was built on.

And JavaScript frameworks aren’t helping. Quite the opposite.

But make no mistake: if you’re using one of today’s more popular JavaScript frameworks in the most naive way, you are failing by default. There is no sugarcoating this.

Today’s frameworks are mostly a sign of ignorance, or privilege, or both. The good news is that we can fix the ignorance.

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Assumptions

Last year Benedict Evans wrote about the worldwide proliferation and growth of smartphones. Nolan referenced that post when he extrapolated the kind of experience people will be having:

As Benedict Evans has noted, the next billion people who are poised to come online will be using the internet almost exclusively through smartphones. And if Google’s plans with Android One are any indication, then we have a fairly good idea of what kind of devices the “next billion” will be using:

  • They’ll mostly be running Android.
  • They’ll have decent specs (1GB RAM, quad-core processors).
  • They’ll have an evergreen browser and WebView (Android 5+).
  • What they won’t have, however, is a reliable internet connection.

This is the same argument that Tom made in his presentation at Responsive Field Day. The main point is that network conditions are unreliable, and I absolutely agree that we need to be very, very mindful of that. But I’m not so sure about the other conditions either. They smell like assumptions:

Assumptions are the problem. Whether it’s assumptions about screen size, assumptions about being able-bodied, assumptions about network connectivity, or assumptions about browser capabilities, I don’t think any assumptions are a safe bet. Now you might quite reasonably say that we have to make some assumptions when we’re building on the web, and you’d be right. But I think we should still aim to keep them to a minimum.

It’s not necessarily true that all those new web users will be running WebView browser like Chrome—there are millions of Opera Mini users, and I would expect that number to rise, given all the speed and cost benefits that proxy browsing brings.

I also don’t think that just because a device is a smartphone it necessarily means that it’s a pocket supercomputer. It might seem like a reasonable assumption to make, given the specs of even a low-end smartphone, but the specs don’t tell the whole story.

Alex gave a great presentation at the recent Polymer Summit. He dives deep into exactly how smartphones at the lower end of the market deal with websites.

I don’t normally enjoy listening to talk of hardware and specs, but Alex makes the topic very compelling by tying it directly to how we build websites. In short, we’re using waaaaay too much JavaScript. The message here is not “don’t use JavaScript” but rather “use JavaScript wisely.” Alas, many of the current crop of monolithic frameworks aren’t well suited to this.

Alex’s talk prompted Michael Scharnagl to take a look back at past assumptions and lessons learned on the web, from responsive design to progressive web apps.

We are consistently improving and we often have to realize that our assumptions are wrong.

This is particularly true when we’re making assumptions about how people will access the web.

It’s not enough to talk about the “next billion” in abstract, like an opportunity to reach teeming masses of people ripe for monetization. We need to understand their lives and their priorities with the sort of detail that can build empathy for other people living under vastly different circumstances.

That’s from an article Ethan linked to, noting:

Friday, October 28th, 2016

Working with mobile technology - Digital Service Manual - GOV.UK

Excellent guidelines from GDS on providing services that work well on mobile. The watchwords are:

  • responsive design,
  • progressive enhancement,
  • open data, and
  • emerging technology (service workers, notifications, etc.).

Native and hybrid apps are rarely justified.

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Your Private Encrypted Browser | Tenta Browser

A browser for Android that specifically touts privacy and security as its key features.

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Why we are suing Apple for better HTML5 support in iOS?

Finally! Apple are being sued for refusing to allow any non-Webkit browsers to be installed on iOS.

I’m not usually in favour of legal action but in this case, there doesn’t seem to be any other recourse.

We would be delighted at Nexedi to create a Web browser for iOS with better HTML5 support based on a recent version of Blink library for example. But as soon as we would publish it, it would be banned from Apple’s AppStore. Many developers have experienced this situation already. Many companies are being hurt by this situation. Some companies have already begged Apple to improve HTML5 support in iOS with little significant results.