Tag Archives: html

Mobile Web Layouts vs. the Viewport

A few years ago, I tried to give some of my most-used websites a nice, clean look on mobile browsers by adding a stylesheeet with the “handheld” type. Then the iPhone came out and ignored them, and everyone copied that behavior, making it useless.

Somewhere along the line, I revisited the same CSS techniques, but used the “max-width” media query to change the layout on smaller screens. This seemed even better in the long run, since screen size matters more than whether a device is a desktop computer or a handheld computer. (The iPad was nothing but a long-standing rumor in those days, but demonstrates this clearly.)

The raw screenshots (click to view) are slightly larger, but since mobile devices often have denser screens, if you’re reading this on a desktop, it’s probably about the same physical size.

That worked great on the iPhone, and on the G1, which I updated through Android 1.6. I stopped testing it after a while, and no one commented on it, so I figured it was still working. (Reminder to self: that’s always a mistake.)

Last week I got a G2, which came with Android 2.2. Last night I visited one of my websites, and was presented with this shrunken, unreadable mess…because Android doesn’t actually use the real screen size anymore. It pretends it has a bigger screen so that it can present a desktop-like view and then let the user zoom around. Mobile Firefox does the same thing.

<rant>Why is it that every time I find a clean technique to use the same markup on both desktop and mobile devices, some browser manufacturer decides to bypass it in favor of giving the user a clunky imitation desktop view instead of one optimized for their experience?</rant>

*ahem*

Anyway, it turns out it’s possible to fix this problem with the <meta viewport tag> as shown here:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width">

So I can provide nice, clean small-screen layouts again…after I add extra markup to every single page that uses these stylesheets.

Problem solved!

Well, almost. It fixes the layout…but it also prevents the user from zooming out for quick scrolling, which can be awfully useful on a long page.

Screenshots of the Barry Allen Flash profile, taken using the Android SDK emulator with stock Donut and Froyo images.

Why Google Buzz Won’t Run on Your Android Phone (Yet)

I’ve been hoping to try out Google Buzz, but it hasn’t hit my Gmail account yet and it won’t run on my phone*…even though it’s a web app. Comments at Android and Me and at Mashable show that I’m not alone.

It turns out that Buzz uses HTML5 features (specifically appcache, database and location) to store local data and to detect your physical location…and those capabilities were added in Android 2.0.

The support thread mentions that they are “working on another version that will make Buzz for mobile accessible on older Android OS versions (and some other smartphones as well).” The browser in Android 1.6 and below supports similar capabilities through Gears, so they may be planning a Gears-based workaround.

This would be a lot less of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that most of the Android phones out there still run 1.6 or even Android 1.5. IIRC only the Droid and Nexus One have officially been updated to 2.0 so far**, so unless you have one of those two models, you’re more likely to get Buzz to run on an iPhone than Android.

Funny, that.

*I’ve got a G1. It can only access Buzz through the updated Maps app, which brought up a bunch of people in nearby office parks posting things like “Testing Buzz” and “WTF is Google Buzz?”

**A few other phones have had updates announced, but I don’t think any have actually shipped yet. I could be wrong.

Webslices and Revisiting Microsummaries

When the first Firefox 2 beta was released, I looked into Microsummaries, a feature that enables bookmarks to automatically update their titles with information. I concluded they were useful, but not for anything I was doing. The main application would be my Flash site, but it already had an RSS feed for updates, and a microsummary could only really include the most recent item.

Now the first IE8 beta supports Webslices. They’re similar in concept, but can include formatted data (not just plain text) and use microformat-like markup on the web page instead of a <link> element in the head.

I figured with two browsers supporting the concept, I’d give it a shot. I adapted the script I use to generate the RSS feed so that it will also take everything on the most recent day and generate a text file, which is used for the Microsummary title. For the Webslice, to start with I just marked up the “Latest Updates” section of the home page. Since I haven’t installed IE8b1 at home, I’m using Daniel Glazman’s experimental Webchunks extension for Firefox to try it out. Unfortunately the extension doesn’t seem to resolve relative links in its current state.

The real question, of course, is whether either technology offers anything better than what feeds can do now.

I think I’ll end up going the external-feed route for the Webslice as well, since it’ll use a lot less bandwidth than having a bunch of IE installations pulling the entire home page once a day. Plus since I’m using SSI on that page, it doesn’t take advantage of conditional requests and caching, and a static file will. But that’ll have to wait. Lost is on in 2 minutes, and after getting up earlier than usual this morning, I’ll probably be going to bed right after the show.

Update: I checked in IE8, and the webslice does work as expected. A few minor differences: Webchunks pulls in external styles, like the background and colors, while IE8b1 only uses styles in the chunk itself. Interesting bit: I’m marking up list items as entries, and IE8 is actually displaying them as a bulleted list, while Webchunks is simply showing the content.

So it at least works. Maybe tonight or Sunday I’ll see if I can refine it a bit.

On broken HTML

From time to time the idea is put forth that Opera (and Firefox, for that matter) needs to start dealing with bad code. There are two problems with that view:

  1. Opera already deals with quite a bit of “bad code” (but there’s always room for improvement)
  2. Just dealing with bad code isn’t enough: you have to deal with it the same way someone else does.

#2 is the tough part.

The rules for dealing with good code are, for the most part, specific. If you encounter well-formed HTML, you can be reasonably sure you know what the author meant. But there are very few rules for dealing with bad code. Trying to "deal with it" means trying to guess what the author meant, and sometimes different assumptions are equally as likely.

Example:


<p><b>Here's some text</i> and here's some more.</p>

Did the author close the non-existent italics by mistake, meaning to close the bold? Or did he open bold by mistake, intending to open italics? Or is the closing italics tag left over from copy-and-paste? Depending on what assumptions the browser makes, it should display it as:

Here’s some text and here’s some more.

Here’s some text and here’s some more.

Here’s some text and here’s some more.

And that’s just a simple example. It gets wilder when you throw in issues like inline vs. block elements. A paragraph should never appear inside a tag for text formatting, like bold or italic. By all rights, starting a new paragraph (or more precisely, ending the previous one) should also revert to plain formatting. But a lot of old pages expect the formatting to continue into the next paragraph, because way back when, a P tag was a double-line break, not a container.

Now, suppose that Browser A always makes the first assumption, and Browser B always makes the second. If someone tests their code in Browser A, and it happens to be what they want it to do, they won’t necessarily notice that their code is broken. The result: the site looks wrong in Browser B, and the page author — who thinks the page is fine, since he tested it in Browser A — blames Browser B.

Multiply that scenario by millions of pages and you have a large chunk of the web as we know it today.

So the solution isn’t just to “handle bad code.” It’s to handle that bad code in the same way that the dominant browser handles it. And since there’s no document you can look to for guidance, that means taking every possible chunk of bad code, running it through the other browser, and seeing what it does to it.

And there are a lot of ways to break code!

Even Microsoft did this back when IE was new. At the time, lots of people were writing broken code and testing it by seeing whether it looked right in Netscape. So IE had to make the same assumptions Netscape did on certain things. Once IE became established, they diverged.

Some relevant articles:

This post originally appeared on Confessions of a Web Developer, my blog at the My Opera community.