The W3C has published a new edition of its Standards for Web Applications on Mobile, which gives an overview of the various technologies the W3C has developed to increase the power of web applications, particularly in the mobile context.
The full (and exhaustive!) list of changes can be found in the Standards for Web Applications on Mobile document, but I thought I’d expand on a few of the most interesting points.
Although still in its early stages, the W3C’s “push API” could be transformative as it would allow web applications to receive server-sent messages whether or not the web app is active in a browser window. You can learn more about this by reading the Push API Draft.
Input method independent web apps
The Independent User Interface Working Group and the Web Events Working Group have been working on interaction for web apps that are input method independent. This could be very useful for accessibility, as it means that assistive technology will finally have its own type of display.
For example, many blind web users use assistive technology such as the Jaws reader that reads out what is on the screen. This is all well and good, but it reads everything, so some layouts can be confusing to follow. If the content was rendered for it, it would probably make a lot more sense – and this is where web apps that are input method independent come in handy.
CSS media queries
There were many other changes, including SVG graphics, HTML5, CSS3 and encoded media, but as always the fancy stuff is only available in the bleeding edge browsers. Of these updates, the only one I particularly liked was the CSS media queries:
“A media query consists of a media type and zero or more expressions that check for the conditions of particular media features. Among the media features that can be used in media queries are ‘width’, ‘height’, and ‘colour’. By using media queries, presentations can be tailored to a specific range of output devices without changing the content itself.”
In my opinion, there’s only so much layout you can do on a small mobile screen before it becomes cluttered. Mobile design needs to be highly practical because of its size restrictions. As David Lynch said about movies on the iPhone: “You will never in a trillion years experience the film…you’ll be cheated”. Still, for a good set of simple mobile layout guidelines to follow see the W3C flip cards.
One interesting point that was put on hold was “geolocation with civic address”. The reason for this could be that it would need a lot of investment on working out the different proprietary codes for each mobile platform, and the possibility of controversy. After the case of the job interview where the prospective employee was asked to give his Facebook password as part of the interview, it’s not hard to imagine an office mobile with an added app where your boss can track your position.
What happens next?
Of course, W3C standards are often overlooked. In the not too distant past, browsers often implemented their own idiosyncratic applications of these guidelines and sometimes even ignored them completely – which in some cases actually helped push web technology forward, albeit in a chaotic way. Now that we finally have access to a number of browsers that (almost) follow standards, and are easily ported to mobile, will the mobile web finally be one web?
One promising sign is that big names are taking an interest in making this happen – with Facebook launching the Core Mobile Web Platform Community Group in February 2012. The group aims “…to accelerate the adoption of the Mobile Web as a compelling platform for the development of modern mobile web applications.” It’s attracted quite a few major web and mobile members, such as Adobe, Nokia, Samsung and others. Missing are Apple and Google, but in Apple’s case this isn’t surprising given its patent troubles with the W3C.
Only time will tell what these efforts will bring about, but what we do know is that mobile is no longer the future – it’s the present – one of the key points made in Mary Meeker’s latest presentation about The State Of The Web.
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