Yesterday I walked into the local phone store because the “Temporarily Unavailable” sign had been removed from their “Get your iPhone here” poster. To my utter surprise they had six (6!) entire iPhones for sale, and no, there was no waiting list. I walked back home with a shiny new gadget, impatient to start testing it.
Meanwhile I’ve done some tests; now it’s time for a report.
Before we continue, let’s get the bad CSS news out of the way: Safari on the iPhone does not support
position: fixed. Certain Other Browsers were ridiculed for this lack; Safari won’t be.
The first reason they’re interesting is that they behave rather different than the Safari Web Content Guide for iPhone suggests. Not to mince words; this “documentation” is woefully incomplete and far too often plain wrong.
For instance, take a look at this test page. It proves that the iPhone Guide’s explanation of the event order when the user taps the screen is incorrect. The mousedown, mouseup and click events always fire when the user taps the screen, and not just when the content hasn’t changed after the mousemove (which is a totally whacko criterion, anyway).
All this is nothing new. Yet another excellent browser with shitty documentation. My main reason for creating this site was the total inadequacy of browser vendor documentation sites. So I have to study a new one. Big deal.
Let’s get started. And let’s completely ignore the documentation, just as it ignores us.
The iPhone uses a subtly different event model than traditional browsers. The user uses his fingers for all actions, and although fingers can be seen as a mouse (sort of) and a tap as a click, this comparison is not correct.
The problem is that several gestures, notably moving your finger and double-tapping, are reserved for system functions. Besides, the user can also put his finger somewhere else on the screen without any sort of pointer crossing the intermediate space—something that’s unthinkable in traditional mouse interaction.
The mouse is a continuous pointing device; the finger is discontinuous. That’s a profound difference that I wish I were able to clearly understand and explain.
In any case, it’s a difference that spells disaster for the mousemove, mouseover and mouseout events, as well as good old
All of the above depend on reading out and interpreting the mouse movement, and mouse movement has until now been one of those topics that were so taken for granted that nobody ever really thought about it.
But what if the mouse just disappears and reappears at a random place? What if there’s no movement but only a series of discrete click events?
With the coming of the iPhone the mouse model has lost its inescapable logic. Mousemove, mouseover and mouseout (and even poor old
:hover) have been downgraded to device-specific events that may not survive in the long run.
But — and here lies the problem — these events are used in countless web sites and applications for a variety of purposes, and Apple simply cannot afford these sites not working on the iPhone.
That places the creators of Safari for iPhone in the same quandary as the speech browser vendors: they have to support an event model that doesn’t make sense in their interface but is used all over on the Web.
They have to redesign the triggers for these events in terms that make sense to their interface, even if that means that the event names don’t make sense any more. (They also have to document this tricky step properly.)
On the iPhone, mousemove, mouseover, mouseout, mousedown, mouseup and click and
:hover depend on user focus.
:hoverstyles are applied and the mouseover, mousemove, mousedown, mouseup and click events fire (always; and in that order).
:hoverstyles are removed from it.
Initially, only links and form fields are clickable on the iPhone. However, you can make any element clickable by registering an event handler for mouseover, mouseout, mousedown, mouseup, mousemove or click on it.
Even better, once you’ve registered the event handler you can safely remove it. The element will remain clickable despite the event being gone. This is very useful to know — and the documentation is completely silent on this important point. You read it first here.
Play with this test page to get the idea.
I haven’t yet used the iPhone to test a real application that depends on mouseover/out or mousemove, but I think the style of interaction changes quite a lot. (Comments are welcome; I’m looking for feedback on this issue.)
I am beginning to feel a secret hope that heavy mouse interaction (as in “You need a mouse to use our wonderful interface”) is on the way out, and click-based interfaces are the future.
A click is a sure sign of the user wanting to focus on a certain element, and that’s the information you need. What he does or does not do with a pointing device that may or may not be there has ceased to matter.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of today’s cutting-edge applications are profoundly click-based.
As a bonus, this helps accessibility in general. A user focus-based interface is far more adaptable to different devices and user needs than a continuous-pointing device-based interface that punishes all users of other devices.
Now let’s consider the finger tap, which generally functions as a click. It even behaves a bit like a traditional click: the iPhone follows a link or opens a form field for editing when the user releases the screen.
Now the tap interaction looks suspiciously like the mousedown — mouseup — click trinity. User touches screen equals mousedown, user releases screen equals mouseup, and they are followed by a click event.
However, that’s not quite the way it works on the iPhone.
With a mouse, you can depress the button on one element, move the mouse and release the button on another element. Mousedown and mouseup events are duly fired, but because their targets are different elements no click event is fired.
But we already saw the iPhone doesn’t do mouse movement, and if you can’t move the mouse between the mousedown and mouseup events, the difference between mouseup and click becomes meaningless.
Mousedown, in theory, still has a valid function as a separate event that’s fired when the user touches the screen—regardless of what happens later. Unfortunately for theory, that’s not the way it works on the iPhone.
Thus, the only way of firing mousedown and mouseup events is clicking on something. The three events refer to the same interaction; they have merged fully into one event with three names. (Of course, the reality of the Web requires all three names to remain supported forever.)
I’m not sure I’m happy with this situation. Although mouseup is pointless in the absence of mouse movement, I’m not so sure that the independent mousedown event should be abolished, too. Someone might be able to come up with interesting interactions that hinge on users pressing their fingers to the screen.
As to the double tap and right tap; the one is reserved for system functions (zoom) and the other doesn’t exist. There go the dblclick and contextmenu events, as well as the horribly mangled
button property. Good riddance.
All in all, the iPhone offers a fascinating event model properly designed for a totally new interface, but grafted on the old mouse-and-keyboard event model we’ve been using for ten years now. We don’t yet have the faintest idea what we can do with it, but figuring it out promises to be a marvellous journey.
I have more things to say about the iPhone events, but they’ll have to wait for another time. None of the other topics I wanted to discuss are quite as intriguing as the mouse events, and I’m getting tired.
More iPhone news later.
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