Changes

Well, a new year has started, and it’s tradition to give an overview of where you’re standing. So here’s mine.

As longtime readers may remember, I was totally burned out at the end of both 2007 and 2008. I’m happy to report that that trend has been broken; although I was glad to have a little holiday at the end of 2009, I returned to work without noticeable problems. So that’s good.

However, I have decided that certain aspects of my professional life are in need of a change; notably my public speaking and my compatibility tables.

Conferences

Basically I’m going off the conference track for a while in order to spend more time with my mobile phones.

I will honour agreements made beforehand, which means I’ll speak at the following occasions:

  1. Transmissions 3, Manchester, 28th of January, together with Chris Mills. The focus of this meeting will be the mobile Web.
  2. Technique Retreat, 29th to 31st of January in Morecambe, near Manchester. Here I’ll be a trainer and workshop leader. If you want to do a bit of JavaScript or mobile web development with me around to help you, sign up. There’s still a few tickets left.
  3. Dutch: Sessie op de Howest te Kortrijk over het mobiele web, in de week van 29 maart.
  4. The DIBI conference in Newcastle upon Tyne, 28th of April. I’ll speak about the mobile Web.
  5. It’s possible one item will be added to this list.

After that, though, I will be very reticent in accepting new speaking gigs. The problem is not the speaking itself or hanging around at conferences with interesting people and beers, but the travel.

I have to travel to Düsseldorf at least once per month, and that’s OK because it’s always interesting and I’m also paid for this effort. Besides, I can do it by train.

Conference travel usually involves flying, though, and the latest round of air-travel-related hysterics starts to grate on my nerves. Once more we see an addition of pointless security measures that won’t make us much safer but will annoy the hell out of everybody in addition to cheerfully violating every single aspect of our privacy.

I object to the whole scare stuff; this is exactly what the bad guys want, and right now authorities around the world are being, well, authoritative and authoritarian in order to reinforce the terrorists’ message. Stupid idiots.

I especially object to the requirement to put bananas in my ears for the entire duration of the flight in order to scare away the terrorists.

So I’ve decided not to come to SxSW this year. It will be hard on me once the happy tweets start to come in, but flying to the US is becoming less and less attractive, as is the formal content of SxSW. (The parties will be great, I trust.) I have no further US travel planned this year, and as far as I’m concerned I will not plan any, either.

In addition, conference speaking involves a significant investment of time, and I find myself less and less willing to do that, mostly because it leaves me too little time to do the fundamental mobile research I’m paid to do and want to do. Besides, I have an awful lot of writing to do about the mobile space, and that, too, is something that’s suffering from my being on the road so often.

Finally, I’ve given up JavaScript speaking entirely, and that has reduced my value as a speaker. Traditional web conferences aren’t really interested in the mobile Web as yet. That’ll change, but not this year.

Theoretically this loss of speaking gigs could be offset by invitations for mobile conferences, but it turns out that the mobile world has a strong cultural bias against paying flight and hotel for speakers.

So I’ll have significantly less conferences this year than the past few years. Actually I’m looking forward to that.

Compatibility tables

The second change is my view of my compatibility tables.

A year ago I already noticed that I became less and less interested in measuring the desktop browsers’ compatibility. Everybody just supports all the standards, even IE, and in my last round of desktop testing I did not encounter even one juicy new bug. Great for web development, boring for me.

I’ve been into the mobile Web for eleven months now, and there’s little chance I’ll ever return to the “fixed web” and its fast-decreasing problems. That will have consequences for the tables.

When I started my mobile research last March I automatically opened my desktop test pages on mobile phones and as usual started to create tables with test results. There were far less problems than I expected; even purportedly bad browsers such as BlackBerry, NetFront and Obigo supported quite a bit of CSS and JavaScript.

However, now that I’ve worked on the mobile browsers for a while it’s becoming increasingly apparent that I’ve been testing for the wrong stuff.

What I’m doing in the tables is atomic feature testing. Does browser X support the + selector, or querySelectorAll, or whatever? It turns out that this is the wrong question for mobile.

Mobile browsers have trouble not so much with atomic support, but with supporting the unified whole of web technologies. The BlackBerry browser scores surprisingly well on an atomic level, but once you actually send it a medium-complex JavaScript it gives up and hangs. That’s something you’ll never figure out when you only run tests like mine.

So I’ve started to change my focus. For the past two months I’ve been doing fundamental research into several areas:

  1. Window and viewport width, with emphasis on media queries. If you use @media all and (max-width: 400px), exactly which element is measured to see if it’s smaller than 400px? The answer turns out to be so complicated that I have to redo all my tests to make sure I’m right. It seems I found at least three different models.
  2. If you touch the screen of a touchscreen, exactly what happens? Which events fire? How does the browser distinguish between a click and a scroll action? (The short answer is: badly.) I’m not yet ready with this research; creating the test page took more time than I thought.
  3. HTML5 (according to my own definition). This is going slowly. How do you test the online and offline events on mobile phones? Ideally, I’d have to break the data connection without changing anything on the phone itself, because that’s what will happen in practice. But how?

These examples show that my mobile research will have to move beyond the relatively simple tests I’ve been doing on the desktop for so long.

In turn, that means that I have to change my compatibility tables somehow. I’m not yet sure how I’m going to change them and whether I will give up desktop research entirely.

I will continue to host the old ones even if I decide not to update them any more, so you can still come here to find answers to the more basic compatibility questions. But expect some changes to the tables.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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1 Posted by GreLI on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

You are right saying about complex things. So IE8 claims to support CSS2.1 but input:focus + element selector doesn't want. Or if you do link positioning over a text block (cause links aren't allowed to have blocks) click on it will not work if it hasn't background.

2 Posted by Jerry on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

re: 5, you can get one of those mobile jammer devices, that should simulate a connection loss.

http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/cell-phone-jammer.htm

3 Posted by GreLI on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

Errata: "… doesn't want" should be read as "… doesn't work'

4 Posted by Rob on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

I'm convinced that flying first class on long flights is well worth the extra expense.

"Everybody just supports all the standards, even IE"

James Hopkins reports he doesn't understand how IE can claim CSS2.1 support with all the bugs in their implementation.

As far as standards support, I guess you mean bugs vs supporting a standard?

5 Posted by Lennie on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

I decided not to fly to the US years ago. I don't want them to keep my data, anywhere. Judging by what is known. They have information about your banking habbits already. Our own government doesn't even have that. Good for you for not flying.

6 Posted by Pablisco on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

For the HTML 5 online and offline test on mobiles,
here is a simple way to do it...
Put the phone on the microwave oven (make sure it's not running ;D)

7 Posted by unscriptable on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

Hrm. I've been finding dozens of subtle bugs with IE8, especially in complex situations.

Whatever you do, PPK, you have our support. You've built one of the top resources in this industry -- and it's very appreciated!

8 Posted by Marcos Caceres on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

Keep up the great work, PPK. Let me know if you need anything on the Widgets side of things.

9 Posted by ppk on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

Microwave trick doesn't work, unfortunately. I'll see how expensive a jammer is.

As to the IE bugs, I'm not surprised, but I don't feel an urgent drive to do anything about them, either.

10 Posted by erik swedberg on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

awesome, a (passive) faraday cage for mobile device testing-

would it be some kind of device-sized see-through box (wire mesh on a wooden frame) with hand access? will the box still work if there's a wrist hole?

or would it be a human-sized walk-in box with a door?

I am not sure if faraday mesh spacing needs to be less than the wavelength, or half the wavelength, or quarter wavelength, but either way, since:

850Mhz λ = 35cm
1900Mhz λ = 16cm
2.4 GHz (wifi) λ = 12.5cm

a quarter wavelength would be ~3cm, so chicken wire might work great.


11 Posted by Jerry on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

Besides the practical issues of operating a mobile inside a microwave, from what I could quickly read it depends on the microwave if it shields the signals or not, with old ones having more chance. Mine certainly didn't shield any normal cell signal, no wifi on phone.

Saw a jammer for 95e with a quick search, and since it's a business expense... Maybe you can blag one from the mobile manufacturers/providers...

12 Posted by Sander Aarts on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

During the Fronteers 2008 conference I noticed that the stairways in Pakhuis De Zwijger worked as a perfect Faraday cage. Maybe you can rent an office there ;)

13 Posted by Andrew Hedges on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

@ppk, Have you considered open sourcing the compatibility tables? It might be a way to keep them up-to-date using the wisdom of the crowds. At this point, maybe you have a bit of a methodology you could share with potential contributors to keep the standards high. You could only give "commit" rights to people who have shown sufficient rigor in their testing. Maybe you start just with the desktop testing as it's not as interesting to you, but is still a vital resource for web developers? Just a thought.

14 Posted by ppk on 15 January 2010 | Permalink

Hm. Interesting idea. I have to think on it.

But you're right, it would solve a lot of problems IF I can find a few people willing to do some work.

15 Posted by Nikola on 16 January 2010 | Permalink

Sorry to hear your intentions towards conferences, but I can fully understand you. Also I agree with you on your views on desktop and mobile browsing - the latter is the interesting thing.

However besides "blah, blah, nice post" I wanted to suggest what #13 @Andrew suggests - outsourcing and opensourcing the compatibility tables. The tables are great knowledge and reference and it would be unfortunate to just let them die.

16 Posted by Nicolas Chevallier on 17 January 2010 | Permalink

I hope you will do the same amazing job with mobile web that youv'e done with major desktop browsers : a comprehensive and detailed compatibility tables for us, web developers. Thanks!

17 Posted by Joshua Hublar on 22 January 2010 | Permalink

Let me know what you find out.
:)