Category: Technology

Two quick ways to a better experience for your visitors

I’ve recent­ly become the own­er of an Android tablet (Galaxy Tab 8.9) and hav­ing spent some time brows­ing the web with it I’ve iden­ti­fied a cou­ple of areas where work by us, as devel­op­ers, can make a real difference.

The first is the eas¬≠i¬≠est: use appro¬≠pri¬≠ate HTML5 input ele¬≠ments. It‚Äôs quite frus¬≠trat¬≠ing typ¬≠ing an email address into a text input field when the @ sym¬≠bol is on a dif¬≠fer¬≠ent inter¬≠face view to the _ sym¬≠bol, or when pre¬≠dic¬≠tive text is enabled, and there‚Äôs real¬≠ly no need for it when HTML5 input types are well sup¬≠port¬≠ed and ‚ÄĒ cru¬≠cial¬≠ly ‚ÄĒ ful¬≠ly back¬≠wards com¬≠pat¬≠i¬≠ble. So if you‚Äôre ask¬≠ing the user to input an email address, use:

<input type="email">

The same goes for oth­er form fields.

The sec¬≠ond area for improve¬≠ment is slight¬≠ly more com¬≠plex: stop brows¬≠er sniff¬≠ing if you can, or stop mak¬≠ing pre¬≠sump¬≠tions if you can‚Äôt. On a num¬≠ber of sites I get redi¬≠rect¬≠ed to a mobile-opti¬≠mised view, as I‚Äôm guess¬≠ing that the brows¬≠er detec¬≠tion script finds ‚ÄėAndroid‚Äô in the UA string and pre¬≠sumes it‚Äôs a phone.

By far the worst cul¬≠prit is Yahoo, whose UA sniff¬≠ing either misiden¬≠ti¬≠fies or fails to iden¬≠ti¬≠fy the brows¬≠er on my tablet, and serves me the most basic mobile inter¬≠face. I‚Äôm using a brand new tablet with a very capa¬≠ble brows¬≠er over a sol¬≠id Wifi con¬≠nec¬≠tion, and I‚Äôm served what is essen¬≠tial¬≠ly a WAP site.

To add to the frus¬≠tra¬≠tion, no link to an alter¬≠na¬≠tive or full site is pro¬≠vid¬≠ed, so I have no choice at all. If use about:debug and change my browser‚Äôs UA string to ‚ÄėiPad‚Äô, there‚Äôs a tablet-opti¬≠mised ver¬≠sion of Yahoo Mail that works (almost) per¬≠fect¬≠ly with my device; but oth¬≠er¬≠wise the UA sniff¬≠ing is active¬≠ly work¬≠ing against me.

Capa­bil­i­ty detec­tion should always be prefer­able to brows­er UA sniff­ing, but if you must use UA sniff­ing at least keep it updat­ed, don’t make pre­sump­tions, and pro­vide an opt-out link to the desk­top site as a basic option.

That’s it: two changes, mak­ing a much nicer expe­ri­ence for everyone.

Playing WebM in Safari with plugins

As you‚Äôre no doubt aware, HTML5 video is this year‚Äôs big thing ‚ÄĒ but there‚Äôs a dis¬≠pute going on about which should become the default stan¬≠dard video codec. The cur¬≠rent nascent de fac¬≠to stan¬≠dard is H.264, but recent¬≠ly the new WebM for¬≠mat is gain¬≠ing traction.

I‚Äôve no idea how the web video for¬≠mat war will end. My pref¬≠er¬≠ence is that a free, non-patent encum¬≠bered, high-qual¬≠i¬≠ty video codec will become the stan¬≠dard, and WebM is the best fit for that descrip¬≠tion. Despite the recent announce¬≠ment by the MPEG LA, the patent pool which con¬≠trols licens¬≠ing of H.264, that it will always be free for ‚Äėvideo deliv¬≠ered to the inter¬≠net with¬≠out charge‚Äô, that still does¬≠n‚Äôt make it free-as-in-speech, and still not free-as-in-beer for any¬≠one want¬≠i¬≠ng to build a busi¬≠ness around video encoding/decoding (which includes, if I‚Äôm not mis¬≠tak¬≠en, bundling it with a brows¬≠er). All that said, my pref¬≠er¬≠ence is mean¬≠ing¬≠less in the face of so many vest¬≠ed busi¬≠ness interests.

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Encoding Video for Android

In my pre­vi­ous post, Mak­ing HTML5 Video work on Android phones, I said that you have to encode your videos as .m4v in order for them to work in Android. This isn’t actu­al­ly cor­rect. The suf­fix can be either .mp4 or .m4v, what mat­ters is the way the video is encoded.

Now, there are loads of blog and forum posts which give dif¬≠fer¬≠ing advice on pre¬≠sets and para¬≠me¬≠ters, and I‚Äôm no expert ‚ÄĒ so what I‚Äôll do is just show you two quick ways that worked for me (I have a Sam¬≠sung Galaxy S).

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Making HTML5 Video work on Android phones

I recent­ly became the own­er of an Android phone* and found that, despite it being list­ed as a fea­ture of the brows­er, the HTML5 video ele­ment did­n’t work for almost all of the exam­ples I tried. I’ve just done some exper­i­men­ta­tion with this and think I’ve found a solu­tion, so this post is offered in the hope that it helps any­one who may be tear­ing their hair out over the same problem.

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The state of video on the web

As Fire¬≠fox 3.5 brings open video to the web, the W3C decide to drop codec require¬≠ments from the HTML 5 spec, cit¬≠ing dis¬≠agree¬≠ment between brows¬≠er mak¬≠ers and con¬≠cern over patents. Luck¬≠i¬≠ly, there‚Äôs a way to make video for every¬≠body, which means encod¬≠ing each clip only twice.

Web workers of the world: Unite

To much fan¬≠fare (the blow¬≠ing of their own trum¬≠pets), Opera today announced Unite, a new ser¬≠vice which lets you use the brows¬≠er as a per¬≠son¬≠al file serv¬≠er and social space. I haven‚Äôt had more than a pass¬≠ing glance at it yet ‚ÄĒ my URL is, if you‚Äôd like to see if I‚Äôm avail¬≠able ‚ÄĒ but it cer¬≠tain¬≠ly looks inter¬≠est¬≠ing. Use¬≠ful? I‚Äôm not sure yet.

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I‚Äôve updat¬≠ed my Speak¬≠ing page to include more con¬≠fer¬≠ences, more videos, and a lit¬≠tle on my speak¬≠ing require¬≠ments and pref¬≠er¬≠ences. I‚Äôm plan¬≠ning to cut down on the num¬≠ber of talks I give in 2014 (twelve is too many), but am always open to inter¬≠est¬≠ing offers and oppor¬≠tu¬≠ni¬≠ties, so please get in touch if you‚Äôre organ¬≠is¬≠ing an event.

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