Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

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Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

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Issue 53: December 2nd, 2008  The Useful and the Usable in Web Design

Introduction

Alex WalkerWelcome to Design View #53.

It's funny how it always seems to be the limitations of a medium that give it its signature flavor. Take the hiss of AM radio, the staticky snow of TV, or the scratches on vinyl records.

TwitterWith Twitter it seems to be an artificially imposed restriction -- its strict 140-character limit -- that has given it its original but very successful edge.

We use and love Twitter at SitePoint and, in case you missed it, we're showing our love with a free book.

Here's the deal:

Now this is a cracker of a book -- less than 18 months old and written by a dream team of CSS gurus.

If Twitter doesn't appeal, remember that creating an account is free, and what you do after you receive your book is up to you.

The offer expires on December 9th, so shake a leg!

In this issue, we'll talk about some of the ideas on mobile development I took away from the Web Directions South conference.

Enjoy,

Alex Walker
Editor
SitePoint Design View

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Summary

When I Grow Up, I Wanna Be ... a Mobile App Designer

"Aww ... do we have to?"

That would have been my response to the idea of developing a mobile site for most of the last 10 years.

To me, developing for mobile always felt like this:

  • take your standard cool site
  • rip all the nice stuff out
  • squash what's left into a chintzy, low-res screen

It was like the Web, but only remotely as good.

Then the Web Directions South conference, back in September, forced me to reconsider that idea. You see, until recently the iPhone stood alone. You could build a cool app for it, but porting your work to a Motorola or Nokia was a waste of time.

The Google PhoneWith the October release of the Google phone, G1, we now have the foundations of a brand new product category to build for.

Tim Lucas referred to this new class of devices by the rather coarse-sounding title of SHITDANG phones, or Super Hot Internet Touchscreen Devices And Next Generation phones.

In the interests of simplicity and arguably good taste, we might just refer to them in this article as Mobile 2.0 phones.

So, what do you mean by a Mobile 2.0 phone?

At this moment in time, I'm specifically talking about the iPhone, the G1, and any upcoming Android-powered device. Some have included the BlackBerry models Bold and Storm in the category but personally, I remain unconvinced.

No doubt there'll be some saying "Oh, but what about my Win Mobile/Nokia E95/other smart phone? That's a Mobile 2.0 phone, right?"

Sorry. While these are all great phones, phones are what they are to their core.

With Android and the iPhone OS, we're talking about platforms where traditional phone, SMS, calendaring, and email services make up only a small percentage of typical user tasks.

Look on iTunes App Store and the Android Market and you'll see most of the development energy is going into apps like games, location-based services, and social networking -- almost anything apart from traditional phone services.

So, why should I become excited about Mobile 2.0 development?

Mobile 2.0 phones are changing the idea of what an application is -- both for us developer/designer types and for users.

In part, this is because of the improvement of mobile screens and browsers, which are enabling sites to look and work more like standard desktop web sites. But mainly this is because the mobile environment itself is arguably a much more dynamic and interesting arena to build for.

With a desktop/web app, we typically build an application that sits patiently and waits for the user to engage with the program. A service like eBay or Facebook is relatively comatose until our valiant user starts consciously interacting with it via mouse clicks and keyboard taps.

Mobile 2.0 phones offer us a bunch of cool, new input types to work with, relying on the user to simply just be.

These new input types include:

  • location sensors (GPS)
  • camera/visual sensors
  • accelerometer and spatial position sensors
  • proximity sensors (that is, the iPhone blacks out its screen when you put it to your face)
  • multi-touch inputs
  • electronic compass (on the G1)

This opens up a bunch of new and really cool possibilities. Gabriel White gave some nice examples of how this might change the way you build your applications in his Sensing Context in Mobile Design presentation. For instance:

  • If your phone knows you're in the office meeting room (using the GPS), it diverts calls to message bank. (The Locale app performs this task.)
  • If your phone detects that you're walking while texting (using its movement sensors), it may increase the size and tolerance of the onscreen buttons to allow easier texting.
  • The G1 currently uses its compass to align Google Maps and Street View with the real world.

All of a sudden you're making apps that adapt to where they are and what's happening around them. To me, that idea makes developing for Mobile 2.0 the most interesting and exciting place to work right now.

This is a new and developing landscape -- in many ways you could compare it to the Web in 1996. There's every chance that many of the applications that will be the behemoths of the Mobile Web in 2012 -- the Googles, Flickrs and eBays of mobile -- have yet to be thought of.

Perhaps one of them is currently just a half-baked idea in the back of your mind.

Okay, so now you're all inspired to write the next killer iPhone/Android app. What's next?

Getting Started

Till now, the hardest thing about building native iPhone apps was the technical demands of writing Cocoa or Objective C -- typically outside the skill set of the average web developer/designer.

Happily, there are some handy alternatives emerging that tap into some of the skills more common to us. A couple of weeks ago, Josh wrote about two of those solutions on the SitePoint News Blog, Big Five and PhoneGap.

Phonegap

I chose to spend time playing with PhoneGap for a few reasons:

  1. It's free and open source, allowing you to learn and experiment without fear of incurring costs.
  2. Its use extends beyond the iPhone. PhoneGap already allows you to port your iPhone app to Android, and even BlackBerry.
  3. PhoneGap uses Safari/WebKit at its core, which most of us are probably already familiar with.
  4. PhoneGap uses plain ol' JavaScript to access the iPhone's GPS, camera, and vibrations controls -- again, most of us are at least comfortable with this.

In fact, creating a new app is with Phonegap is simple.

After opening Phonegap in xCode you give your app:

  • a name
  • a URL to your web server
  • a 57x57 pixel icon

After hitting Build, you're free to preview it in your iPhone emulator, where you'll see a new glassy iPhonized icon of your app waiting on the home screen.

Okay, now a quick reality check.

Although the PhoneGap codebase is developing rapidly, it's still very raw; currently it only supports a subset of iPhone/G1's functions (GPS, vibration, accelerometer, and camera). 'Promise' is the word, rather than 'deliver'.

The other unfortunate reality is you're probably going to need a Mac to run the iPhone emulators and other SDK tools. Android's SDK is cross-platform, so it will be interesting to see how Apple respond as the Android market begins to grow.

But make no mistake: there's going to be huge growth in this area over the next three years, and plenty of demand for developers.

With many of us planning to take breaks in the coming weeks, what better opportunity to get a box seat on a fun and potentially lucrative ride!

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That's all for this issue -- thanks for reading! I'll see you in a few weeks.

Alex Walker
[hidden email]
Editor, SitePoint Design View

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Re: Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

Jens Oliver Meiert

>  SitePoint Design View
>
> Issue 53: December 2nd, 2008  The Useful and the Usable in Web Design

Interesting. Anyone else sharing my objections on having mails like
this on this list?

--
Jens Meiert
http://meiert.com/en/

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Re: Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

David Calhoun-2
Yeah it doesn't seem appropriate.  The site itself might be useful (I don't know either way), but it's kind of tacky advertising.  I guess they just signed themselves up to the list...

-David Calhoun

On Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 12:02 AM, Jens Meiert <[hidden email]> wrote:

>  SitePoint Design View
>
> Issue 53: December 2nd, 2008  The Useful and the Usable in Web Design

Interesting. Anyone else sharing my objections on having mails like
this on this list?

--
Jens Meiert
http://meiert.com/en/


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Re: [META] Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

David Woolley (E.L)
In reply to this post by Jens Oliver Meiert

Jens Meiert wrote:
>>  SitePoint Design View
>>
>> Issue 53: December 2nd, 2008  The Useful and the Usable in Web Design
>
> Interesting. Anyone else sharing my objections on having mails like
> this on this list?

I submitted it to my ISP's spam filter spam learning mailbox, unread!
Generally anything that is highly styled is obviously commercial in
nature, and I only tolerate it where explicitly requested, although I
still prefer plain text.
>


--
David Woolley
Emails are not formal business letters, whatever businesses may want.
RFC1855 says there should be an address here, but, in a world of spam,
that is no longer good advice, as archive address hiding may not work.

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Re: [META] Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

Stephen Stewart-4

On 4 Dec 2008, at 10:50, David Woolley wrote:

>
> Jens Meiert wrote:
>>> SitePoint Design View
>>>
>>> Issue 53: December 2nd, 2008  The Useful and the Usable in Web  
>>> Design
>> Interesting. Anyone else sharing my objections on having mails like
>> this on this list?
>
> I submitted it to my ISP's spam filter spam learning mailbox,  
> unread! Generally anything that is highly styled is obviously  
> commercial in nature, and I only tolerate it where explicitly  
> requested, although I still prefer plain text.

I clicked the unsubscribe link at the bottom.

--
Stephen Stewart
www.carisenda.com

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Re[2]: [META] Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

Shavkat Karimov

I thought sitepoint runs this list and getting something like this
would be logical...

Kindest regards,
Shavkat
http://www.seomanager.com


---
Thursday, December 4, 2008, 4:14:22 PM, you wrote:


> On 4 Dec 2008, at 10:50, David Woolley wrote:

>>
>> Jens Meiert wrote:
>>>> SitePoint Design View
>>>>
>>>> Issue 53: December 2nd, 2008  The Useful and the Usable in Web  
>>>> Design
>>> Interesting. Anyone else sharing my objections on having mails like
>>> this on this list?
>>
>> I submitted it to my ISP's spam filter spam learning mailbox,  
>> unread! Generally anything that is highly styled is obviously  
>> commercial in nature, and I only tolerate it where explicitly  
>> requested, although I still prefer plain text.

> I clicked the unsubscribe link at the bottom.

> --
> Stephen Stewart
> www.carisenda.com




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Re: [META] Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

David Dorward-3

Shavkat Karimov wrote:
> I thought sitepoint runs this list and getting something like this
> would be logical...
>  
If sitepoint run this list, why is it hosting @w3.org?

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Re[2]: [META] Design View #53 - Mobile Web 2.0: The New Fun Park For Developers?

Shavkat Karimov

No idea, but I've subscribed to this list because of that, I thought
to watch these guys closer as I am interested in their success and
want to kow how they managed to it.

Kindest regards,
Shavkat
http://www.seomanager.com


---
Thursday, December 4, 2008, 6:55:41 PM, you wrote:


> Shavkat Karimov wrote:
>> I thought sitepoint runs this list and getting something like this
>> would be logical...
>>  
> If sitepoint run this list, why is it hosting @w3.org?