Web standards secret sauce

When Apple chose KHTML rather than Mozilla Gecko as the basis for its Safari browser, some of us in the web standards community scratched our heads. Sure, KHTML, the rendering engine in Konqueror, was open-source and standards-compliant. But, at the time, Gecko’s standards support was more advanced, and Gecko-based Mozilla, Camino, and even Netscape 6 felt more like browsers than Konqueror. Gecko browsers had the features, the comparative maturity, and the support of the standards community. Apple’s adoption of KHTML, and creation of a forked version called Webkit, seemed puzzling and wrong.

Yet, thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit (Apple’s open source version of KHTML) in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. Had Apple chosen Gecko, they might not have been able to so powerfully influence mainstream consumer opinion, because the fully formed, distinctly mature Gecko brand and experience could easily have overshadowed and constrained Apple’s contribution. (Not to mention, tolerating external constraint is not a game Apple plays.)

Just how has mobile Safari, a relative latecomer to the world of standards-based browsing, been able to make a difference, and what difference has it made?

The platform paradox

Firefox and Opera were wonderful before any Webkit-based browser reached maturity, but Firefox and Opera were and are non-mainstream tastes. Most people use Windows without thinking much about it, and most Windows users open the browser that comes with their operating system, again without too much thought. This doesn’t make them dumb and us smart. We are interaction designers; they are not.

Thus, the paradox: even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a comparatively poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. If you knew enough to want Firefox and Opera, those browsers delivered features and experience that confirmed the wisdom of your choice. If you didn’t know to want them, you didn’t realize you were missing anything, because folks reading this page sweated like Egyptian pyramid builders to make sure you had a good experience despite your browser’s flaws.

The power to convert

Firefox and Opera are great browsers that have greatly advanced the cause of web standards, but because they are choices in a space where most people don’t make choices, their power to convert is necessarily somewhat truncated. The millions mostly don’t care what happens on their desktop. It’s mostly not in their control. They either don’t have a choice or don’t realize they have one, and their expectations have been systematically lowered by two decades of unexciting user experience.

By contrast, the iPhone functions in a hot realm where consumers do make choices, and where choices are badges. Of course many people are forced economically to choose the cheap or free phone that comes with their mobile service. But many others are in a position to select a device. And the iPhone is to today’s urban professional gym rat what cigarettes and martinis were to their 1950s predecessors. You and I may claim to choose a mobile device based on its features, but the upwardly mobile (pardon the pun), totally hot person standing next to us in the elevator may choose their phone the same way they choose their handbag. And now that the iPhone sells for $99, more people can afford to make a fashion decision about their phone—and they’ll do it.

Mobile 2.0

Although there were great phones before the iPhone, and although the iPhone has its detractors, it is fair to say that we are now in a Mobile 2.0 phase where people expect more than a Lynx-like experience when they use their phone to access the internet. Mobile Safari in iPhone, along with the device’s superior text handling thanks to Apple and Adobe technologies, is changing perceptions about and expectations of the web in the same way social networking did, and just at the historical moment when social networking has gone totally mainstream.

Oprah’s on Twitter, your mom’s on Twitter, and they’re either using an iPhone or a recently vastly upgraded Palm or Blackberry that takes nearly all of its cues from the iPhone. Devices that copy the iPhone of course mostly end up selling the iPhone, the same way Bravo’s The Fashion Show would mostly make you miss Project Runway if you even watched The Fashion Show, which you probably haven’t.

Safari isn’t perfect, and Mobile Safari has bugs not evident in desktop Safari, but Webkit + Apple = secret sauce selling web standards to a new generation of consumers and developers.

Read more

  • Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
  • HTML 5: Nav Ambiguity Resolved. An e-mail from Chairman Hickson resolves an ambiguity in the nav element of HTML 5. What does that mean in English? Glad you asked! — 13 July 2009
  • In Defense of Web Developers: Pushing back against the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd’s using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely. — 7 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]webdesign, webstandards, design, standards, browsers, CSS, webkit, gecko, mozilla, firefox, opera, safari, mobile, mobilesafari, iphone[/tags]

Ready For My Closeup

Ready For My Closeup

DanielByrne [warning! Flash site with JavaScript auto-expand full-screen window] came to Happy Cog‘s New York office to shoot me for an upcoming feature story in .Net Magazine, “the UK’s leading magazine for web designers and developers.”

What can I say? I’m a sucker for the gentle touch of a make-up pad. Or of anything, really. I love this photo (shot by Byrne with my iPhone) because it captures the fact that I’m still really a four-year-old. It also shows what a genuine photographer can do with even the humblest of tools.

[tags]photos, photography, shoot, danielbyrne, photographer, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman, profile, bio, interview, .net, .netmag, .netmagazine, .netmagazineUK, myglamorouslife, iphone, candid, shoots, shots, Apple[/tags]

Phoneless

Two weeks out of warranty, my iPhone 1.0 becomes a turnip.

Cost to replace an out-of-warranty iPhone 1.0 with a refurbished version of the same model: $199.

Minimum wait time to receive the $199 replacement at the 57th Street Apple Store: two hours. That’s 120 minutes, folks.

Can I leave and come back? No.

Cost to replace my old iPhone with a new model: also $199.

Minimum wait time to receive the new model at the 57th Street Apple Store: one hour.

I don’t want the new model but one hour is better than two.

Alas, though I’ve got a dead phone, I also have a hungry toddler. I can’t wait here that long.

The Apple Genius recommends that I make an appointment and come back.

First available appointment? Tuesday.

Today is Saturday. My phone, my connection to the world, is dead. I can’t replace it at the Apple Store unless I devote the afternoon to the project.

Lightbulb: AT&T stores sell iPhones. There are AT&T Stores all over this city. I don’t have to wait in this airless giant gerbil cage all day!

Availability of iPhone at nearest AT&T Store: nil.

How about at this other AT&T Store? Nope.

Or this one? No iPhones here either.

A tropical storm hits New York, ending my quest, sending me home soaked and phoneless.

I will have to go back to the Apple Store some other day, and queue as if for Madonna tickets.

I love this phone, but I’m starting to have my doubts about the company that makes it.

[tags]apple, iphone, applestore, scarcity[/tags]

In the bag

Early tomorrow, I leave for San Francisco. Headed into my laptop bag, along with my MacBook, are…

  • An iPod Classic containing 8624 “songs” (I like music) and 46 “movies.” Sample titles: A Mighty Wind, A Night at the Opera, Helvetica, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Lost in Translation, North by Northwest, Rushmore, Spirited Away, Stardust Memories, Stranger Than Paradise, Swing Time. The iPod also provides two days of interstitial music for the conference.
  • Power and stage adapters for all gear.
  • The latest issue of Macworld.
  • One or more novels (haven’t decided which; I always travel with at least one great book I’ve read before, and it’s always a new experience).

In my carry-on bag, in place of the usual dress shoes and gym shoes, I’m packing Crocs. It’s not my normal travel or presentation attire, but my foot (although much better) is still a bit out of whack, and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

See some of you in San Francisco and the rest of you here and there.

[tags]sanfrancisco, airtravel, iphone, ipod, apple[/tags]

Maybe that’s why they call them Kodak moments

It was the last day of our daughter’s first year of school. Party time. All the three-year-olds dressed like dolls; teachers relieved and sad; parents misty-eyed, promising to stay in touch over the summer.

Our children have three teachers. One is leaving for graduate school, the second is off to have a child of her own, and the third—a wonderful woman—will have to be taken out of the school in a box.

The teachers stood together for the last time, hugging each other and our children.

Moments like these are once in a lifetime. Fortunately I carry an iPhone. Unfortunately, my iPhone’s camera is once again taking blanks instead of photographs.

For those who have just missed the photographic opportunity of a lifetime because of this unfortunate iPhone bug, here, once again, is the method that will remove the corrupted file and get your iPhone taking photos again:

  1. Sync iPhone. This also creates a backup of the notes and other items that don’t get synchronized anywhere else.
  2. Go to Settings, General, Reset: “Erase All Content and Settings.”
  3. Once complete, reconnect the iPhone to begin syncing with iTunes.
  4. iTunes will ask if you want to sync from backup. Choose not to. Instead, “Set up as new phone.” This sounds scary, but it’s really not. (You don’t lose your phone number or anything. It’s just a dumb, needlessly scary Apple label.)

From resourcesforlife.com, whose solution this is: “You will lose notes, SMS history, and iPhone settings as well as data that is normally synchronized. However, corrupted system files (such as the internal camera roll files) will be replaced with fresh non-corrupted versions and everything should work.”

I didn’t post this to complain about not getting to photograph the last day of our kid’s first year of school. Nor did I post it to take a swipe at Apple for building an amazingly creative, industry-leading product that is, however, a computer, and thus subject to bugs and glitches.

I posted it because every six months or so, when my iPhone’s camera stops working, I forget how to fix it. Now it’s on my website. When the camera starts failing around Christmastime, I’ll know just where to look.

[tags]apple, iphone, camera, software, bug, whitebox, photo, photos, disappearing[/tags]