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Bath openMIC #4 – Mobile Web, HTML5 and CSS3


Yesterday, I attended the Open Mobile Innovation Camp at the innovation centre in Bath. The event was hosted by Chris Book and had talks from Giles Turnball (Freelance Journalist), Bruce Lawson and Patrick Lauke (both from Opera). The focus of the day revolved around the current trends in mobile app development and the tensions between Native, Web and Widget apps.

The day kicked off with tech writer Giles Turnball talking about how technology has turned the press industry upside down. He recounted tales from the 90s of infra-red modems, Palm Pilots and GoType keyboards, and being one of the first journalists to actively embrace remote reporting and email. Although initially laughed at, remote journalism is now standard and Giles encouraged us not to neglect advancing technologies, but to learn about them and look to integrate them into our businesses and working lives.

Next up was Richard Spence who ‘controversially’ spoke about non-iPhone development. He reminded us that only 8% of the mobile market is iPhone whereas 71% is browser based. Richard didn’t slag of the iPhone, on the contrary, he “thanked Apple from the bottom of his heart” and agreed with Stephen Fry’s eloquent observation:

Does anybody seriously believe that Android, Nokia, Samsung, Palm, BlackBerry and a dozen others would since have produced the product line they have without the 100,000 volt taser shot up the jacksie that the iPhone delivered to the entire market?

Richard went on to give a brief history of mobile development platforms and where they are at now. J2ME, Blackberry and Symbian were all covered and commended for their recent improvements in the light of the ‘iPhone effect‘.

The final talk of the morning was from Bruce Lawson from Opera. Bruce was in jovial mood and was quick to evangelise the latest Opera Beta which claims to be the current fastest Javascript engine. Bruce championed the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices and also highlighted some of the UX and accessibility challenges that await. Bruce emphasized the importance of optimization and minimising HTTP requests. He went on to talk about future advancements in HTML5 and CSS3 and the features that the latest Opera already supports. One particular point of interest for me was the use of Media Queries to change CSS layouts dependent on screen size, without JS sniffing. Bruce finally talked about the potential of Widgets, that Opera are involved with in editing the W3C standard.

After a lunch at the local chinese and heated debate on technology, we broke into smaller groups for our barCamp sessions. The philosophy of barCamp is to create open group dialogues about an agreed topic and to work / explore collaboratively. I attended a discussion on HTML / CSS3 with the guys from Opera, and for my second session W3C Standards for Mobile Web. Both sessions were really insightful and was particularly interesting to hear peoples’ comments from the mobile industry on mobile web.

I also picked up a couple of useful tools:

Native Mobile Development Platforms for Web Developers

Appcelerator Titanium


W3C Mobile Validator

Perhaps most surprising, coming to the event as a pure Web Developer (with past dabblings in mobile), I certainly didn’t feel like an outsider or feel like the technology was flying over my head. In fact, I came away with an increasing awareness that, whether I like it or not, Web Development is not simply going to be solely about the Desktop. As hopes of an archaic browser death is on the horizon, another friend is also lurking. In our discussions on Mobile Web Standards, we were reminded that the largest mobile usage is not in China, the US, or Europe, but in developing countries. If the days of IE6 support is numbered, then the days of mobile WAP support may be coming back from the dead!

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