Jan 19

Comparing the performance attributes of iOS browsers

Mobile, Tech, Web Browsing with tags: No Comments »


I recently talked about the attack of the mobile browsers.

Then, Steve shared bookmarklets for mobile performance work.

He and Jesse hosted a fantastic Velocity Summit in the city today with the best and brightest in the realms of web ops and browser land combined. It was an honor learning from them, and it was just fantastic to see top notch folks from Chrome, Firefox, IE participating and sharing ideas.

With all of the performance talk, I started to play with Steve’s work, and was reminded how much of a pain it is to work with bookmarklets on iOS. There are some solutions, from Dropbox, to syncing bookmarks (from iTunes as well as Firefox Home), but in general it can be a pain.

Some of the new iOS browsers have extension support though… such as the 360 Browser. I wondered if it would be more efficient to great extensions (they call them plugins, but that confuses the world with Flash etc) that are quickly actionable from within the browser. Ideally, I could tell the browser to always run the extension so I could collect data throughout a session.

One concern though was the fact that most users on iOS are coming at you from Mobile Safari, and although these new browsers are using the iOS WebKit APIs (as Apple won’t let them do anything else) how different are the browsers themselves?

BrowserScope to the rescue. I fired up and ran all of the tests in each browser application and compared the results. They were incredibly consistent. All of the numbers were the same when run on: Mobile Safari, Sleipnir, 360 Browser, and Skyfire except for the “Cache Redirects” test in the Network section. In that case, two of the browsers passed the test and the other two didn’t. All in all that is pretty friggin’ consistent though. The network connections were all the same for example….. so this makes me feel like there is room for a nice developer oriented iOS browser. Sure, it can’t get access to a lot of the low level data, but there is much that can be done, especially if you pair it with a remote session ability so you can power the beast from a desktop rather than the dinky device itself!

Jan 13

Sometimes it is how you say it; Google and H.264

HTML, Tech, Web Browsing with tags: 1 Comment »

There has been a ton of fire on the Internet around the news from Google that it is dropping support for H.264 from the Chromium project. I think that this is a great example of how the way it was messaged could have really hurt Google.

A core issue that Google has is that now it is large, people read many things into its actions. In the case of video on the Web, who rules the roost at Google? There are many parties that have skin in the game in some way:

  • YouTube delivers a fair amount of video on the Web
  • Google Chrome (browser, OS, etc)
  • Android
  • Google TV
  • Google Voice
  • GChat
  • … and the list keeps going and going!

I love it when people editorialize only one of these heads. For example, this piece on how the whole thing is actually just about YouTube and their costs. YouTube is only one player.

The key problem is that Web video is friggin’ messy. The Web loves openness. Users love functionality. We are in a period of time where the two aren’t always aligned, which ends up with many people having to double encode and support multiple formats.

Also, both sides of the argument love to talk to extremes, but the lines can be a little grey.

For example:

  • Some people wrote about how Firefox is doing great in Europe which is a huge market, and thus everyone will be doing WebM. Erm, there are lots of other markets with millions of people where that isn’t supported.
  • Others say that WebM handled as part of a standards group, and thus “it isn’t an open standard! H.264 is!” WebM is licensed very liberally indeed, and is in a position to be very much an open standard. To put the nail in this coffin, it would have been fantastic for Google to have come out with a message that talks about plans for standardization and what they are thinking.
  • “Google should stop delivering Flash!” On one side people say, “Come on. Flash is ubiquitous enough that Chrome needs it to be a competitive browser. The battle here should be to move the Web fast enough and add capability which means that plugins aren’t as needed for certain situations.” If you care about DRM and other items in video, you may wish that you can use <video> but you can’t yet. The other side will say “Google is being disingenuous with their use of the ‘open’ word 8 times in their post.” Again, I do think that the communication could have been clearer from them, and they could have explained much more why they are doing this.

In general, that post comes from “Mike Jazayeri, Product Manager.” Who is that cat? Where are these thoughts really coming from? Is it from an On2 guy looking to fight the fight? from a policy person? from YouTube?

Sometimes it is how you say it, and I think Google could have done a much better job getting their partners briefed and unified proactively, and a better job in explaining what they are really doing. A group like Mozilla can make a much more respectable argument based on the grounds of openness and the long term. Asa is out there fighting the good fight right now in fact (commenting on this great post by Haavard@Opera):

In 6 months time, of the HTML5 capable browsers, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, IE9, Safari, more 2/3rds (by usage stats) will support WebM exclusively and less than 1/3rd will support H.264 exclusively.

H.264 is not winning when it comes to HTML5 video support. WebM is winning. Actually, it’s more than just winning; it’s kicking ass.

Now. Back to an incredibly messy world of video. It isn’t about the number of HTML5 capable browsers. There are a few phones that support H.264…. and although hardware support is coming soon for WebM, it aint here yet, and the majority of content isn’t encoded in WebM. This is all great news for companies such as Brightcove who get to leverage the pain that we all have in the (hopefully) transitional phase to an open world for Web video.

Updated Google saw the commotion and I am glad to see that they joined the conversation and gave more information in this clarification.

Dec 29

Attack of the Mobile Browsers

Mobile, Tech, Web Browsing 3 Comments »

It has been exciting to see the increase in mobile browsers available for various platforms. Some platforms have allowed this freedom (e.g. a “full” Firefox experience on Android). Others like iOS restrict applications to the realm of WebKit and the APIs available:

“2.17 Apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript”

Even with that handicap, we have seen some very interesting experiments, each with their own take.

I have been playing with some of the new iPhone browser apps recently. What jumps out at me?


My favorite is probably the 360 Browser from Saloni Srivastava. It packs a lot of fun features into a small device sized package, even if the UI feels a little foreign sometimes:

  • The pie menu approach brought a smile (we experimented with a pie menu in Bespin). There are two modes: drag and tap. With the default drag mode you end up holding a digit down on the screen and moving around. In practice I found this approach wanting because I would either hide the menu that I was aiming for, or I would move off and the menu would disappear. I prefer the tap approach, but actually wish for a solution that mixed the two… specifically, in tap mode I want to be able to hold down on a menu item and have a tooltip tell me what I am dealing with…. important as you learn the system.
  • Firefox Sync support is fantastic. I wish that I could tie in syncing from other browsers too and unify things.
  • In the top left of the toolbar you can quickly tap to make the current tab private…… something that many users will enjoy ;)
  • Tab support in general is good, and you can quickly show and hide them
  • Which leads into full screen support
  • The plugin system allows you to bring in a lot more to the experience. It feels a bit clunky, going into the plugins area and tapping on the item even though it has an [x] on it etc, but it great to be able to extend your browsing.


Sleipnir Mobile innovates nicely with tabs and somewhat with tagging and bookmarking. Being able to setup various “workspaces” for your tabs is very useful. I find myself wanting to keep a copy of sites like TechMeme, Hacker News, and others, and being able to put them in one tab group is fantastic.


Skyfire has both an iPhone and iPad version of their browser. Most talk about their support for Flash video, but they also have other interesting features such as their “quick views” which give you a taste of Twitter or Facebook without having to jump away from your current browsing stream. I am not the kind of chap who is looking for “related” exploration, but others probably are. It is also interesting to see how browsers get around limitations of the app-centric model. For example, Skyfire is aware of the clipboard and sucks in URLs, since you can’t send a URL to open that browser, or have a system-wide setting for “default browser”. We have similar issues with bookmarks. I want one central store that they can all use (others would like separation).

In general, features such as private browsing, better tab management, and also caching itself can be huge. It drives me bonkers to hit the back button and have to wait for a page to be reloaded when I just came from there. I would happily give up a lot more hard drive space on my device to the browser. The feel of the browser is important too. If the scrolling is off, or the gestures? Ugh. I had that experience with Opera when it first came out. By default pages were zoomed so far out that it was unreadable and the pinch/zoom felt wrong.

I really hope that the exploration that is happening in the mobile browser space (and the money that some folks are making off of it!) keeps going, and that Apple opens up their terms to allow for a full Firefox experience and others.

What would you like to see on a mobile browser?

Dec 15

Chrome Frame for iPhone; Taking your HTML5 renderer with you

Mobile, Open Source, Open Web, Tech, Web Browsing 2 Comments »

I love the Web, but a couple of things have gotten me thinking.

#1: Netflix on PlayStation 3 via HTML5

I got to meet some of the awesome engineers behind the HTML5-fication of Netflix experiences, specifically folks in the TV group. They showed us various UI experiments and it was beautiful to see. The UI is slick and modern, and every effect is using CSS transition goodness, nicely hardware accelerated thanks to the PS3’s GPU.

At first it may seem a bit crazy that the team took Qt/WebKit with them as the rendering platform, but when you think about the huge number of devices that Netflix needs to support, it makes “wanting an iPhone and Android app” seem like laughable fragmentation.

#2: Trusting the implementations to catch up?

We have amazing browsers in modern devices. But as we push the Web forward, we are still facing buggy implementations and varying support. Although WebKit lives within Mobile Safari, that doesn’t mean that Mobile Safari has open sourced everything to WebKit. The touch support isn’t there. We can’t all use the same scrolling effects and the like. That has to be built up by everyone.

Ideally, with position:fixed (now in Android), you could use that and even flexbox to use the core scrolling of the browser itself so you don’t have to resort in the mimicry that frameworks have had to do until now.

Even the magical escape chute to the GPU via CSS3D isn’t a silver bullet.

matthew farag

Matthew Farag has a lovely portfolio site that uses the power of this modern goodness (using Scripty2 for auto hardware acceleration!). Works great on a desktop WebKit, but how about the iPad? It does pretty well, but you start to see some of the buggy issues where the GPU seems to run out of memory and you get weird artifacts.

So, when you put these two together, you realize that it could be nice to carry a great consistent Web runtime with you to allow you to get great experiences, especially while we are transitioning and getting everything flushed out. It would also enable us not to be beholden to the likes of Android and Apple to make sure that their Web runtimes are fantastic.

I may want Chrome Frame for devices more than I care about it on the desktop as it turns out. Hmm. Alex? ;)

Oct 19

Open Web Apps: The Vapour infrastucture becoming real

Mozila, Open Source, Tech, Web Browsing with tags: , No Comments »

I mentioned Vapour, the Mozilla Open Web App Store. I didn’t know that it wasn’t released yet (even though the code was out there).

Well, now it has been released with the post on an Open Web App Ecosystem that has a prototype and technical documentation with it.

This is a huge deal, and I am jazzed that Mozilla is getting into the game here. The Web needs to give developers as many opportunities to monetize as possible, and needs to help consumers find the best possible content.

First we have the philosophy on what an Open Web App even is:

  • Are built using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  • Can be “installed” to a dashboard within your mobile or desktop Web browser, or to your native OS desktop or mobile home screen.
  • Work in all modern Web browsers, while enabling each browser to compete on app presentation, organization and management user interfaces.
  • Support paid apps by means of an authorization model that uses existing identity systems like OpenID.
  • Support portable purchases: An app purchased for one browser works in other browsers, and across multiple desktop and mobile platforms without repurchase.
  • Can request access to one or more advanced and/or privacy-sensitive capabilities that they would like access to (like geolocation) which the system will mediate, giving the user the ability to opt-in to them if desired.
  • Can be distributed by developers directly to users without any gatekeeper, and distributed through multiple stores, allowing stores to compete on customer service, price, policies, app discoverability, ratings, reviews and other attributes.
  • Can receive notifications from the cloud.
  • Support deep search across apps: Apps can implement an interface that enables the app container (generally the Web browser) to provide the user with a cross-app search experience that links deeply into any app that can satisfy the search.

There are some interesting elements in there, such as calling out notification support as a first class required feature.

Then we get to the brass tacks. The tech behind this. I quickly peaked at the manifest and was happy to see that it looks very similar to Chrome (and the webOS appinfo.json). I would love to see us all get in a room and try to come up with some subset of JSON that we can agree on.

I also enjoyed seeing:

  • Permissions: The thought around permissions and what it means to be an app.
  • Verification: How do we actually make things like “buy on Chrome, use on Firefox” working? How do we allow distributed systems for payment and all of the services that tend to be silo’d right no?
  • Cross app integration: The Web is great at mashups, and we should lose that in apps

Great to see the word now fully out, and now we have the concept we can join Mozilla in helping to define how this all works, and how it can be useful. It is so very hard to compete with a unified system, and to make it happen takes real work and collaboration. What do you think?

Sep 28

Chrome Speak To Site; Give any input the power to listen to you

JavaScript, Open Source, Tech, Web Browsing with tags: , , 3 Comments »

Paul Irish gave a fantastic updated State of HTML5 talk at JSConf.EU. It is packed full of demos, including sharks with freaking lazer beams!

At one point he showed off the WebKit support for <input speech> implementation that allows you to talk into an input area. You click on the microphone, speak in, and it will get translated for you with the results. I am not sure if you can tweak how the translation is done (choose a Nuance vs. Google vs. …. solution for example), but it definitely works well out of the box.


I was surprised to see this already landed in my developer-channel Chrome, so I was incented to do something with it on the plane trip back from Berlin to New York City. Something simple would be to give the user the ability to enable speech on any input. I whipped up a Chrome extension using the context menu API, but was quickly surprised to see that there isn’t support in the API to get the DOM node that you are working on. Huh. Kinda crazy in fact.

Then the whizzkid antimatter came to the rescue with his cheeky little hack around the system. Here is how it plays out in the world of this extension:

The background page

First we enable the context menu on any “editable” element (vs. anywhere on the page, on any text, etc), and when clicked we fire off an event to the content script in the given tab:

    title: "Turn on speech input",
    contexts: ["editable"],
    onclick: function(info, tab) {
        chrome.tabs.sendRequest(tab.id, 'letmespeak')

Catching in a content script

A content script then does two things:

  • Listens for mousedown events to keep resetting the last element in focus
  • Catches the event, and turns on the speech attribute on the target DOM node
var last_target = null;
document.addEventListener('mousedown', function(event) {
    last_target = event.target;
}, true);
chrome.extension.onRequest.addListener(function(event) {
    last_target.setAttribute("speech", "on");
    last_target = null;

Wire-y wire-y

Of course, it all gets wired up in the manifest:

    "name": "Turn on Speech Input",
    "description": "Turns on the speech attribute, allows you to speak into an input",
    "version": "0.1",
    "permissions": ["contextMenus"],
    "minimum_chrome_version": "6",
    "background_page": "background.html",
    "content_scripts": [{
        "matches": ["<all_urls>"],
        "js": ["input-speech.js"]

This trivial extension is of course on GitHub (I want git-achivements after all! :).

A couple of things trouble me though:

  • The microphone icon should sit on the right of the input, however when dynamically tweaked like this it shows up on the left by mistake [BUG]
  • I have also played with extensions such as Google Scribe. Adding icons like this doesn’t scale. Having them show up all the time gets in my way. I think I want one ability to popup special powers like scribe completion, or speech-to-text, without it getting in my way
  • When services are built into standard elements like this, it feels like I want to have the ability to tweak how they work (with great defaults of course, as 99.9999% of the time they won’t be changed.


Sep 25

Microsoft, Please work with us on pinned sites like this

Microsoft, Tech, Web Browsing 5 Comments »

There has been a bit of chatter regarding how IE9 implements pinned sites, namely that this isn’t the way to go:

<meta name="application-name" content="Ars Technica"/>
<meta name="msapplication-starturl" content="http://arstechnica.com/"/>
<meta name="msapplication-tooltip" content="Ars Technica: Serving the technologist for 1.2 decades"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=News;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/;icon-uri=http://arstechnica.com/favicon.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Features;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/features/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-features.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=OpenForum;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/civis/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-forum.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=One Microsoft Way;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-omw.ico"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Subscribe;action-uri=http://arstechnica.com/subscriptions/;icon-uri=http://static.arstechnica.net/ie-jump-menu/jump-subscribe.ico"/>

Some are calling for using the menu tag, others for
a link tag that points to an external resource that defines the menus.

There are pros and cons to the different approaches (reusing menus across the site instead of embedding inline, [or just using <a> as Sam Pullara mentions!]). For me, the details on the implementation aren’t what is important here.

What matters to me is how Microsoft goes about adding these features. It is their browser, and they can do whatever they want. However, if they really want to work with developers, they could have worked with us (and other browser vendors) on the feature. I am all for trying things out and not standardizing anything prematurely, and I am frustrated when browser vendors don’t experiment more sometimes, but man.

This is a “beta” of IE9, so I hope that there is time to work on this together. If other browsers are interested in doing something similar in the future, it would be nice to abstract the task at hand, which is denoting what actions are available in the given page (or on the given site as a whole). If the msapplication prefix is used in a “before we work this out” way, that is probably OK, but I really don’t want to go down the path of multiple ways of defining this. I personally don’t enjoy seeing -webkit-*, -moz-*, -o-* in CSS. So much repetition that never goes away. I would much rather have someone grab foo and let people -vendor-foo if they disagree until things work out.

Microsoft, if you have worked with other browser vendors and developers on this, I forgive you; but if you haven’t and aren’t willing to listen to the community, I fear for the history repeating itself.

Am I off base?

Sep 16

#newtwitter, IE9, and the change in user experience expectations

Tech, Web Browsing 2 Comments »

Yesterday’s announcement of what was immediately dubbed #newtwitter has crept up on me in its significance.

While Twitter has been growing in mainstream significance and popularity, it hasn’t managed to adopt a strategy that clearly aims the company towards mass market success. I think #newtwitter changes that, turning the site into a rich information discovery platform, if you’ll excuse the buzzword bingo. The new design is a pleasure to use, and encourages a kind of deep exploration of the data within Twitter that has previously only been exposed in bits and pieces by third-party applications. Browsing Twitter is now as rewarding as communicating with it.

This comes from Alex Payne, former Twitter API architect and all around top notch bloke. The new Twitter interface came at an interesting time for me. You see, Ben and I are working on upcoming presentations for Web Directions, JSConf.EU, NY JS, and Web 2.0 Expo. We have been spending some time analyzing the interesting worlds of apps vs. mobile Web, and how the worlds are converging in interesting ways. After the Twitter for iPad came out:

it was a stark contrast with Twitter.com:


On the iPad, the team had done a great job thinking about the feel of the application and how people sit back with their tablet devices and interact with them via touch. The stacking system is fun to use, and although some times it feels a little rough, it feels that way in the way that things in the physical world can feel rough. I like it. Of all the features, the only feature that truly matters to me is the inline preview of URLs. As soon as I experienced it, I knew it would change how I use Twitter. Flipboard is great, but is a fun sit back experience that I actually tend not to use. Twitter for iPad however gives me a more practical experience that goes beyond 140 characters. The Web joins me in the application rather than shooting me out to other tabs in the browser, or apps in the silo space.

After using the iPad version I started to ponder how different it was both from twitter.com and desktop clients (Tweetie for Mac, echofon, etc). I am not a TweetDeck “let me view lots of lists!” type of user. My desktop client sits in the corner, an appendix. I like how echofon uses draws to extend the space, but I now want to be able to change the size of the window and when large enough, flip to a tablet view. There is no reason that the desktop application couldn’t morph nicely and let me use the same application for my different use cases (small area of the screen to view tweets going by, extended version to immerse in the experience). When looking at twitter.com, the boring list of Tweets seemed poor compared to FriendFeed and Facebook’s expansion of that area. Those sites did smart things based on the type of content in the status update, they show comments right there, etc. Twitter has been notoriously awful for tracking the conversations being had in @replies. Changing this dynamic will change the conversations.

Just as I was looking at the touch iPad experience side by side with twitter.com and wanted to shout “the Web can do that too!” Twitter came along and implemented a fantastic rewrite of the site. The new Twitter brings an experience into the site that makes it so much more usable than 140 characters with a link.

Steve Souders just posted about his movement from blogging to Twitter. Twitter has very much changed the way I view blogging too. On Ajaxian.com I wanted to bring the community together to discuss the Ajax revolution. One of my goals was “if a developer only has a few minutes to see ‘what is important today?’” they could come to Ajaxian and feel like they are keeping up. There were other goals too (e.g. run The Ajax Experience as an excuse to get the top Ajax talent together to further the Web). The site had some exclusive content, but it was very much an aggregator, a curator. In that vein, my twitter feed started to become just as good as the website for the goal of people keeping up to date. With the new Twitter interface, that is even more true. That isn’t to say there isn’t room for more however. We have had visions of doing much more on the social community side, and hopefully one day we will get a chance to implement those visions. Whatever the case though, Twitter will be a real part of the solution.


Our users are expecting fantastic experiences. Once expectations are changed, the previous world is unusable. The day you played with Google Maps was the day you couldn’t deal with MapQuest. It felt archaic in comparison, but a day before hand you were fine with it!

The apps revolution has pushed fantastic experiences on us. With webOS we are showing that the Web can be a fantastic native runtime for these experiences. Today, we got to see Microsoft get behind the Web in a huge way.

“With HTML5, you can make as rich an experience as an app.”

At one point, Microsoft came along and pushed the Web forward with IE4, 5 and even poor old 6. However, once they had the market-share they gutted the team and moved on to WPF and Silverlight. The Web was the ghetto but to do beautiful, rich experiences…. use Silverlight and WPF! This is why it is amazing to see them pimp the beauty of the Web. You kinda have to rub your eyes in this turn around! Next, I hope that the Windows Phone 7 folks get the memo ;)

Now all of the top browsers have fantastic runtimes that are competing heavily. Fantastic news for us all. The Web is going to change in a huge way, and as developers we need to step up to the opportunity to deliver these experiences across various form factors. Right on.

Jun 02

Will we feel like stick shift drivers? The potential shift in the OS marketplace

Apple, Comic, Tech, Web Browsing, webOS 1 Comment »


I have been talking in analogy for the last few days. The common meme is relating the computing usage trends to that of the car industry. As I watch continue to watch my family use their devices, it does feel like things are changing. My mum continues to thrive on her iPad / Palm Pixi combo. She feels empowered to try the different corners of the experience. To download new experiences. She is having fun.


One friend suggested that it is like the shift (pun intended) that we saw when automatic transmissions were introduced. At first they were expensive and had some issues, but being able to have simple controls changed the way that people drove. It became so simple. There were people who cried that it would never take off. “People want the control of a manual stick shift system!” However, although we continue to see some die-hards, the vaste majority of the US population drive automatics (this isn’t true everywhere in the world). That battle is over. We will never go back.

The iPad experience is like driving the computing experience without the manual hassle. You don’t have to know how to install the engine to start out (install an OS), nor deal with (and worry endlessly about) the workings. In general, you just don’t need to worry about all of the abstractions any more. The notion of files. And, don’t get me started on viruses.

As my mother thrives on her iPad, I use it sparingly, mainly as an entertainment consumption device. Wait a minute: Am I am the guy who loves the stick shift and never wants to jump to an automatic? I am a little different from the religious chaps who claimed they couldn’t understand why anyone would want an automatic. Or looked down on those people. I understand why my Mum prefers the iPad experience.

I do find the iPad experience often frustrating however. My “why did the car shift then? it wasn’t time!” moments occur mainly around the restricted access to customization, and the inherent and enforced immersion.

First a small thing, which will unfortunately show off an how anal I can be:


I want to rename this to “BBC News”. I am the guy who winces when someone bookmarks a page and doesn’t rename it, thus having “Foo.com – a barish company that deals in widgets, gadgets, monkeys, and flubbers”. I want to jump in and rename it to “Foo” on the bookmark bar. More space. More room. Petty for sure.

Where it gets more real for me is in the lack of integration between applications. Being immersed with one application at a time can be a fantastic thing, I will give you that… even if I often would love to give a bit of screen real estate to me Twitter stream while working on another app right next to it. However, if you live in an immersive environment, you need great integration between experiences. I should be able to Tweet/Share from any application, and not have to close down the app, go to a Twitter client, and get back to the app that had content I was tweeting. A lot of this comes down to multitasking, but more comes from integration….. and putting intents on a stack. On the iPad I feel like I am jumping through doors without an easy way to go back.

The browser has some of these notions baked in. States have URLs that I can bookmark. I can go forward and back. I can search. I can fork off (new tab). Turns out, I really like those abstractions, and miss them when they are not there, and every single app tries to reproduce some of them. They are often cross cutting concerns. I don’t want the app developer to have to write code and choose where to put a “Share” button. I want the system to know that I have an account on Twitter and let me share with a simple gesture.

Back to the Web. I was a little stunned when a friend showed me the Speed Test.net experience on an iPad:


Yup, if you go to speedtest.net, you are automatically redirected to the App Store. There is no way to trick it (again: would be nice to have customizability and tweak user agents etc).

To the credit of the speed test developers, the website is driven by Flash, which won’t work…. so they are trying to do something good for a user. I get that.

However, I am scared to death to think of the Web going this way. You go to websites and get sent to apps directly. I *do* want user agents to tell me if apps are available (hence the App Discover experiment), but don’t force me into the world of apps. I also think that doing what YouTube does and take over a URL in a certain way can be a good thing. I would love to install handlers for mime types…. so a certain link always opens up my favourite Twitter client say.

I personally prefer many of the Web experiences to the “new” app experiences. (I talked earlier about the abstractions that I find useful). This could break the Web. Data that was shared at the ReadWriteWeb Mobile Summit showed that the same users often hit a site using: mobile website, full website, and application. We are context switching in real-time already. Different views are best for different use cases.

It definitely feels like there is a shift in the force. We need to get the balance spot on as we move to automatic transmissions. What should be customizable. What should be locked down. As developers as well as consumers, we need to make our voices heard. What do you think?

May 24

Chrome Web Store; the opportunity for breaking out of silos with experience

Tech, Web Browsing with tags: , 2 Comments »


I am sure that we are going to see an explosion of people learning how you can create Chrome apps simply by creating a manifest and building a .crx as they rush to get their web apps into the Chrome Web Store.

This is a huge advantage of adding an “app” model on top of Web technology. We have been creating Web apps all along, and now we are getting to the packaging layer of the stack as we turn the Web inside out. Instead of hosting our apps on our own URLs, we are now packaging them up and putting them in external app catalogs for extra distribution. Kinda weird in many ways huh? ;)

Moving past simply wrapping up your Website so throw it in a store, I think we have an opportunity to do much more here.

With Greasemonkey user scripts, I am able to both personalize my experience across the Web, and pull in experiences.

I was just chatting with Phil Windley about Kynetx, his company that is doing interesting things in the “professional Greasemonkey” / enterprise client side mashup space. He showed me some of this in action. What if you are a member of AAA. By installing an app/add-on you get to carry that information around the Web with you. AAA has a ton of discounts that you never really know about. What if when you went to purchase something at coolwidgets.com it told you that you can get 10% off with a given AAA code? coolwidgets.com could choose to display all of the affiliates that it has, but that doesn’t scale. Instead, show me the affiliates that I have a relationship with!

Here Phil walks through a Twitter mashup example:

I want to break out of the app silo. I was drawn to webOS synergy because it allowed me to do just that. Our Facebook app is only part of the Facebook story. A bulk of the Facebook functionality is spread across the entire device. If a user enters their Facebook account, that follows them. Want to share a photo? Now you have a Facebook option. If users choose another social network, that can follow them instead. I don’t want to have to open an app to do everything.

This is where the trojan opportunity of the Chrome Web Store comes into play. Being able to package the Web application with extension like ability is key. Like Gmail? Download the app and:

  • Works offline
  • Nice big icon to click on
  • Permissions problem “solved”
  • Takes the Gmail experience throughout your browsing (mailto: goes to gmail, input type="email" auto completes on Gmail)

One great advantage of the Web is the mashup potential. There are a huge number of Web experiences that are vertical (go to a Web page to experience) as well as horizontal (having a favourite mapping service). The browser itself can add hooks (e.g. map: hooks into GMaps or Ovi Maps or MapQuest or …), but the browser is always behind the times. We can allow extensions to do this work. We can install a local library “web app” that means that wherever you see book information (e.g. Amazon, BN) you also get info about whether the book is available at the library. Right in the page.

I hope that the Chrome Web App store doesn’t become just wrapped Web pages, but we move the state of the art and break out of the silo.