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May 08 2012

jQuery took on a common problem and then grew through support

As part of our Velocity Profiles series, we're highlighting interesting conversations we've had with web ops and performance pros.

In the following interview from Velocity 2011, jQuery creator John Resig (@jeresig) discusses the early days of jQuery, the obstacles of cross-platform mobile development, and JavaScript's golden age.

Highlights from the interview include:

  • The initial goals for jQuery and why it caught on — Resig's web app projects kept bumping up against cross-browser issues, so he took a step back and built a JavaScript library that addressed his frustrations. He also notes that good documentation and feedback mechanisms are big reasons why jQuery caught on so quickly. "Put yourself in the shoes of someone who's trying to use your thing," he says. [Discussed 22 seconds in.]

  • The challenges of developing jQuery Mobile — "It's been a rocky adventure," Resig says. The core issue is the same as on the desktop side — cross-browser compatibility — but Resig says there's an extra twist: mobile has "even more browsers, and they're weirder." [Discussed at 2:28.]
  • Is JavaScript in a golden age? — It's in a "prolonged golden age," Resig says. The key shift is that many developers now acknowledge JavaScript's importance. "You can't build a web application without understanding JavaScript. JavaScript is a fundamental aspect of any sort of web development you do today." [Discussed at 4:05.]

The full interview is available in the following video.

Velocity 2012: Web Operations & Performance — The smartest minds in web operations and performance are coming together for the Velocity Conference, being held June 25-27 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

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May 04 2012

Top Stories: April 30-May 4, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

The U.K.'s battle for open standards
Influence, money, a bit of drama — not things you typically associate with open standards, yet that's what the U.K. government is facing as it evaluates open options.

Mobile web development isn't slowing down
Over the last two years, mobile web development has continued its rapid evolution. In this interview, Fluent speaker and "Programming the Mobile Web" author Maximiliano Firtman discusses the short-term changes that caught his attention.

Editorial Radar: Functional languages
O'Reilly editors Mike Loukides and Mike Hendrickson discuss the advantages of functional programming languages and how functional language techniques can be deployed with almost any language.


Jason Grigsby and Lyza Danger Gardner on mobile web design
In this Velocity podcast, the co-authors of "Head First Mobile Web" discuss mobile website optimization, mobile design considerations, and common mobile development mistakes.

Parliament / Big Ben photo: UK parliament by Alan Cleaver, on Flickr


Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference, May 29 - 31 in San Francisco. Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20.

April 30 2012

Mobile web development isn't slowing down

We're all well aware that mobile web development has gone through a complete metamorphosis over the last five years. We went from tiny screens with limited browsers to elegant multitouch displays with advanced web experiences. But even if you look at a shorter timeline — two years or so — you'll see that major improvements in mobile web development are still in progress. This space continues to produce exponential shifts.

In the following interview, "Programming the Mobile Web" author and Fluent Conference speaker Maximiliano Firtman (@firt) discusses some of mobile development's short-term leaps. He also looks at where mobile's envelope pushers will take us next.

At this point, what are the essential mobile development skills?

Maximiliano FirtmanMaximiliano Firtman: It depends on if we are targeting native or mobile web development, but usually an understanding of the mobile space is important. There are many differences between devices, so developers need up-to-date information on operating systems, versions, browsers, screen sizes, screen densities, multitouch, etc. That's why mobile usability and high-performance coding techniques are a must.

Related to that, what are the key mobile development tools?

Maximiliano Firtman: Emulators and simulators, while not perfect, are essential tools. Tools that debug and quickly deploy apps to real devices are also important. And the devices themselves are important for measuring performance and testing hardware-related features, such as touch, the accelerometer, GPS accuracy and even color palettes.

The first edition of your book, "Programming the Mobile Web," came out in July 2010. What are the major changes you've tracked in mobile web development since then?

Maximiliano Firtman: Since 2010, we've finally deprecated some old technologies such as WML and even XHTML MP. Today, HTML5 is king, while in 2010 we were talking about Apple or Webkit extensions.

In addition, the mobile web is no longer just for mobile websites. We can now also develop native web apps and even ebooks with EPUB 3. So, the platform is growing.

The tablet market was just starting two years ago, and now we have several vendors and operating systems. We also have new problems to deal with, such as screen density, performance optimization and even 3-D screens.

These days, we have a new vocabulary with responsive web design and responsive web design + server-side components (RESS). We also have lots of new APIs on the JavaScript side, new hardware APIs (motion sensors, battery, camera), and new mobile browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Amazon Silk).

Finally, we've seen the creation of a number of frameworks and debugging tools, including jQuery Mobile, Adobe Shadow and even iWebInspector — a free tool I've created for iOS web debugging.

What do you see happening at the edge of mobile web development?

Maximiliano Firtman: We are seeing browsers pushing boundaries, such as the live camera API inside WebRTC on Opera Mobile, Web Notifications and WebGL on BlackBerry PlayBook, and the Battery API on Firefox for Android.

Examples of envelope-pushing web apps include the Financial Times app, which has a great touch UI and offline access, and the Boston Globe website, which is a good example of responsive web design and RESS.

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

This interview was edited and condensed.

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April 06 2012

Cross-platform mobile development is a breeze with C#

Greg Shackles (@gshackles) is the author of "Mobile Development with C#," which is available for pre-order now and scheduled for release this spring.

During a recent interview, Shackles and I talked about C#'s role in the mobile space and coding best practices. Highlights from the discussion included:

  • Cross-platform mobile development is tough. The mature C# language is the only language that can be used across all of these platforms to produce a native experience. [Discussed at 00:03]


  • Reusing code is a must. Shackles thinks developers should try to separate business logic from user interface logic. [Discussed at 00:39]


  • Be on the watch for big enhancements when Windows Phone 8 is released, like near-field and app-to-app communications. [Discussed at 01:27]


  • Make an app that stands out by creating a really solid user experience. [Discussed at 02:45]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

October 04 2011

PhoneGap basics: What it is and what it can do for mobile developers

PhoneGapPorting mobile apps across systems is, to put it kindly, an inelegant process. There's considerable work involved — so much so that developers are sometimes forced to limit their efforts to one platform.

PhoneGap, an open-source mobile framework, offers an alternative: It helps developers build a common codebase for their apps so the apps work across devices and systems.

I recently spoke with Joe Bowser (@infil00p), creator of PhoneGap's Android implementation, to get his take on the strengths and limitations of PhoneGap and what developers need to know before putting it to use. Bowser will dive into a number of related topics during his session at next week's Android Open conference.

Our interview follows. (Note: this interview was conducted before Adobe announced its acquisition of PhoneGap's parent company, Nitobi.)

What is PhoneGap and why should mobile developers consider using it?

Joe Bowser: PhoneGap is an application framework that allows developers to use HTML, JavaScript and CSS to create apps that are present as first-class applications on the phone. That means the apps have their own icons and operate similarly to native applications without a browser frame around them. They are distributed via the application stores, such as the Android Market and the Apple App Store, and they have access to a set of native functions to further make them work like native apps.

Developers use PhoneGap because it allows them to have a common codebase for all their application code. It doesn't force developers to reinvent the wheel every time they move from platform to platform.

Are there downsides to using PhoneGap?

Joe Bowser: You are subject to the limitations of the browser and the JavaScript engine that comes with your device. On Android 2.3, this isn't too bad. Earlier versions of Android don't support certain features, and many of them use older JavaScript interpreters, which can impact an application. Also, there are certain things that are better implemented in native code, like cryptography or 3-D graphics. Most apps don't use features like this — they simply display information, which the web does well.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

What challenges did you face when creating the Android PhoneGap implementation?

Joe Bowser: The Android PhoneGap implementation was our first implementation after the iPhone, so there were questions about whether this was possible at all. At that time, the Android 1.0 SDK was just being released, and the only devices that ran Android were the HTC Dream and T-Mobile G1. This has obviously changed, but the most challenging thing is still testing on all the real devices that are out there. Every device has its own implementation of the Android OS and its own implementation of the WebKit rendering engine.

What's the best way for PhoneGap developers to handle device-specific needs?

Joe Bowser: It depends on the feature set. Most applications don't need many device-specific features beyond the user interface, but there are numerous plugins that can help with this approach. The best approach is to decide what features you need and to use only those features. There are many applications that have permissions turned on that they don't need. For example, a simple ebook doesn't need access to your phone state, GPS or contacts.

What is a hybrid app?

Joe Bowser: A hybrid application is one that has features of both a web application and a native application. Certain features, such as Image Capture, NFC or Android OpenAccessory, may be implemented natively since there is currently no way to do this in JavaScript. But the application logic and the UI are implemented using web technologies to allow for a consistent and unique user experience across devices.


This interview was edited and condensed.

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