All posts tagged ‘Progressive enhancement’

File Under: Programming, UI/UX, Web Basics

Video: Progressive Enhancement 2.0

A webpage doesn’t have to look the same in every browser. In fact, a webpage shouldn’t look the same in every browser, according to former Yahoo developer and JavaScript guru, Nicolas Zakas.

Zakas, who spent five years as the front-end tech lead for the Yahoo homepage, recently spoke at the March BayJax Meetup group about what he calls Progressive Enhancement 2.0 — offering users the best possible experience given the capabilities of their device.

Not the same experience, mind you, but the best possible experience. That means progressively enhancing sites according to the device’s (browser’s) capabilities.

Progressive enhancement is perhaps best summed up by the famous Mitch Hedburg quip, “an escalator can never break, it can only become stairs.” In other words, if you’re building websites well they never break, even if you look at them in Lynx. The site may not look the same in Lynx as it does in, say Chrome, it may not function as smoothly, but the core content is still there and can still serve as a stairway that gets people where they want to go even when the enhanced ease of the escalator is absent.

More practically, progressive enhancement means starting with the least capable devices — an older phone, Lynx running on Windows 95 — and then adding more sophisticated features based on screen size, bandwidth and so on.

Zakas also takes on the common assumption that a web “page” is analogous to the printed page. In fact Zakas argues the web is more like television, which has a similar separation of content and device. In that analogy old browsers are like black and white TVs. No one expects a black and white TV to play HD content, but everyone would be disappointed if you served black and white content to an HD TV. Hence the need for progressive enhancement.

If you’re well versed in the history of the web the beginning of the video may be a bit slow, but stick with it. Also be sure to watch the questions at the end where Zakas addresses how to progressively enhance more application-like web pages.

File Under: Browsers, Mobile, Web Basics

Support Versus Optimization: Dealing With Mobile Web Browsers

Just a few of the many screens on the web

Last time we sent you over to Brad Frost’s blog it was for a slideshow about building a future-friendly web. Now Frost is back with some more tips for web developers in a post entitled Support vs Optimization, which tackles the thorny subject of what to do about the wide range of mobile browsers on the web.

As Frost points out the mobile world is more than just the WebKit-based iOS and Android browsers that often grab all the headlines. In fact the most widely used mobile browser is not even a WebKit browser (it’s Opera) and there are dozens of other mobile browsers out there as well. And, as the tablet market begins to expand beyond the iPad, there will likely be dozens more coming in the near future.

Faced with the diversity of the mobile browser market developers can either stick their heads in the sand and develop exclusively for WebKit browsers, or, as Frost suggests, we can be more considerate to other browsers. It can seem daunting to support dozens of mobile browsers, but if you aren’t up to the challenge of a few mobile browsers now what are you going to do when you need to support car dashboards, refrigerators, televisions and toasters, all with dozens of varying browsers? (For a more far-future look, check out Scott Jenson’s The Coming Zombie Apocalypse).

The solution, according to Frost, is to recognize the difference between supporting a browser and optimizing specifically for it.

The typical argument against supporting older BlackBerry browsers or Nokia’s WebKit fork, for example, is that these browsers don’t support nearly the number of features that iOS and Android browser’s offer. While that’s true, as with most things on the web, it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. It can actually be both. That’s what Frost means be the difference between support and optimization:

You don’t have to treat these browsers as equals to iOS and Android and no one is recommending that we have to serve up a crappy WAP site to the best smartphones on the market. It’s just about being more considerate and giving these people who want to interact with your site a functional experience. That requires removing comfortable assumptions about support and accounting for different use cases. There are ways to support lesser platforms while still optimizing for the best of the best.

For some practical advice on how you can take a more supportive approach to the wide range of mobile browsers on the market, head over to Frost’s site and read through the post. Be sure to check out the links to the various mobile emulators and brush up on the ideas behind progressive enhancement.

It’s a big web out there, with dozens of browsers and an ever-increasing number of devices connecting to it. If you want your site to be part of the future it’s going to have to work everywhere — perhaps not perfectly optimized, but at least working.

[Photo by Jeremy Keith/Flickr/CC]

File Under: CSS, Mobile

Slide Show Time: Rethinking the Mobile Web


Embedded above is an excellent presentation by Bryan Rieger.

It argues for a mobile-first approach to web development — by building for small screens first, then using @media queries to “size up” the experience and adapt your content on the fly, you can make sure people see the best version of your site for their particular device. It makes the most sense on the mobile web, where viewports and browser capabilities vary widely, and where (as Rieger points out) our definition of what exactly is a mobile device remains open. It’s an extension of the old “progressive enhancement” approach from the first decade of the web.

There are also some great data breakdowns about devices and browsers at the beginning. The takeaway: We’re all developing for Mobile Safari and Android, but most of the world is still using something far less advanced to visit your site.

Of course, the browser audience will vary based on the content — here at Wired, most of our mobile visitors use iOS devices, and the bulk of the rest use Android. But for a non-geeky site, things will skew more towards mobiles with clunky browsers.

140 slides, takes 10-20 minutes to flip through. Best viewed in Fullscreen mode.

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