Mobile web development isn’t slowing down

Maximiliano Firtman on mobile web development's recent leaps.

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.

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This interview was edited and condensed.

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topic: Programming