Programming the Mobile Web

This week, I read Maximiliano Firtman’s Programming the Mobile Web, as I will be starting on a mobile project very soon. This book, I believe, will prove to be a great source for this project, since it covers the Mobile Industry in a nearly comprehensive fashion, which is great to see these days when so many mobile web development books focus on the iPhone. Now, admittedly, there is a lot of iPhone coverage in this book, but there are plenty of features that the iPhone has available today, that haven’t yet all come to other platforms.

However, the majority of the book is about supporting the mobile web in a way that requires the absolute minimum of code, including tools to determine server-side the browser capabilities you’re looking at so you can customize the CSS, JavaScript, or templates you serve up to various users.

This is a hard book to describe. It is not a tutorial on HTML, CSS or JavaScript, and that’s clear. If you are not familiar with web technologies, this book isn’t for you. But if you’re a web developer looking to do a mobile website, then this is a good collection of material to help with that. Firtman has collected together a comprehensive collection of material to point you at various places. For instance, for browser description, there were few code examples, but he didn’t simply cover WURFL, but also Microsoft’s Mobile Device Browser File, which has unfortunately been canned.

There are also several chapters that focus on Web Widgets, which are supported on a few high-profile platforms, but omitted from others. And discussions of web-like development platforms for developing native apps, like PhoneGap, which I didn’t read as closely as other sections.

This book is worth picking up for a few things. The compatibility tables, outlining features you can expect to work on various different browsers, making it easier to create the most basic markup that can then be improved upon with JavaScript and CSS. As well as ways to improve the JavaScript and CSS based on what browsers support. This book is going to be a useful resource, even if it mostly affirmed information I’ve received from elsewhere.

As an aside, I really responded to the section on transcoders. At Portland Code Camp, I attended a session by someone who does a lot of Mobile Web and training herself, but her tone on Transcoding seemed to be more in the lines of “It will happen, just deal with it.” Firtman has Luca Passani contribute a much more, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” attitude. Transcoders do happen, but they should always be opt-in for the developer, instead of opt-out like the transcoder vendors are pushing. Particularly how often a transcoder will try to inject advertising into a stream. As a person who is doing web development for a State agency, this would be a massive problem if someone injected advertising into our data stream.

I enjoyed this book. It has a ton of good information, is fairly platform agnostic, and was clearly written for programmers, not designers, which I gladly count myself on the first group. Though Designing the Mobile Web, from Brian Fling is a pretty useful guide if you’re full-stack like I am.