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Programming the Mobile Web [Paperback]

Maximiliano Firtman
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 30, 2010 0596807783 978-0596807788 1
Today's market for mobile apps goes beyond the iPhone to include BlackBerry, Nokia, Windows Phone, and smartphones powered by Android, webOS, and other platforms. If you're an experienced web developer, this book shows you how to build a standard app core that you can extend to work with specific devices. You'll learn the particulars and pitfalls of building mobile apps with HTML, CSS, and other standard web tools.
You'll also explore platform variations, finicky mobile browsers, Ajax design patterns for mobile, and much more. Before you know it, you'll be able to create mashups using Web 2.0 APIs in apps for the App Store, App World, Ovi Store, Android Market, and other online retailers.
  • Learn how to use your existing web skills to move into mobile development
  • Discover key differences in mobile app design and navigation, including touch devices
  • Use HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Ajax to create effective user interfaces in the mobile environment
  • Learn about technologies such as HTML5, XHTML MP, and WebKit extensions
  • Understand variations of platforms such as Symbian, BlackBerry, webOS, Bada, Android, and iOS for iPhone and iPad
  • Bypass the browser to create offline apps and widgets using web technologies
(edited by author)

Seven Myths of the Mobile Web
by Maximiliano Firtman

As the Web has moved onto mobile devices, developers have told themselves a lot of stories about what this means for their work. While some of those stories are true, others are misleading, confusing, or even dangerous.

It’s not the mobile web; it’s just the Web!

I’ve heard this quote many times in the last few years, and it’s true. It’s really the same Web. Think about your life. You don’t have another email account just for your mobile. (OK, I know some guys that do, but I believe that’s not typical!)

You read about the last NBA game on your favorite site, like ESPN; you don’t have a desktop news source and a different mobile news source. You really don’t want another social network for your mobile; you want to use the same Facebook or Twitter account as the one you used on your desktop. It was painful enough creating your friends list on your desktop, you’ve already ignored many people…you don’t want to have to do all that work again on your mobile.

For all of these purposes, the mobile web uses the same network protocols as the whole Internet: HTTP, HTTPS, POP3, Wireless LAN, and even TCP/IP. OK, you can say that GSM, CDMA, and UMTS are not protocols used in the desktop web environment, but they are communication protocols operating at lower layers. From our point of view, from a web application approach, we are using the same protocols.

So, yes…it’s the same Web. However, when developing for the mobile web we are targeting very, very different devices. The most obvious difference is the screen size, and yes, that will be our first problem. But there are many other not-so-obvious differences. One issue is that the contexts in which we use our mobile devices are often extremely different from where and how we use our comfortable desktops or even our laptops and netbooks.

Don’t get me wrong--this doesn’t mean that, as developers, we need to create two, three, or dozens of versions duplicating our work. In this book, we are going to analyze all the techniques available for this new world. Our objective will be to make only one product, and we’ll analyze the best way to do it.

You don’t need to do anything special about your desktop website.

Almost every smartphone on the market today--for example, the iPhone and Android-based devices--can read and display full desktop websites. Yes, this is true. Users want the same experience on the mobile web as they have on their desktops. Yes, this is also true. Some statistics even indicate that users tend to choose web versions over mobile versions when using a smartphone.

However, is this because we really love zooming in and out, scrolling and crawling for the information we want, or is it because the mobile versions are really awful and don’t offer the right user experience? I’ve seen a lot of mobile sites consisting of nothing but a logo and a couple of text links. My smartphone wants more!

One website should work for all devices (desktop, mobile, TV, etc.).

As we will see, there are techniques that allow us to create only one file but still provide different experiences on a variety of devices, including desktops, mobiles, TVs, and game consoles. This vision is called “One Web.” This is to an extent possible today, but the vision won’t fully be realized for years to come. Today, there are a lot of mobile devices with very low connection speeds and limited resources--non--smartphones—that, in theory, can read and parse any file, but will not provide the best user experience and will have compatibility and performance problems if we deliver the same document as for desktop. Therefore, One Web remains a goal for the future. A little additional work is still required to provide the right user experience for each mobile device, but there are techniques that can be applied to reduce the work required and avoid code and data duplication.

Mobile web is really easy; Just create a WML file.

I’m really surprised how many mobile websites are still developed using a technology deprecated many years ago: WML (Wireless Markup Language). Even in emerging markets, there are almost no WML-only web-capable devices on the market today. The worst part of this story is that these developers think that this is the markup language for the mobile web. Wrong! WML development was called mobile web (or WAP) development a couple of years ago, when the first attempt at building a mobile web was made. There are still a small proportion of WML-only devices available in some markets, but WML is definitely not the mobile web today.

Just create an HTML file with a width of 240 Pixels, and you have a mobile website.

This is the other fast-food way to think about the mobile web. Today, there are more than 3,000 mobile devices on the market, with almost 30 different browsers (actually, more than 300 different browsers if we separate them by version number). Creating one HTML file as your mobile website will be a very unsuccessful project. In addition, doing so contributes to the belief that mobile web browsing is not useful.

Native mobile applications will kill the mobile web.

Every solution has advantages and disadvantages. The mobile web has much to offer native applications, as Chapter 12 of this book will demonstrate. The mobile web (and the new concept of mobile widgets) offers us a great multi-device application platform, including local applications that don’t require an always-connected Web with URLs and browsers.

People are not using their mobile browsers.

How many Internet connections are there in the world?

    1,802,330,457 (26% of the world’s population) at the beginning of 2010 (

How many people have mobile devices?

    4,600,000,000 (68% of the population) at the beginning of 2010 (U.N. Telecommunications Agency,

So, one of the reasons why people are not using their mobile browsers may be because of us, the web producers. We are not offering them what they need. There are other factors, but let’s talk about what we can do from our point of view.

Opera Mini is a mobile browser for low- and mid-range devices. It is free and it has had more than 50 million downloads to date. This tells us that 50 million users wanted to have a better mobile web experience, so they went out and got Opera Mini. Do all the 4 billion plus worldwide mobile device users know about Opera Mini? Perhaps not, so it’s difficult to know how many would be interested in trying this different mobile web experience. However, 50 million downloads for only one browser that the user had to install actively is a big number for me. When Opera Mini appeared in Apple Inc.’s App Store, from which users can download and install applications for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, 1 million users downloaded the browser on the first day. This is quite impressive.

Today, less than 4% of total web browsing is done from mobile devices. This percentage is increasing month by month. Mobile browsing may never become as popular as desktop browsing, but it will increase a lot in the following years.

In addition, user browsing on mobile devices will likely have a higher conversion rate. How many tabs do you usually have open at once in Internet Explorer or Firefox on your desktop or laptop? On a mobile device, when you browse you are more specific and more likely to act on what you find.

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Maximiliano Firtman is a developer focused on mobile and RIA development. He is a professor in web and mobile technologies, and founder of ITMaster Professional Training. He is author of many books in Spanish, including books on Java ME, ASP.NET, AJAX and Professional Web 2.0. He is founder and manager of ARFUG (Argentina RIA & Flex User Group), an official Adobe User Group covering many RIA technologies, including AJAX, Flex, AIR and Silverlight. He has spoken at conferences in Spanish and English and published dozens of articles in magazines (.CODE, Users) and online (MaestrosDelWeb, Forum Nokia). He has been a Forum Nokia Champion since 2006, and has developed many mobile projects as and He is an expert in AJAX, Adobe Flex, Java ME, Widgets for Mobile and iPhone development.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (July 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596807783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596807788
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Max Firtman is a mobile+web developer, trainer, speaker and writer. He is Adobe Community Champion and founder of ITMaster Professional Training. He wrote many books, including "Programming the Mobile Web" and "jQuery Mobile: Up and Running" published by O'Reilly Media

He has a blog about mobile web development at and he maintains the website

He is a frequent speaker at conferences, including QCon, OSCON, Breaking Development, Velocity Conference, Fluent, Google Developer Day, Nokia Developer Days, Campus Party Europe, Toster Moscow and many other events around the world.

He has received different recognitions, including Nokia Developer Champion yearly since 2006; Adobe Community Champion since 2011 and BlackBerry Elite Developer since 2012

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best mobile web reference I've seen August 10, 2010
The purpose of this book is to identify best practices when creating web applications that will be consumed by mobile web browsers. It not only does an excellent job outlining those best practices, but it's incredibly up to date in its content. Not only is there information related to "retina display" available in iPhone 4, but there is also a brief discussion about how Palm has been purchased by HP (both events occurred only a few months ago).

The book begins by providing the most comprehensive discussion of mobile browsers that I've ever seen. The author furthers this discussion throughout the book by providing some of the most detailed information on the compatibility between these various mobile browsers and the standards that each one supports. The book warrants a purchase simply for this information alone.

The author continues by providing examples of supported doctypes, coding markup, and CSS. The author demonstrates CSS differences between the major mobile browsers, and demonstrates some libraries to make web applications look more like native applications.

There is a lot of attention given to Safari, and rightly so, since it is one of the most popular mobile browsers available. However, the reader should be prepared for this fact.

All in all, I found this to be a terrific reference to the state of mobile browsers and a great reference to assist in maximizing compatibility among mobile browsers. I'd highly recommend this for any developer who is creating mobile web applications. By following the guidelines outlined in this book, your applications will be able to effectively reach the largest mobile population possible.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too generic - not enough example code October 10, 2010
By T.E.B.
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought the book because of the other 5 star review (that happened to be the only review at the time), but was disappointed once I got to read the book.

I'm building a web-based mobile app and was hoping this book would teach web techniques that work on multiple platforms, and would save me development time by for example not having to build separate iPhone and Android versions while still being able to provide native looking interfaces for different platforms. After reading the book though, I am not any closer to that goal than I was before reading it. The book was way too generic for my needs and provided hardly any code examples I could actually use for my project. The book seems more like an academic course that teaches the principles of mobile-independent development, rather than practical advice you can put to use right away.

I admit that I probably had the wrong expectation when buying the book, and I can see that the book would have value for someone who is simply converting a traditional website into a mobile website, and wants that mobile version be accessible by as many people as possible. But for more serious web app development this is the wrong book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars #1 in my library of books on mobile development January 25, 2011
This book was my #1 rated book that came out in 2010 on developing for the many mobile device browsers and platforms on the market. In 2009, the top book was "Mobile Design and Development" by Brian Fling. This book is a little more up to date and covers everything you need to know about challenges associated with device fragmentation and other design considerations. The author provides excellent tips and strategies for progressive enhancement and device detection. Mobile development is not easy. This book will save you months of research and development time and is a perfect introduction in the the mobile world for web developers looking to make the transition, but need an understanding of the vast number of issues and challenges associated with programming for the mobile web. This book was written very well and the organization of topics flows very nicely.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extensive August 11, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was exactly what I needed to know for a project. Although the mobile universe works very quickly, the author does a great job of giving you the state of the mobile world.

If you are great at coding sites for desktop websites, this one will surely prepare you for coding for mobile. I recommend this book, but again, buy it now before it gets outdated. That said, O'Reilly is great as updating their books.
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