Back from our adventure at South By Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) below is a recap of one major takeaway from the event.
We are in an era more chaotic that the browser wars of the mid-90s and mid 2000s. Announced around SWSW were new versions of Internet Explorer (9), Firefox (4) and Chrome (10). Add to the mix Apple’s Safari browser and you have a giant headache for web developers.
The partial inclusion of pre-standard HTML5 features in many of the browsers further muddies the water. You could sense the frustration of the Microsoft representatives when asked about the lack of some HTML5 features in the newly released IE9. After all, this is the same company that was vilified for not having a standards compliant browser (which IE9 is). Although IE9 is a leap in the right direction, user migration from IE7 and IE8 may not be a rapid transition.
Suffice it to say, supporting three versions of IE along with Firefox, Safari and Chrome will be a time consuming challenge.
New to the scene in recent years is the Device factor. In the past designers and developers were only concerned with desktop resolutions and browsers. With the advent of web enabled smartphones, the number of resolutions and configurations continues to expand. The success of iPad and similar tablets adds another class of screen that must be accounted for. Now applications and websites may available on consumer televisions (GoogleTV, Samsung Apps) and gaming consoles (XBOX360, Sony PS3, Wii)
It’s not simply the resolutions and browsers that differ. Mobile devices, be it phone or tablet, presents very different user-scenarios than desktops or even laptops. Many devices exclude the ubiquitously used Flash player due to performance concerns. Users now expect a unique, relevant experience when on-the-go. Even the mobile version of a website must now be defined, designed and developed different from the desktop version.
Those users camped on the couch expect high quality, user-friendly interactions with their TVs and consoles, yet they are 10 feet from those devices. A major problem is that the primary input devices remain controllers and remotes. It was speculated at a few SWSW panels that this may be solved with another external device. After all, 74% of those aged 18-24 are also using a second device (phone, tablet, laptop) when watching TV.
Content Strategy, UX Design and Technology choices must now be made about not just the browser or app, but about the target device as well.
Beyond the web is the world of Apps. A Digital Experience Agency such as Untold is deeply invested in App development to provide the best user experience. This space was once owned by Apple and it’s iTunes store. Now Android, Blackberry and even Microsoft are all involved.
While the browser and device wars mainly involve web technology, the platform war is much more diverse. Below is the breakdown of development by platform:
iOS: Objective-C and C
Android: Java, C, C++
Blackberry: Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME)
WindowsPhone: .NET framework
It is rare to find a developer versed in two or three of these technologies. Thus, development cost for multiple platforms is exponentially more expensive than for developing with web technologies and supporting multiple browsers and devices.
Many panelists and attendees at SXSW also voiced their frustration over the lack of any kind of standards cross-platform, particularly when it comes to User Interaction. Apple set a precedent with most of their gestures, but they certainly are not standards.
Path To Victory
While no Panelist or Speaker had a golden bullet to solve these wars, there were a few possibilities that may ease the pain.
- Define the User: Determine the target audience, devices and platforms in advance.
- Use Web Standards: With IE9, all major browsers have a version that supports the current standards.
- Consider HTML5: In direct conflict with the above, this may be the only cost effective answer to build cross-platform.