Inside the BlackBerry PlayBook Web Browsing team: Meet Matthew

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Inside BlackBerry® blog readers might recognize the hand in the photo above as the same one featured in our recent BlackBerry® PlayBook™ Web Fidelity videos: BlackBerry PlayBook and iPad comparison and BlackBerry PlayBook Social Networking. They belong to Matthew, manager of the Browser & Web Platform team at RIM, which is crafting the Web experience for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and helped build the BlackBerry® 6 Web browser. Check out my interview with Matthew below to learn more about the surfing the ‘net on a BlackBerry PlayBook tablet!

What type of browsing experience are you trying to deliver on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet?

We plan to deliver an uncompromised browsing experience that enables the full web on tablet devices. This means it must be standards-compliant and fast. It will have an intuitive and engaging user interface, and support rich content including Adobe® Flash® and HTML5.

We know web developers have strong reasons for choosing development technologies when creating web content. Whether the reasons are technical, aesthetic, tooling support, or simply a matter of coding preference, we want to provide a platform that gives developers choices and allows them to deliver the richest Web experiences for the end user.

We saw in your demo how well Adobe Flash is working on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet already. What percentage of sites do you think work better with Flash support? What else will the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet be able to do in the future?

A large portion of the top 100 websites use Flash. Most online gaming sites and most online video currently is also driven by Flash. There are a huge number of Flash developers out there on the Web generating great content and we want them to be able to bring that content to the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. We’ve actually had a developer in-house spending full days playing Adobe Flash games for ‘research’. Lucky guy!

[YouTube link for mobile viewing]

What about HTML5 and CSS3?

Along with Adobe Flash, we support modern web standards like HTML5 audio and video, canvas, app cache, offline storage and CSS3. There is a lot of content on the Web utilizing HTML5 and CSS3. Many of the modern Web frameworks are being built on these technologies and this will lead to even richer sites being developed. We are committed to making sure this content works really well on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet in the richest way possible. For example, the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is capable of delivering HD video content through the browser!

We didn’t show it in the videos, but talk to me a bit about the tabbed browsing experience on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

One of the great features of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is its ability to truly multitask many applications at the same time. Naturally, we provide the same capabilities in the browser by allowing users to have multiple web sites open at the same time. We can even have multiple tabs open where one tab is playing your favorite songs from an Internet music service while you are browsing a news site or playing a game in another tab. If this is something readers would like to see, we can definitely demonstrate tabbed browsing in a future video (good idea! – Ed.).

How are you guys leveraging your experience with BlackBerry 6 for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet browser?

Our team has been developing browsers for a long time and we are intimately familiar with the intricacies of making a truly first class product. It is our passion. Speed, memory usage, network utilization, battery life, rendering fidelity, standards compliance, and interaction paradigms are all important considerations when developing a browser. We are pouring all of our expertise in all of these areas into making the browser on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet the best tablet browser… period.

What do you think the future of the web is going to look like on mobile devices?

I think web engines like WebKit (which powers the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and BlackBerry 6 browsers) are going to become more and more important. We are going to see much deeper integration into mobile platform APIs and closer ties to device hardware. Browsers will continue to evolve to a point where they are considered an equivalent alternative to native applications for delivering any content to mobile devices. In a lot of cases, I think the end user won’t even know they are using a browser. Good examples of this are the evolution of web-based games, video and productivity apps. These types of applications are becoming more rich and featureful all the time. And, as cloud computing becomes more prevalent, the need for a strong browser on mobile devices increases. All devices need a way to access that content. It’s already amazing to see what people are doing with mobile devices on a daily basis. Just take a look at what people are doing now on the subway during their daily ride to work or at the mall sitting on bench. It’s only going to get better and the browser will play a key role.

[YouTube link for mobile viewing]

What should developers keep in mind when they are building pages to be PlayBook compatible?

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet browser is very resilient and can handle complex Web content very well. We have some tricks up our sleeve but I am going to save those tips for a little later. Here are some general tips for developers to follow when developing for all tablets.

  • Follow Web standards when designing your content.
  • Do not use obsolete standards like WML, XHTML-MP.
  • Keep in mind tablet interaction mechanisms. Generally, there is no mouse and no hover on tablets as they are usually purely touch-based devices. Design for touch screen interaction. Keep in mind the size of hit targets when designing buttons and other UI, and pay attention to the implementation of touch events and gestures. Each platform handles these events slightly differently.
  • Be conscious of the screen size and resolution when developing your content if you are using fixed size elements.
  • It’s best to avoid using framesets. On some platforms, frames get flattened out which can be unexpected and changes the layout of the entire page. On other platforms that don’t flatten, frames are difficult to interact with for zooming and scrolling.
  • If you want fine-tuned control of your content, you can use meta-tags, like the viewport meta-tag to control layout size and zooming behavior.
  • Avoid using popups. They are just annoying.
  • Consider how you want your site to look under both landscape and portrait orientations.

We will publish some guidelines with more details on BlackBerry PlayBook tablet-specific development in the future.

Anything else you’d like to tell readers?

We’re really excited to deliver a great browsing experience on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and can’t wait to show more. Please post a comment and let us know what you’d like to see in follow up videos.

About Douglas Soltys

Word Czar. Web 7.0 (in beta). Blogs and tweets and wonders.

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