Modern Software Experience

2008-08-27

Apple iPhone add

Apple has a iPhone add in which it claims that all the parts of the internet are on the iPhone.

Apple apparently managed to wrap space to force-fit the entire Internet into every iPhone simultaneously.

Internet inside your iPhone

Hard to believe perhaps, but the Second Law of Reality Distortion states that if Apple P. R. says so, it must be true. Apple apparently managed to warp space to force-fit the entire Internet into every iPhone simultaneously. Steve Jobs was expected to receive multiple Nobel Prizes for breakthroughs in theoretical and applied physics, but because said breakthroughs casts new light on every unsolved murder case on and off the Earth, there is some doubt whether Mr Jobs will be available to accept the awards in person.

complaint

Some viewers found Apple’s claim a smidgen outrageous and filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for misleading advertising. That sounds like a reasonable complaint considering Apple’s not exactly reality-based claims, until you hear just what they complained about. They did not complain about the absence of Cisco hardware and transatlantic cables inside the iPhone, but about the lack of Flash and Java support in Safari Mobile.

Safari Mobile

10 MB

Safari Mobile is the light, mobile variant of Safari. It has various limitations, but none of these seem unreasonable. There is a 10 MB limit on HTML pages, but if that impacts your site today, you are probably doing something wrong.

5 second JavaScript cut-off

You are doing something wrong if you rely on JavaScript already, and you are really fouling up if your scripts need more than five seconds to run. The five second limitation is fantastic feature for any browser, as it stops web developers from wasting visitors time with ill-conceived scripts.

When Mozilla introduced this in Firefox 1.5, it had a five-second cut-off too. It was increased to ten second with Firefox 2.0 and it is still at ten seconds in Firefox 3.0 (I just checked the value of the dom.max_script_run_time property by typing about:config in the address bar) , but on a phone, with connections plans that make you pay for every second you’re connected and for every bit you download, a short cut-off time is essential. Hurray for Apple.

limitations

A list of limitations, based on Apple’s Developing Web Sites for iPhone session from the World-Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) 2007 was posted to the blog of the University of Washington Emerging Technology group. MacRumors picked it up, and Apple requested they remove it, with the predictable result that it keeps popping up all over the web.

public

There are various possible reasons for keeping iPhone internals secrets (all iPhone SDK developers are under a Non-Disclosure Agreement), but none I can think of apply to the browser limitations and web design guidelines. Apple made this information public at the WWDC because it wants web designers to know the limitations and follow the guidelines.

Flash and Java

Anyway, at issue in the complaint is Safari Mobile’s lack of support for Macromedia Adobe Flash and Sun Java. So what? Well, ASA received two complaints.

What Apple meant to say is the iPhone’s Internet offers access to the common World-Wide Web, that it is not limited to specially created WAP sites or other mobile access portal. If Safari Mobile cannot handle some web site, there’s probably something wrong with that site.

Apple might have phrased the advertisement a bit more carefully, but I doubt it would have helped much. In their response to the complaint, Apple pointed out that they could not ensure compatibility with every third party technology in the marketplace and, in order to create the best customer experience, had created their platform on open standards..

Despite that crystal clear response, the ASA decided that the inability to show Java and Flash invalidated Apple claim, and that the advertisement was therefore misleading.

I believe the ASA decision is wrong.

not Internet, but web

I do believe Apple’s advertisement to be misleading. IT talks about the whole Internet when it should have mentioned the whole web. The iPhone does not include a newsgroup reader.

I therefore believe that the ASA decision is right.

ASA’s decision is right, but ASA’s reasoning is wrong.

ASA is right

Apple’s advertisement is not just wrongly worded, it is wrong even when you fix their broken English, because it is still an outright lie. The iPhone does not support the entire Internet. It merely support the entire web.

ASA’s decision is right, but ASA’s reasoning is wrong. They do not just confuse the Internet and the World-Wide Web like the Apple P.R. folks did, they also include proprietary technology in their hastily cobbled definition of the web. That’s not just wrong, that is plain unacceptable.

Safari Mobile shows more web sites than Internet Explorer does, because Safari supports web standards that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still doesn’t support.

Safari Mobile versus Internet Explorer

The iPhone does not support the entire Internet, but Safari Mobile does let you surf the entire web, and with good results too. Safari Mobile supports all the important web standards, HTML, XHTML, CSS, PNG. That’s why you can read this article in Safari Mobile.

You cannot read this page with a plain vanilla Internet Explorer 6 setup. Internet Explorer 7 happens to render this page, despite its lack of XHTML support, and there is a trick to Make Internet Explorer 6 render XHTML, but its default behaviour is try and download this page as a file.

Internet Explorer on a Windows desktop fails to handle this simple page correctly, while Safari Mobile handles it just fine. Safari Mobile shows more web sites than Internet Explorer does, because Safari supports web standards that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still doesn’t support.

entire web

Apple rightly argued that Safari Mobile provides access to the entire web. Flash and Java are not web standards, but proprietary technologies that use the web as delivery mechanism - and iPhone users can visit the pages that host the proprietary content

That various proprietary formats do not play in Safari is not Safari’s fault, but the content provider’s fault. No matter how popular these formats are, they are not web formats and no web browser needs to support them.

The ASA has ruled that a web browser that does not include Flash and Java isn’t a web browser. The ASA is wrong.

ASA is wrong

Well, to be precise about it, a claim from Apple that Safari Mobile supports the entire web would be almost right. Safari Mobile would need to support every web standard to do so, and it does not. However, it does not have to support proprietary formats, yet that is what the ASA is saying!

ASA rule

The ASA has ruled that a web browser must include support for Flash and Java. The ASA has ruled that a web browser that does not include Flash and Java isn’t a web browser. The ASA is wrong.

…the onus should definitely be on the party that deviates from standards, not on the party that doesn’t support the non-standards.

What ASA should have decided

ASA is wrong

It would be reasonable for the ASA to demand that a web site that does not support web standards be forced to state its non-compliance.

It would be reasonable for the ASA to demand that web sites that use the web to host proprietary formats be forced to warn visitors that their sites relies on proprietary formats, and that visitors may experience limited compatibility and accessibility as a result.

Well, it would perhaps not be very reasonable to have one British advertising watchdog demand that for all the world, but the point is that the onus should definitely be on the party that deviates from standards, not on the party that doesn’t support the non-standards.

ASA’s current decision is… …both the wrong way round in principle and undoable in practice.

reverse

ASA’s current decision is the reverse of that!
ASA does not want web sites to list what non-standard it relies on, but instead wants a browser vendor to list which currently popular proprietary formats it doesn’t support. That is both the wrong way round in principle and undoable in practice. The list of standards is finite, a list of non-standard proprietary formats is not.

The web is not defined by currently popular plug-ins for proprietary formats, it is defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

popular

It does not matter whether a proprietary format is popular or not.
The web is not defined by currently popular plug-ins for proprietary formats, it is defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

state the limitations

The ASA could demand that Apple lists its browser limitations on a page viewable with any browser, and state the major limitations in any advertisements (something like all web standard except for MathML). It might even encourage Apple to mention all the non-standard stuff it supports in addition to the standards (something like Mobile Safari additionally supports BMP, GIF, JPEG, JavaScript, QuickTime audio and video and Adobe PDF, and includes a special Google Maps client.).

Demanding that a browser vendor lists which non-standards it does not support is seriously confused.

seriously confused

The point is that ASA should be asking Apple to list differences with a vanilla standard-complaint browsers; what major standards doesn’t it support, and what it supports in addition to the standards. Demanding that a browser vendor lists which non-standards it does not support is seriously confused.

define the web

In its current decision, the ASA is effectively trying to push its own definition of what the web is.

In its current decision, the ASA is effectively trying to push its own definition of what the web is.
That is wrong. The ASA must defer to the W3C like everybody else.

limited authority

The ASA is essentially a specialised court. Its authority is limited to a particular class of cases within a particular country. It is not a standards body and has nothing to say about standards at all.
British standards are set by the British Standards Institution. Web standards are set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The ASA may decide whether claims about support for web standards are misleading advertising, but the W3C decides on web standards themselves.

conclusion

What Apple should have said is that Safari Mobile supports JavaScript, common image formats, QuickTime audio and video and Adobe PDF in addition to web standards, and a special Google Maps client on top of that, but lacks support for MathML.

What the ASA should have decided is that the complaints about lack of support for Flash and Java should have been dismissed as not applicable to Apple’s claims for Safari Mobile.

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