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The Mobile Web should just work for everyone

The Mobile Web should just work for everyone

Windows Phone 8.1 Update includes hundreds of Internet Explorer 11 enhancements that greatly increase compatibility with the mobile web.

Based on your feedback, we pursued a web experience for IE users consistent with what is available on iOS and Android devices – even where this meant we would be adding non-standard web platform features. We believe that this is a more pragmatic approach to running today's less-standardised mobile web.

We tested more than 500 of the top mobile web sites and found that the IE11 update improves the experience on more than 40% of them.

For example, if you visit www.twitter.com with IE11, you used to see:

2055.twitter_2D00_before.png
Windows Phone 8.1

Here is what you see in IE11 with the update, on Firefox OS and on an iPhone:

2451.twitter_2D00_after.png
Windows Phone 8.1 Update

3438.twitter_2D00_firefox.png
Firefox OS

2867.twitter_2D00_iphone.png
iPhone with iOS7

Similarly, if you visit www.baidu.com with IE11 and Firefox OS, you see:

2845.baidu_2D00_before.png
Windows Phone 8.1

8713.baidu_2D00_firefox.png
Firefox OS

Here is what you see in IE11 with the update and on an iPhone:

0218.baidu_2D00_after.png
Windows Phone 8.1 Update

2352.baidu_2D00_iphone.png
iPhone with iOS7


Analysing the most popular web sites

Unlike the mostly standards-based ‘desktop' web, many modern mobile web pages were designed and built for iOS and the iPhone. This results in users of other devices often receiving a degraded experience.

A few weeks ago we talked about our vision and priorities for the web. We believe that "The Web should just work for everyone – users, developers and businesses." We started researching what it would take to make the mobile web "just work" for our customers.

As we investigated the most popular mobile web sites from around the world we started to see common patterns causing problems. Often sites would use poorly written browser detection code that would result in the desktop site experience for Windows Phone users. Desktop web sites tend to be larger and slower to load costing more of a user's data plan. These sites end up with tiny text and you have to spend a lot of time zooming and panning around to read the content. They also expect you to be using a mouse and so menus and forms are hard to work with.

When Windows Phone 8.1 reached RTM, it included the same fast, standards-based, IE11 browser engine that powers the PC version of IE on the desktop. For the last several years we've talked about providing the same mark-up to all browsers using feature detection and graceful degradation. Although we still see broken desktop sites not following this guidance from time to time, the situation has improved on the desktop. We found a much different situation on the mobile web. Many sites use features via a legacy vendor specific prefix without supporting the un-prefixed standard version or only support vendor prefixes for certain devices. Other sites use non-standard proprietary APIs that only work with Safari or Chrome. Of course there were also bugs or missing features in IE that became particularly apparent on mobile sites designed specifically for our competitors' browsers.

Updating Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 8.1 Update

We gathered all of this compatibility data and then we began to plan what changes we should make to IE. The remainder of this blog post discusses some of the most important changes and the rationale for why we made them. The issues affecting mobile web sites fall primarily into five main categories:

  • Faulty browser detection not recognising IE as a mobile browser and giving the desktop experience
  • Using only old webkit-prefixed features that have been replaced by standards
  • Using proprietary webkit-prefixed features for which there is no standard
  • Using features that IE does not support with no graceful fall-back
  • Running into interoperability bugs and implementation differences in IE

Changing the User Agent string


One of the most significant issues we saw was related to sites not detecting that IE on Windows Phone is a mobile browser and therefore providing desktop content. This often results in sites displayed with tiny text that you need to zoom in to read and then pan around. It also often means more data is transmitted over the phone's data connection because the content isn't mobile optimised. Images are large and many more ads are downloaded and shown.

There are many different ways that sites try to detect whether to deliver the mobile experience. Here is one such check we found on a real site:

window.mobileCheck = function() {

var check = false;

(function(a){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows (ce|phone)|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i.test(a.substr(0,4)))check = true})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera);

return check;
}

We updated the User Agent string in IE on Windows Phone to increase the number of sites that would correctly deliver the best mobile content. This continues an unfortunate pattern that all browsers have had to deal with and most web developers have run into. For example, there is an interesting discussion from as early as 2006 in a WebKit bug entitled "Safari lies. Reports itself as Mozilla, Gecko and KHTML too." When we shipped IE11 on the desktop, we added the token "like Gecko" to the string because it significantly improved compatibility with desktop sites. Chrome and Opera claim to be like Gecko and Safari in order to be compatible with web content.

If you visit www.hawaiianairlines.com with IE11 and Firefox OS, you see the desktop experience:

7120.hawaiianairlines_2D00_before.png
Windows Phone 8.1

1263.hawaiianairlines_2D00_firefox.png
Firefox OS

Here is what you see in IE11 with the update and on an iPhone:

0602.hawaiianairlines_2D00_after.png
Windows Phone 8.1 Update

5460.hawaiianairlines_2D00_iphone.png
iPhone with iOS7

If you visit www.nytimes.com with IE11 and Firefox OS, you also see the desktop experience:

5732.nytimes_2D00_before.png
Windows Phone 8.1

4162.nytimes_2D00_firefox.png
Firefox OS

Here is what you see in IE11 with the update and on an iPhone:

3581.nytimes_2D00_after.png
Windows Phone 8.1 Update

6644.nytimes_2D00_iphone.png
iPhone with iOS7

In general, our advice is to develop a responsive site that can adapt to the capabilities of different devices. If you choose to build a mobile-specific experience then we recommend looking for the sub-string "mobile" in the user agent string to determine when to deliver mobile optimised content:

function isMobile() {
return navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf("mobile")>=0;
}


Mapping legacy webkit-prefixed features to IE implementation

After changing the user agent string so that IE receives the same content as other phone browsers we could begin to analyse issues that were breaking mobile experiences. The first important problem we identified was that many mobile sites only send webkit-prefixed content for CSS gradients, flexbox, transitions, and animations. These are features that IE11's web standards-based engine already supports for sites with cross-browser mark-up. As Mozilla found, WebKitCSSMatrix is commonly used on mobile devices. IE supports MSCSSMatrix. Many sites also use window.orientation instead of the emerging standard screen.orientation. The second problem we found here is that sites also often use old syntax in their code. For example, using the old gradient syntax instead of the updated standards based approach.

In Windows Phone 8.1 Update, we added a mapping of popular webkit-prefixed APIs to the standards based support already part of IE11. This means that sites that only send WebKit code are translated into standards based code as the page loads. We are not planning to support all webkit-prefixed APIs. We have added mappings for the ones that are so prevalent in mobile sites that the web won't work without them.

If you visit www.macys.com with IE11, you see:

2402.macys_2D00_before.png
Windows Phone 8.1


Here you can see the gradients drawn correctly in IE11 with the update and on an iPhone:

4555.macys_2D00_after.png
Windows Phone 8.1 Update

3566.macys_2D00_iphone.png
iPhone with iOS7

If you visit www.answers.com with IE11, you see:

0830.answers_2D00_before.png
Windows Phone 8.1

Here you can see the site drawn correctly in IE11 with the update and on an iPhone:

0250.answers_2D00_after.png
Windows Phone 8.1 Update

4628.answers_2D00_iphone.png
iPhone with iOS7


Adding support for non-standard proprietary features

We found a small number of non-standard features popularised by Apple on the iPhone in widespread use. These features are not currently on a standards track but browsers that don't support them can't provide a good experience for top sites on the mobile web. One example is -webkit-appearance, which allows a page to modify the styling of an element to match native applications. As Mozilla points out, "not only is it non-standard, but its behavior changes from one browser to another." Unfortunately, without some level of support for these non-standard proprietary features, web sites are more difficult to use.


New features supported in IE

There are several standards-based features that IE11 didn't support that are used infrequently on desktop sites, but are in common use in the mobile web. Once we made IE11 receive more mobile content we determined that we would need to add these features. For example, window.locationbar is defined in HTML5 but rarely used on desktop sites. We prioritised implementing several new features based on the mobile sites they enabled.

One of the larger API-related issues affecting compatibility with mobile sites is support for touch. In IE10, we shipped support for Pointer Events, which is now a Candidate Recommendation at W3C, and we updated the implementation in IE11 to incorporate changes in the spec. Using Pointer Events provides many performance and functional advantages to sites that wish to use either mouse, touch, pen or other pointer inputs and we continue to recommend this as the best API for sites that work for users across all of their devices.

On the mobile web, most sites have been coded to use the older Touch Events model and users expect those sites to just work. In the IE11 update, we added support for touch events so that these sites would work correctly. Our research has shown that on the desktop web, enabling touch events on a device that also supports a mouse (like Windows tablets and 2 in 1 devices) causes more problems—for example, we found that mouse and trackpad support is broken on about 10% of top sites when Touch Events are enabled. Many sites don't expect to be able to receive touch events and mouse events and only support one or the other. We have joined other browser vendors in the W3C Touch Events Community Group to work through these issues for the web at large. We'll talk more about pointer and touch events in a future post.

Fixing the most impactful interop issues

As we continued to investigate the mark-up in sites that were not working correctly in Internet Explorer, we found some peculiar interoperability issues. For example, and elements inside links are independently clickable in other browsers although this behaviour isn't clearly documented anywhere. Another example is refresh support. The HTML5 spec expects the string "URL=" to be part of the element's content in order to redirect to a different URL. Other browsers don't require this and, when used incorrectly in this way, pages in IE would appear to refresh constantly.

Finally, we also identified several bugs in the Trident engine that particularly impacted top mobile sites and we included fixes for these issues in this update. For example, we fixed some navigation issues with location.hash and some CSS layout problems that were affecting popular mobile sites.

What can you do?

Many of the changes we've made are specifically targeted at consuming legacy or vendor prefixed content published on these sites. It is not our goal to support all the -webkit- vendor prefixed APIs. While we will continue our outreach efforts to encourage these sites to adopt standards-based mark-up, the support we've added is necessary today for the mobile web to just work. You can help here too if you see sites using non-standard code: we are collaborating with Mozilla at webcompat.com to record broken sites. These sites often cause issues across multiple browsers including Firefox and IE and it is easy for you to report problematic sites.
If you are a web developer, run your site through the scanner tool on http://modern.ie. This tool will identify common coding problems including issues with vendor prefixes and help you fix your code.

When taken all together, the changes we have made to IE in Windows Phone 8.1 Update dramatically improve compatibility with the most popular mobile web sites. The update should start rolling out to those of you already on the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers next week and will roll out to consumers with devices running Windows Phone 8.1 in the coming months. Next week, we will also publish a comprehensive list of all the changes in the IE Developer Guide on MSDN.

If you have questions, you can connect with us on Twitter @IEDevChat. The next #AskIE tweet chat is today (July 31) from 10AM-Noon PDT. Make sure you include #AskIE in your questions.

Adrian Bateman
Program Manager, Internet Explorer

Frank Olivier
Program Manager, Internet Explorer

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jimbo45

New Member
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Hi there

RUBBISH !!!!!

The Mobile web is NOT for everyone -- Some people just cannot see further than beyond their tiny Smartphone Screens.

What about secure secure services that are totally isolated from any WEB or LAN, - what about fixed Engineering hardware and dedicated computers - etc.

I'm sure you wouldn't connect some of the heavy gear used in CROSSRAIL's (Huge East West trans London Railway link) construction project to a consumer grade smart phone app.

Crossrail - Crossrail

Cheers
jimbo
 

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DavidY

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Kari

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RUBBISH !!!!!
...
...
I'm sure you wouldn't connect some of the heavy gear used in CROSSRAIL's (Huge East West trans London Railway link) construction project to a consumer grade smart phone app.

Crossrail - Crossrail
Not sure what you mean but at least that website has no issues in rendering to Windows Phone 8.1, shown here on a relatively small Lumia 925 screen:

wp_ss_20140802_0001.png

wp_ss_20140802_0002.png

wp_ss_20140802_0003.png

wp_ss_20140802_0004.png
 

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jimbo45

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Hi there

My comment was not that the Mobile Web is of no use --of course it's useful -- but that IT'S NOT FOR EVERONE -- for example that project doesn't rely on the Mobile web for the construction of the project but of course the public website WILL be available via mobile devices.

Some sites also operate in a SECURE no LAN connections and therefore won't be accessible via mobile devices anyway.

If all the OP is saying that web sites should be rendered properly by mobile devices --of course - but that's so bleedin' obvious I'm surprised it had to be mentioned at all.

The OP seemed to surmise that EVERYTHING could be done on the Mobile web - clearly not the case. Half the people on this very Forum (or maybe more) are always saying how they need the desktop / a proper PC and are never likely to use tablets etc as their main computing device.

Or have I mis-understood what the OP was on about.

Cheers
jimbo
 

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DavidY

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If all the OP is saying that web sites should be rendered properly by mobile devices --of course - but that's so bleedin' obvious I'm surprised it had to be mentioned at all.
My understanding is that the OP is quoting a Microsoft web page, and Microsoft are saying:
"If xyz mobile website works better on an iPhone than a Windows Phone, it's not our fault 'cos we follow the proper standards in IE11, but the website developers are using dodgy things that work on iPhones but aren't compliant to standards. It's the website developers who need to make their mobile websites compliant to standards."

...or something like that. ;)
 

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jimbo45

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If all the OP is saying that web sites should be rendered properly by mobile devices --of course - but that's so bleedin' obvious I'm surprised it had to be mentioned at all.
My understanding is that the OP is quoting a Microsoft web page, and Microsoft are saying:
"If xyz mobile website works better on an iPhone than a Windows Phone, it's not our fault 'cos we follow the proper standards in IE11, but the website developers are using dodgy things that work on iPhones but aren't compliant to standards. It's the website developers who need to make their mobile websites compliant to standards."

...or something like that. ;)

Hi there

It's a problem then even on NON mobile platforms as different browsers don't always render the web sites the same - sometimes they don't work at all -- and as for those UNSPEAKABLE NON RE-SIZEABLE boxes you sometimes get for forms etc -- probably something to do with .NET -- don't even start me on that one -- especially if you use varying size monitors and resolutions.

I can give you an example from this Forum's very own website !!!!! Not in this case a mega problem but you see what I mean.

Using W8.1 update 1x-64 enterprise (Native - not in a VM) with IE 11

24 inch external monitor (1920 X 1080 - full HD)

IE set zoomed at 175% -- nice for my eyes so easily read at a distance from the screen

Cheers
jimbo
 

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Tepid

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Jimbo, you are comparing Crackers to Roast Beef.
Seriously, Mobile Web is not for everyone, but what MS is doing is a step in the right direction, for now anyway.
 

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