Recently I purchased a Barnes & Noble Nook to get a cheap touch device with a touch browser. That’s right I bought an eReader that comes with a touch API supporting browser. My HTC Arrive and all over Windows Phones do not have and will not have a browser for at least another year that supports the touch event API. This means, to my knowledge, Windows Phone and any currently unannounced Microsoft tablet offering will NOT contain a browser allowing developers to build rich user experiences using the touch natural user input.
What I have been told from a Microsoft rep is Internet Explorer Mobile 9 is feature complete. They will only be working on bugs and if there is any time and resources left over they will look at including touch.
The original estimates I had heard about the Windows Phone Mango release was August/September. This has since changed to a ‘Holiday’ timeframe. So maybe that means they have time. I have also heard the browser can be updated independently of the operating system.
Personally I don’t know what the real process is inside of the Internet Explorer team to actually implement browser features. So I don’t really know if there is real time for them to get this must have feature included, but I am going to plead for it. I am going to enlist you to help. If I am fighting a one man fight, so be it. So far every peer developer I have explained this tragedy to has been shocked. Everyone assumes it is just going to be supported. Again this makes sense because it seems every competing touch platform already supports the touch events API.
Why is the touch API so important? Internet Explorer mobile supports mouse events, just like the desktop. The mouse is used as an input device on the desktop and has a precise X,Y position when it is used. However, on touch devices we use our fingers (given in some cases you could use a stylus). Finger have a much different touch point. Typically a good UX provides at least a 40 pixel by 40 pixel touch target for these devices. The other aspect is reacting to touch gestures, like swiping. The mouse event API was just not designed for the new touch devices driven by finger natural user input.
In fact my experience testing the translation of a finger touching my windows phone driving the mouse events has been spotty at best. Inconsistent event firing, or events firing that do not represent my actions. This is one of the many reasons why AJAX mobile frameworks like jQuery mobile provide a very sub-par experience on Windows Phone.
Despite what the media would have you to believe, mobile web (using the browser on your mobile device) generates the most usage. For example Facebook and Twitter both have more mobile web usage than all their mobile clients combined. This is very important to realize as developers. It means we need to create rich mobile web experiences. It also means if a mobile manufacturer (like Microsoft) wants to have a chance at competing in the mobile space they need a mobile browser that at least keeps up with the Jones’.
I am writing and publishing this before today’s big Windows Phone event. According to rumors they will be formally announcing 500 new features for the phone OS. One of course is IE9 mobile. I hope that Microsoft will surprise me today and say its going to support touch. I doubt it.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like my Windows Phone. If you know me you know I held out for over a year waiting for WP7 on Sprint instead of getting a Droid. I love many things about it. I am very disappointed in the browser it currently has. Its slow and buggy at best and then you have to deal with poor HTML & CSS support. I believe those hurdles will be corrected later this year. But touch support on a touch device is mandatory just to even hope to stay current with the competition. They have good mobile browser experiences and Windows Phone deserves at least as good an experience.