Getting Started with Internet Explorer Mobile

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by Todd Spatafore | May 2011 | Enterprise Articles Microsoft

This article will be a brief overview of the web development process. It will begin with an overview of web page architecture. It will then discuss best practices for building web pages. Following that we will discuss how this relates to mobile web development. The article will finish up with an overview of mobile web development specific to Windows Phone 7.

In this article by Todd Spatafore, author of Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7, we will cover:

  • Web page architecture
  • Internet Explorer Mobile
  • Mobile-friendly META tag settings

 

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7

Create enterprise-ready websites and applications that access Microsoft SharePoint on Windows Phone 7

        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Microsoft Sharepoint, see here.)

To get started with Internet Explorer Mobile let's look at basic web page architecture.

 

Web page architecture

Web pages on the client side mainly consist of three vital components: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The exact version of each of these varies, but in the end it all comes down to these three pieces.

HyperText Markup Language (HTML)

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the container for the page content. The page should contain just that content and nothing else. A properly coded site would leave the presentation and functionality portions of the page to CSS and JavaScript. In addition, the content should be constructed in a manner that makes logical sense for the content that is being delivered. This is called semantic HTML.

People with disabilities use devices, such as a screen reader, to get the content of a site. These screen readers can only gather information from the actual markup of the site. If we have a PNG image with text in it, the screen reader cannot "see" that information. In that particular case, we can use the alt attribute of the image to provide a hint to the content, but it would be better to put the content inside a paragraph, unordered list, or some other textual tag and then replace it with an image if absolutely required using JavaScript.

The other case that was mentioned earlier was that search engines can better determine the contents of a web page with semantic markup. This will help our page rankings and hopefully drive more visitors to our site.

Think about the HTML markup like the script of a movie. Although we'll add lights, actors, and probably special effects later, right now the black and white text on paper has to convey all of the meaning. The same is true of the HTML markup for your site. As you build websites, constantly keep in mind what information you are trying to impart with the page and make that the focus.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are documents that describe the way HTML should be displayed. The CSS language allows the web developer to separate the design aspects (layout, colors, fonts, and so on) from the page content. One could easily change the entire look and feel of a page simply by replacing the CSS files. An amazing group of examples of this is available at http://csszengarden.com. The CSS Zen Garden website demonstrates the amazing power that CSS has on the presentation of HTML content. Utilizing a proper style sheet can result in content that will quickly display the relevant information that a Windows Phone 7 user has come to expect from the applications on the phone.

When developing websites that are going to be viewed on Internet Explorer Mobile, it is important to keep in mind some very important potential problems. Although float works great on desktop browsers and will work on many mobile browsers, the content within these containers may not look good on a small screen.

The CSS float attribute was one of the first tools that allowed web developers to break free from table based layouts, that is, laying out the contents of a page using tables. Float allowed developers to group content in div elements and then float those block elements into position. It is a very powerful tool, but on a mobile device, the limited screen size would hamper the ability for the user to view the content. Instead, they would be constantly scrolling left and right or up and down to find all the content.

A better way of handling this would be to utilize float on the desktop version of the site and then leave the div elements in block display allowing the IE Mobile browser to handle the content layout.

Along these same lines, the CSS attributes, padding and margin, work great for precise positioning of elements on a desktop browser. However, the limited screen real-estate of a Mobile browser limits the usefulness of this positioning power. Try to limit the use of these attributes on the mobile device and only use them to highlight useful information.

Finally, because pixels are absolute values, a pixel is a precise defined scale of measurement with no room for interpretation; the phone has to work more to display those elements that are positioned using pixel measurements. Using points, em, or percentage measurements instead, allow the phone to be more fluid with the layout.

Be sure to test the site on Windows Phone 7 devices to ensure the content is legible and the display is fine.

JavaScript

JavaScript, otherwise known as ECMAScript, is the scripting language that is used to create dynamic user interfaces and allow a page to update "on the fly". Users have come to expect a certain fluidity to their web experiences, and now with the power of Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7, they can have that same power in the palm of their hand.

Remember that the user is probably looking at a 3.5 inch screen, has fingers that are roughly 40-80 pixels square, and those fingers are incapable of registering a hover command to the browser. If your navigation, for example, requires the user to hover over something, this will not work in Internet Explorer Mobile. Instead, make the navigation an easy to use, unordered list of hyperlinks

Putting HTML, CSS, and JavaScript together

Windows Phone 7 is about getting the relevant information viewable with minimal fuss. The following are some tips for creating a website for Windows Phone 7's Internet Explorer Mobile:

  • Show only the content that is relevant for the page requested
  • Reduce the use of images and colors
  • Remove the extra-large hero images
    • Hero images are those large images usually at the top of the main content section, but usually used as a graphic headline.
    • Usually, they don't contain any content and only serve to enhance the design of the site.
  • Rearrange the navigation to take up a minimum amount of space
  • Move the navigation to the bottom of the page if possible
  • Remove flashy loading screens

Utilizing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript with proper discipline will result in more satisfied customers.

Developing websites is not a trivial task. Mastering each of these three components is a great task. It is important, while developing websites, to try and minimize as much duplication as possible, not only in the JavaScript code that so many developers tended to focus on, but also in the CSS and the HTML content. Reducing duplication will allow for maintainable, upgradable, and understandable code.

Also, by reducing duplication, the amount of data sent to the browser is also reduced. This is helpful when dealing with a browser that is connecting from a patchy cellular network.

Historically, building a mobile version of a website meant a completely different team of designers and web developers built a totally separate web application from the desktop version of the site. Then, using the server side code, the mobile browsers were detected and redirected to the mobile version. SharePoint does this by redirecting mobile browsers to {server}/_layout/mobile/mblwiki.aspx?Url=%2FSitePages%2FHome%2Easpx as an example.

When starting a new web application, a general rule of thumb is to use content adaptation techniques for the application. However, for a baseline you must have at least:

  • ECMAScript 3
  • W3C DOM Level 1
  • W3C standard box model support
  • CSS2 rendering
  • Client-side cookies support
  • XMLHttpRequest object support

By targeting this lowest common denominator of browser, we will ensure that our web applications will run well on most browsers on the web.

Remember that common practices on desktop browsers may end up being annoyances on a mobile device. Try not to open modal dialog boxes, or even open pop-ups. Opening a pop-up window will cause a whole new tab to appear. This may even close a tab that the user had previously opened if they already had six tabs open.

When designing the user interaction for a website, always keep the user in mind. They are busy people coming to your website. Be kind to them. Give them the information they are looking for without hassle.

 

Internet Explorer Mobile

Windows Phone 7 comes with a new browser that is based on the rendering engine of Internet Explorer 7 and some JavaScript improvements from Internet Explorer 8. Additionally, it includes some enhancements that aren't found in either of those desktop browsers.

Internet Explorer Mobile User Agent

The Internet Explorer Mobile User Agent string is as follows:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows Phone OS 7.0; Trident/3.1;
IEMobile/7.0; <DeviceManufacturer>; <DeviceModel>)

This UA String allows the device manufacturer to insert their name and the model of the phone in the string. Knowing the User Agent string is helpful when reviewing server logs to determine what browsers are coming to your website. This will help you optimize your site for the people who actually are viewing your content.

Like previous versions of Internet Explorer Mobile, the user can select either a Mobile version or a Desktop version display engine. When the Desktop version is selected, the User Agent string changes to the following:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 6.1; XBLWP7; ZuneWP7)

Changing the display engine mode can be accomplished on the Internet Explorer SETTINGS screen, as shown in the following screenshot:

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7

Although this choice could complicate things, as we develop our sites, we should make careful consideration of how we are going to treat the mobile version, but try not to detect the desktop version. If the user makes a conscious choice to view the desktop version, we should not force them to view something different from what they would see on a real desktop browser.

Client side browser detection

Many people use the user agent string to detect at runtime what to display on the browser. Although this works, there are better techniques to find out if the browser is mobile. Those techniques should be used instead of User Agent detection.

Using property detection instead of browser detection will allow your site to be forward compatible.

Forward compatibility isn't a very complex idea. It is just thinking about programming so that as new browsers come along with new capabilities, we won't have to rewrite our applications to take advantage of these capabilities. The application just takes advantage of whatever functionality is available to it in whatever browser in which it is currently running. An example of property detection is as follows:

function hasAdvancedDOM() {
// check for a feature that is known to be advanced
if(document.getElementsByClassName)
return true;
return false
}

Downloading the example code
You can download the example code files from here

The preceding code simply detects if the DOM function document.getElementsByClassName() exists or not. Internet Explorer Mobile has this function, as does Firefox 2+, Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer 9. However, previous versions of Internet Explorer Mobile did not have this function. If we had this in a previous version of a website, we wouldn't have to do anything special to get this to work in Windows Phone 7's Internet Explorer Mobile. Although, the code we would actually write in a web page would be much more complicated, this example demonstrates a starting point.

Server-side detection

Server-side detection usually uses the User Agent string along with a large list of mobile device User Agent strings to determine the capabilities of the browsers requesting a page. This list of mobile devices and their capabilities are kept in a .browser file.

There are some projects on the web to keep and maintain this .browser file. The best known of these, "Mobile Device Browser File", available at http://mdbf.codeplex.com, lost funding from Microsoft. There is another one that can be found at http://aspnet.codeplex.com/releases/view/41420.

The main topic of this article is SharePoint 2010 development for Windows Phone 7. However, ASP.NET 3.5 SP1 is the framework that SharePoint 2010 development is based on. This framework has a smaller list of browsers in the .browser file than the more current ASP.NET 4. One of the omissions is IEMobile. What this means is that in ASP.NET 4, you can use the following code to detect a mobile browser:

Request.Browser.IsMobileDevice

This code will work in ASP.NET 3.5 SP1, but it will not return true for Windows Phone 7's Internet Explorer Mobile by default.

The simplest solution is to use code like this to detect the IE Mobile browser:

Request.UserAgent.ToString().Contains("IEMobile")

We could probably do better here. In the first place, we could update SharePoint's compat.browser file to include Windows Phone 7. The compat.browser can be found here: <drive>:\inetpub\wwwroot\wss\VirtualDirectories\<site>80\App_Browsers\compat.browser

The structure of this file can be found at the following URL:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms228122.aspx

If you look at SharePoint's compat.browser file, the fourth browser listed looks like it might be for the Windows Phone 7 Internet Explorer Mobile. However, a closer examination will show that this browser is actually for the Office Hub in Windows Phone 7. To add the Internet Explorer Mobile browser, copy the browser elements for Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Mobile 6.5 and edit it like this:

<browser id="IE7MobileDesktopMode" parentID="IE6to9">
<identification>
<userAgent match="XBLWP7" />
</identification>
<capabilities>
<capability name="supportsTouchScreen" value="true" />
</capabilities>
</browser>
<browser id=”IE7MobileMobileMode” parentID=”Mozilla”>
<identification>
<userAgent match="(?i)Windows Mobile OS\s7\.\d.*IEMobile/
(?'version'\d+)\.(?'minor'\d+)" />
</identification>
<capabilities>
<capability name="browser" value="IE Mobile" />
<capability name="canInitiateVoiceCall" value="true" />
<capability name="isMobileDevice" value="true" />
<capability name="javascript" value="true" />
<capability name="optimumPageWeight" value="1500" />
<capability name="tables" value="true" />
<capability name="version" value="${version}" />
<capability name="supportsTouchScreen" value="true" />
</capabilities>
</browser>

This will make our code easier to manage later by allowing us to use the Request.Browser.IsMobileDevice property.

The change here, besides changing the browser ID, is in the regular expression which is used to detect the browser. In the desktop mode, we look for the text, XBLWP7, as this is a very obvious change in the User Agent in this state. For the mobile mode, we copied the IE Mobile 6 plus browser section. Microsoft changed the User Agent slightly between IE Mobile 6 and IE Mobile 7. The change comes in the User Agent, IE Mobile 7 doesn't have a space between the browser name IEMobile and the start of the version number. Instead, it has a forward slash. IE Mobile 6 had a space between the browser name and the version number.

 

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7 Create enterprise-ready websites and applications that access Microsoft SharePoint on Windows Phone 7 with this book and eBook
Published: May 2011
eBook Price: $29.99
Book Price: $49.99
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        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Microsoft Sharepoint, see here.)

XHTML Mobile Profile

XHTML Mobile Profile (XHTML MP) is a standard designed specifically for mobile phones created by the Open Mobile Alliance. It is derived from XHTML, which itself is a well formed XML version of HTML.

Internet Explorer Mobile will render pages with the extension of xhtml. The desktop version of the browser opens the Save As dialog when a page with that extension is hit. In addition, Internet Explorer Mobile will automatically switch to a mobile friendly view state attempting to automatically adjust the width of the content to fit into a 320 pixel wide viewport.

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7

Enhancing JavaScript in Internet Explorer Mobile

Many people writing their first Windows Phone 7 web application want to figure out how to do screen rotation. It sounds silly, but the browser does not handle it automatically in the emulator. When a user rotates the phone from portrait to landscape (or vice versa), the browser fires an onresize event. To handle the rotation, connect a function to this event and deduce from the difference between the screen.width and screen.height properties if it is in portrait or landscape.

However, on actual phones, the rotation in Internet Explorer Mobile happens automatically. When we rotate the phone, the viewport is automatically stretched to the new width and the address bar moved to the top of the screen. If we want our page to resize on a rotation, we still need to listen to the onresize event.

JavaScript enhancements include the following three querying functions that should speed up most applications:

getElementsByClassName(name)
querySelector(selector)
querySelectorAll(selector)

The first is getElementsByClassName(name). This function, in previous versions of Internet Explorer, required one to navigate recursively though the entire DOM tree to find all elements that had the class name specified and return them in an array of elements. The code for this was incredibly slow, but with a native built-in version of this function, it runs amazingly quickly.

The next two querying functions that have been added are almost identical to one other. The first returns the first element in the DOM tree that it finds, and the second returns all elements with the selector pattern specified.

Those functions are querySelector(selector) and querySelectorAll(selector). These functions take a selector (a group of tags, IDs, and classes in a string that looks like a CSS selector) and find matches in the DOM.

CSS enhancements

To view an element close up, a user can double tap on the element. This will cause the browser to zoom into that element until the width of the content box fits the device screen width. When this happens the developer can specify in CSS how they want to adjust the text size. That is where the –ms-text-size-adjust property comes in value. Using this property, we can increase the font by a predetermined percentage, automatic adjustment, or turn off text size adjustment.

This CSS property is not used in layout when the viewport META tag is present.

Although this isn't an enhancement, it should be noted that fixed positioning acts differently in Internet Explorer Mobile than it does on desktop browsers. On the desktop a fixed position element is fixed to the viewport. That means if something were fixed to the bottom right, it would appear in the bottom right of the browser window, but would always be visible. In Internet Explorer Mobile, this same element is positioned to the bottom right of the document. The user may not see it immediately and have to scroll to the bottom right of the page to actually see it.

Available fonts

Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7 supports the following 13 fonts:

  • Arial
  • Arial Black
  • Calibri
  • Comic Sans MS
  • Courier New
  • Georgia
  • Lucinda Sans Unicode
  • Segoe WP
  • Times New Roman
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Verdana
  • Tahoma
  • Webdings

Internet Explorer Mobile does not support downloadable fonts. As websites are developed, designers need to ensure they utilize fonts that are available on the targeted browsers. If the font specified is not available, ensure that a fall-back font is listed in the CSS or provide an image replacement.

Just remember that image replacements are not SEO friendly by default, so be sure to add an alt parameter to the image element.

There is something to be said about the Webdings font. Do not dismiss it as a font that is of no real value. Instead, look at the iconography listed in there. A useful glyph in a large font could be used in place of an image. The full set of audio or video player controls are listed in there, as is the Mona Lisa.

Plugins

One of the most common questions asked about Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7 seems to be, "Does it support Silverlight?" Although the programming model for building Windows Phone 7 apps is Silverlight, these apps are considered out of browser applications. You cannot run Silverlight applications inside the Internet Explorer Mobile browser. Apart from Silverlight, Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7 does not currently allow or install third-party plugins, such as Adobe Flash.

This means that sites that require Flash or Silverlight to run will not display correctly. As web developers, we should always be mindful of fall-back solutions to these problems. The fall back can be as simple as a graphic replacement for the Flash or Silverlight piece.

HTML5

Most of the Smartphones available today have browser support for HTML5 features, including extended ECMAScript 5 support, as well as CSS3, and new HTML elements such as video, audio, and canvas. One of the really nice features this brings to those phones is the ability to specify the software input panel for input elements in form fields. That is, we can specify that an input field is supposed to be for a telephone number like this:

<input type="tel" id="phoneNumber" />

When we do that, the software input field displays a number pad instead of the QWERTY keyboard.

As Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7 was based on Internet Explorer 7 with a few enhancements from Internet Explorer 8, these HTML5 features are not available on the phone today. Microsoft has announced that, in a major update slated for late 2011 or early 2012, the browser included with the phone will be replaced with Internet Explorer 9. At that time, all of these rich HTML5 features will be available right on the phone. This will allow us to write rich web experiences that will work the same on a desktop, a laptop, and our Windows Phone 7 device.

 

Mobile-friendly META tag settings

By default, Internet Explorer Mobile will attempt to display the entire width of the web page in the full viewable area of the screen. This results in an unreadable web page, meaning the first thing the viewer must do is a pinch zoom to scale the display enough to read the content.

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7

This is a less than desirable user experience. Over the years, three main META tags have been used to identify a page as being "mobile friendly". All three of these META tags also indicate to search engines that the page has been designed with mobile browsers in mind. This may give your page an advantage in page ranking when someone is searching for your content from a mobile device.

META tags are HTML elements that are inserted into the head of a web page. The three META tags described here all provide information to the browser about how to display the page content.

HandheldFriendly

The first META tag used is the very simple HandheldFriendly. It has a content of either true or false. This tag was originally supported by the AvantGo mobile browser to identify pages that are optimized for viewing on Palm devices. Today, it is used by most mobile browsers to indicate that the content should be displayed without scaling.

<meta name="HandheldFriendly" content="true" />

MobileOptimized

When Microsoft started building Windows CE, the end user had an option in earlier versions of Internet Explorer Mobile to display a web page as one column, the desktop version, or a default mode.

  • Default mode
    • Narrows content width to reduce horizontal scrolling.
    • Page display is reduced in height and width until content width fits on screen.
    • In most cases, this forces the user to zoom in to read the content.
  • One column
    • Forced all content into a single column with no horizontal scrolling.
    • Many sites looked strange with navigation and add content above the main content.
    • For some sites, such as blogs, this was a decent solution.
  • Desktop
  • This mode attempts to display the content with no difference from what it would look like on a desktop version of Internet Explorer.
  • A web developer can force this mode by using the MobileOptimized META tag.

The MobileOptimized META tag has a content that specifies the width for which the page was designed. If this width is smaller than the screen size, the content will be enlarged to fit the actual screen. If the width is larger than the screen size, desktop layout is used.

<meta name="MobileOptimized" content="480" />

Windows Phone 7 devices have a screen resolution of 480x800. If we use this META tag to specify the width of the content to force a desktop layout, it is suggested using one half of the actual website design width.

For example, if we use the fairly standard 960 pixel width, use a MobileOptimized META tag with content of 480 as displayed in the preceding code. This will result in about a 50% zoom on the content, which is still readable in most cases.

Viewport

The viewport is a rectangular area where the browser lays out the content of the web page. This is a fairly easy concept to grasp on a desktop because the viewport is the same as the area inside the chrome of the browser. On a mobile device however, the viewport can be larger than the visible screen.

For Internet Explorer Mobile, the default viewport has a width of 1024 pixels. That means that IE Mobile will lay the page out the same, as if your screen was 1024 pixels wide by default. You can modify this by specifying a width in the same way that the MobileOptimized META tag specifies the width:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=480" />

The flexibility of this META tag is taken advantage of by most modern Smartphone browsers. Though, there are many properties we can set on this META tag, Internet Explorer Mobile supports the following:

  • width: Sets the horizontal size of the viewport. This value can be from 320 to 10,000 with 320 as the default setting.
  • height: The vertical analogue of the width property which can be set anywhere from 480 to 10,000.
  • user-scalable: A binary value with valid settings of yes and no. This value indicates to the browser if the user is able to zoom in and out of the content.

Each of these properties is separated by a comma in the content value of the META tag. A complete example is as follows:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=480, height=800, userscalable=
yes" />

There are other properties that can be set on the viewport META tag. Those are minimum-scale, maximum-scale, and initial-scale.
Also, width and height can use a special value of device-width and device-height, respectively, to set the actual pixel width and height of the device.
However, the Internet Explorer Mobile team discovered that by letting device-width be the actual device width (480px) a lot of websites broke. That is to say, they didn't look very good. The IE Mobile team decided that to preserve compatibility with existing mobile websites the special value of device-width for Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7 would return the value of 320px.

Though, it doesn't matter in what order these META tags are placed on the page to Internet Explorer Mobile, viewport takes precedence over MobileOptimized, which in turn takes precedence over HandheldFriendly. For full compatibility with the full range of mobile browsers on the market, one should take care to put these tags in the order of precedence from lowest to highest, HandheldFriendly then MobileOptimized, and finally Viewport.

Summary

In this article, you learned the basics of web page architecture. This architecture consists of finely crafted HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Using these three elements can result in pages that are mature and flexible enough to provide a display on both a desktop and a mobile device.

Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7 was introduced. As were the new features of JavaScript, including the following:

  • document.getElementsByClassName
  • querySelector(selector)
  • querySelectorAll(selector)

These new improvements will enhance the speed of DOM manipulation of which many common programs take advantage.

Next the new CSS property: –ms-text-size-adjust was described and shown to not be used when the viewport meta tag is used.

Finally, the META tags used in handheld devices were described and how to utilize them in websites. These META tags are as follows:

  • HandheldFriendly
  • MobileOptimized
  • Viewport

Of the three, Viewport is the most flexible and popular today.


Further resources on this subject:


Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7 Create enterprise-ready websites and applications that access Microsoft SharePoint on Windows Phone 7 with this book and eBook
Published: May 2011
eBook Price: $29.99
Book Price: $49.99
See more
Select your format and quantity:

About the Author :


Todd Spatafore

Todd Spatafore is a professional web developer and software architect who enjoys living life on the bleeding edge of technology. He is an expert on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, ASP.NET (WebForms and MVC), C#, and Silverlight. Todd is currently the Director of Technology at Draftfcb and maintains his own blog at http://www.spatacoli.com, in which he muses about current programming topics such as Silverlight, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and Hyper-V. Currently Todd is working on a few independent Windows Phone 7 apps, and speaks for MSDN conferences on web application architecture, RIA development in Silverlight, and Windows Azure.

Todd Spatafore is the author of “Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Applications on Windows Phone 7".

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