JQuery set to tackle mobile Web development

The JavaScript-based tools for Web development are widely used for desktop and laptop browsers. JQuery Mobile will let coders reach mobile phones, too.

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Stephen Shankland
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John Resig, founder of the jQuery project
John Resig, founder of the jQuery project Stephen Shankland/CNET

LONDON--Countless developers use jQuery software tools today to build advanced Web sites and to ease the difficulties of spanning multiple browsers.

Starting in about two weeks, though, they will start being able to extend their reach to the fast-growing world of the mobile Web as well. That's when the alpha version of jQuery Mobile is planned to be released, jQuery founder John Resig told attendees of the Future of Web Apps conference here today.

JQuery is a library of pre-written JavaScript code that browsers can download when loading a Web site. JQuery Mobile is an extra option geared to reach a range of mobile browsers.

"We're hoping to provide easier tools for making a scalable user interface," said Resig, a Mozilla employee, in an interview at the conference. Specifically, he hopes to release the alpha version on September 16 at a jQuery conference in Boston, he said.

One major goal of the project is to reach more than the top-tier mobile Web browsers such as those used in Apple's iOS, Google's Android, and Hewlett-Packard's Web OS, he said. JQuery Mobile will also reach BlackBerry OS and mobile versions of Windows, he said.

Many Web developers, if they support any mobile devices at all, support only iPhone or Android devices, he said.

"That's because that's what was sitting in front of them. What's unfortunate is that ignores the larger issue," he said, pointing to StatCounter Web browser usage statistics that show those developers are neglecting their major market.

"Opera is the most popular [mobile] browser, followed by BlackBerry," which has gained an impressive 10 percentage points of usage share in the last year, he said. iPhone, in contrast, is tied for third place and actually losing share when it comes to overall mobile browsing usage.

StatCounter shows BlackBerry rising in importance in mobile browsing.
StatCounter shows BlackBerry rising in importance in mobile browsing. StatCounter

Mobile Web development is of course different from programming for browsers on personal computers, with their large screens and powerful hardware. Mobile Web developers should concentrate on sites that quickly present users with an opportunity to do what they need rather than the full panoply of options that typically are available on desktop browsers, Resig said.

That, of course, raises the difficulty of separate mobile and PC Web sites. Resig hopes jQuery Mobile will help to span the gap, though.

Resig showed the first public demonstrations of jQuery Mobile at the conference. The interface worked on Google's Chrome browser on Mac OS X and on developer-kit versions of BlackBerry OS and Web OS browsers also running on his Mac.

JQuery Mobile is designed to use native technology such as scroll bars as much as possible. In contrast, he said, Google tried JavaScript-based scroll bars with the mobile Web version of Gmail, but it worked poorly in part because of performance.

"Everything started to feel wrong," he said. "It was very, very noticeable. It gives you a negative impression."

With jQuery Mobile, "wherever possible, we use the native capabilities of the browser," he said.

A big challenge is accommodating the diversity of mobile browsers, many of which offer poor support for JavaScript or other useful technologies. jQuery Mobile, therefore, must work around issues such as Opera's shortcomings supporting the increasingly important CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) technology for Web page formatting, Resig said.

"Unlike on the desktop, there are a lot of really, really bad mobile browsers," Resig said.

Correction 1 p.m. PDT: This story mischaracterized Opera's mobile browser support for CSS. It supports some, but not all, CSS features. In addition, it mischaracterized Mozilla's relationship to jQuery. Although Resig is a Mozilla employee and Mozilla sponsors jQuery work, the project is run by volunteers.