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W3C tackles touch-screen Web apps

Web programmers who want a standard way to handle multitouch and other touch-screen matters on mobile phones could be getting just that out of the World Wide Web Consortium.

In the competition between native applications for mobile phones vs. Web applications, hardware support often makes native apps an obvious choice for programmers. But the World Wide Web Consortium is tackling one area, touch-screen support, in an effort that could help Web apps catch up.

The W3C published an editor's draft of a new touch-screen standard for Web apps today. The draft specification is designed also for devices such as drawing tablets that don't have a screen, but today's hot market for smartphones makes touch screens the more important focus.

A standard--if designed well and adopted--would make programmers' lives easier by making it possible to write Web application software that would work on multiple browsers. And with touch screens expanding from the high-end smartphone market to lower-end models and to tablets, touch screens are becoming a dominant technology for user interfaces.

Of course, touch screens work to an extent with mobile browsers today. But they chiefly just reproduce the mouse era, and touch screens can be different. Multitouch is one obvious difference, but the draft specification also accommodates subtleties such as the pressure of a touch event and the radius of the spot being touched.

The specification defines how a browser would report information in a standard way to a Web application, letting programmers write software that responds to the events. And as with many Web specifications, it uses a real-world browser as a starting point. In this case, Apple's Safari.

"Editor Doug Schepers did the sensible thing and started with Apple's specification," said Peter-Paul Koch, a consultant who closely monitors browser issues and in particular mobile browsers, in a blog post.