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roytheboy
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Hi guys, girls and especially Hugo,

I know I’ve been conspicuous by my absence for so long that some of you will wonder who I am, but for the benefit of the regulars and old-hands, I feel the need to share my recent experiences regarding the development of web apps for mobile phones - specifically the iPhone and iPod Touch.

I’ve had it in mind to develop cut-down interfaces to some of my business webapps for some time, and the recent purchase of an iPod Touch convinced me that this is the future for personal use of the web ...aren’t iPhones and iPods truly great Wink

Anyway, I’ve spent the last week researching the subject and learning about WebKit, phone-specific meta-tags and UI issues etc., and came to the conclusion that whilst I know a lot about php, mysql, html and css (or so I like to think), my knowledge of JavaScript and AJAX is nowhere near deep enough to even start to develop mobile webapps that go beyond a few pages, let alone the sort of massive complexity that I’m going to need to produce phone UIs for my secure, ‘grown up’ webapps. BTW, to function as a true iPhone webapp without browser chrome, the whole app needs to function from one page using AJAX.

So I researched software and frameworks, the best current summary list of which can be found here > http://iphoneized.com/2009/11/18-mobile-frameworks-development-tools-creating-iphone-apps/ Apple’s free Dashcode is missing from the list but if you want version 3, you have to be running Snow Leopard, which is not stable enough yet (nor properly supported by vendors) for me to switch in my commercial environment.

I only want to produce webapps, not native apps, so I soon got to a short-list of Dashcode, JQTouch and WebApp.net. I specced up a test job that involved navigating to an async list of items, which selectively give an async-driven detail page. I wanted all the slick bells and whistles of a native app including sliding transitions, merging titles and preferably changing colour schemes for different pages.

Dashcode shows great promise for simple apps as it is aimed at complete coding novices. The trouble is, I pulled my hair out trying to go beyond one level of pulling async data, and hours of googling and questions on the Apple Developer Forum got me nowhere. Furthermore, the deployment footprint is huge with the auto-generated CSS making DW look efficient! After using Dashcode to produce the nearest I could to my target test app, I manually rewrote the CSS and I kid you not when I say that my version came in at about a tenth of the size of Dashcode’s version. In conclusion: Dashcode is great for coding newbies with simple requirements, but it’s not a ‘grown up’s’ tool yet (I’m sure it’ll improve).

Next I tried JQTouch and soon realised that it has no documentation that means anything to anyone who doesn’t understand JS or who doesn’t already use JQuerry. It promises everything I need and I tried hard to use it for just a simple task, but I failed miserably. It’s probably just what is needed for JS experts, but my problem is that all my apps have all their functionality server-side for security reasons, so I’ve never needed to learn JS to OOP levels. It also needs the whole JQ file as well as JQT file, so its footprint is a problem. For me, JQTouch was dead at the starting line.

In desperation, I moved onto WebApp.net (WAn) and noted that whilst it has some documentation to get one started, one is rather left to one’s own devises to study the demos provided in order to work out how everything fits together. I suspect that this might put a few people off (even though JQT has almost zero documentation), so the point of this post is to prompt as many people as I can who are googling for help to persevere. For WAn is an absolute gem of a framework created by a talented French IT manager and developer in his spare time for the benefit of the greater developer community. That’s us folks!

Within a few days I’d completed my test-project with multiple sub-divided async-driven lists, ‘load next’ links, changing colour-schemes per view, sliding transitions, merging titles, buttons linking to other phone apps, and all the little touches I wanted and more e.g. a spinning wheel while the xml is called. The mark-up required to achieve these things is absolutely minimal and very logical, although you do need to delve into the demos to work out what tags do what. I really like the way one pulls in the whole html code for lists and detail blocks asyncronously via xml feeds, as this leaves me free to construct all these elements from within the php/mysql environment that I’m so comfortable with. I also found it very easy to theme my app with CSS, as the author obviously understands how to get the best out of his style-sheets, leaving the likes of us to modify everything with ease. Talking of which, the framework’s deployment footprint is spectacularly small, with the author’s JS in particular being an object lesson in how to code efficiently (IMHO).

So there we have it folks. If you’re handy with php, mysql, html and css but don’t know your JS event handlers from your object calls, WebApp.net is the way to go, despite needing to study the demos to understand the more advanced features.

Website > http://webapp-net.com

Support forum > http://webapp-net.com/Forums

Docs > http://webapp-net.com/Doc/Installation.html

Demo (a work in progress with some links not working but don’t let that put you off) > http://demo.webapp-net.com

Enjoy Smile

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Great Post

Thanks for sharing your hardships, frustrations and discoveries in learning this technology. You've just saved somebody many hours of pain!

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Haven't a clue who you are

Haven't a clue who you are Big smile but a great post, it brought to mind a long thread on mobiles from a couple of years back that ended up listing a few phone headers and other useful info (you posted in it as well)

http://csscreator.com/node/26803

Still makes me feel queasy this aspect of development, had intended to get really stuck into handheld devises and web page rendering but got sidetracked by more pressing issues sad to say.

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roytheboy, what's your take

roytheboy, what's your take on the issue of serving a separate page to the iPhone? For example, I have a page that allows an auto mechanic schedule jobs for the garage. If he's out of the shop he could use his iPhone to answer calls and schedule jobs. Is there any sort of consensus on how it should be handled? Should I create a subdomain with a separate web app for this purpose or direct to a different page for the iPhone or none of these?

The WebApp.Net framework is very interesting.

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I’m no expert as I’ve only

I’m no expert as I’ve only just started taking a serious interest in the subject. However, the answer to your question has to depend on the circumstances of the site and your intended audience.

If you have a website that may only occasionally be visited by people using mobile devices then it should be suffice to ensure that the site contains no barriers to communication, and that it makes it relatively easy to view through small view ports. This can be as simple as laying out your text in columns that are not too wide, ensuring that text is not too small and that links (i.e. navigation menus) are not too close together (as a finger is not as accurate as a one-pixel-targeting curser), avoiding the use of fixed positioning (css), keeping your code lean and/or compressed (for fast downloads), making sure that no important information is in Flash format, and using valid (x)html and css. You need to start using a modern smart-phone WebKit browser (e.g. Safari on an iPhone) to fully appreciate what works and what doesn’t with regards to getting about your sites and reading the information therein. You’ll soon warm to the sites that cater to mobiles, and you’ll find yourself scathing those which don’t. You’ll also soon realise why the mobile net is THE future - get with it or fall behind.

There are some technical issues surrounding JavaScript events, so if you use a lot of JS then you need to understand the major differences between mouse events and touch gestures. For example, a mouse curser always has a state as long as it’s somewhere on the screen, so the browser knows when you are hovering over an element and when you are dragging it. But a smart-phone browser has no idea where your finger is or fingers are until you tap the screen, and if you try to drag something it’ll interpret this as a scroll gesture. These are just a few of many such JS issues to deal with. Fortunately these are all minor issues for me as I have never been a big user of JS beyond non-essential bells and whistles that a site can do without if necessary.

If you think your site might be used by more than just a few mobile users then why not use separate CSS style-sheets and use CSS media detection to apply the right one for the right browser, structuring your pages with CSS-P as one long single column. Obviously this will only work easily if you’ve followed best practice with regards to the semantic structure of your pages and use of CSS, but you’ve done that, right, otherwise you wouldn’t be interested in the things being discussed on this forum Wink

None of these things require separate domains or html pages, just forethought, consideration and possibly a few hours or days optimising the layout of those same pages for mobile viewing.

Moving onto your specific example, this is something that I have been exploring myself, as a web application for mobile use needs to be specifically developed for purpose if it is going to be easily usable in a commercial environment - generally speaking. If your client’s staff are going to be accessing secure information via mobile then you might as well build pages fit for purpose, specifically to be used in a hurry via a small viewport. This is why I wanted a good framework (because I’m not skilled enough with JS to emulate a native app) and why I settled on WebApp.net. As the iPhone has such a hold on the market, which is set to increase in the years to come, I’ve chosen to style my pages like a native iPhone app but with different colours and slight design tweeks. And because most modern smart-phone browsers are also WebKit and CSS3 enabled (or so I believe), my apps should also work on Android and Symbian etc. I don’t have other phones to check this out yet, and I haven’t yet got other phone emulators, so don’t take my word for it just yet.

As for vhosts: I’m locating my apps in a directory called mobile such that my clients will go to https://www.normalappurl.com/mobile/ This way it should be easy for them to remember, but obviously you can set up a new domain or sub-domain such as https://www.mobileappurl.com/ or https://mobile.normalappurl.com/ ...the choice is yours.

Like I say, I’m only just getting into all this, so I welcome support or contradiction by any of the regulars of anything I’ve just written Smile

Roy

THREAD HIJACK BY THE OP...

OMG, OMG, OMG - I saw Muse at the London O2 on Friday. OMG, what can I say! It was the best gig I’ve ever seen and I still haven’t come back down to earth yet. Muse have been voted the best live act in the world. The O2 has rightly been voted the best gig venue in the world. Friday night’s concert was generally held to have been the best Muse gig ever by Muse fans who have seen 20 gigs or more, and we had the best seats in the house directly behind the band looking down onto the stage with the entire massive stadium stretched out in front of us. OMG if I never see another live band in my life at least I’ll die happy. Sorry; I just had to boast about this - I can’t help myself!

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OMG Roys turned into a 16

OMG Roys turned into a 16 year old valley girl Tongue

In all of your testing where did you arrive at vis a vis media type handheld ? is css really that well supported across various smartphones? The link I provided earlier might be worth scanning as you have the request headers from a number of smartphones detailed and can see what they support.

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Hugo wrote: OMG Roys turned

Hugo wrote:

OMG Roys turned into a 16 year old valley girl Tongue

I'm doing my best NOT to approach 50 with dignity Cool ...what's your excuse Wink

Hugo wrote:

In all of your testing where did you arrive at vis a vis media type handheld ? is css really that well supported across various smartphones? The link I provided earlier might be worth scanning as you have the request headers from a number of smartphones detailed and can see what they support.

I'm only doing built-for-purpose stuff at the moment, but I'm led to believe that something like this will work well (unless you know different):

<link media="only screen and (max-device-width: 480px)" href="small.css"
type= "text/css" rel="stylesheet">
<link media="screen and (min-device-width: 481px)" href="large.css"
type="text/css" rel="stylesheet">

I haven't tested this yet.

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My excuse? Don't need one

My excuse? Don't need one never been in danger of approaching anything with dignity Big smile

I haven't done any real work with handheld devices, but 16 odd months ago when I looked into scoping out an approach to providing content for handhelds I found - as oft the case - no easy path with many contradictions and pitfalls and a fair amount of development time required.
As far as I'm aware those media attributes work but there doesn't appear to be a one size fits all approach, yet!

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Whilst browsing on my iPod I

Whilst browsing on my iPod I noticed that the ALA site changed perfectly for the small screen. I haven't looked into how they do it yet, but I have bookmarked this page ready to read it when I get chance: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/return-of-the-mobile-stylesheet/

Like I say, I'm doing stuff specifically for phones at the moment, so style-sheet switching is not an issue for me yet. That said, I would like to offer an ALA experience for my website viewers so I really ought to look deeper into the subject.

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Yep I've read that article

Yep I've read that article before and it seems to sum up the state of affairs quite well, some do this, some do that, others do something different altogether so a complete solution is based on various approaches combined and thus a mild headache and fair amount of dev time consumed in the process.

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OK, I’ve just read that ALA

OK, I’ve just read that ALA article again (like you I now realise that I read it some time ago) and a few others, and I like what I see about CSS media queries (the "only screen and (max-device-width: 480px)" method cited in my post above).

My thoughts at this moment in time are this: just as with all the other myriad of conflicting standards and technology issues that plague our lives as web designers and developers, the issue of mobile access to websites is a complete mess. However, a single star shines brightly from the darkness to guide us all: the iPhone (and iPod Touch). Allow me to explain...

I’ve used, or tried to use, plenty of PDAs and other mobile devices to browse the web and organise my life before but they were all so much of a pain to use that they never caught on for me. I love gadgets and I want to have the world at my fingertips, but I want, nay demand, a gadget that is so easy to use and update that I never have to RTFM or compromise my professionalism during meetings whilst I fiddle with knobs and buttons (!) ...”just a minute; I’m sure I’ve got that info here somewhere.” This is what drove me to develop web applications in the first place, because it was simpler to use other people’s PCs and browsers to access my data, even though this sometimes means finding internet cafes.

So then I recognised that my business apps would be extra-usefull if my clients could access them on the go, so I bought a £150 iPhone Touch (basically an iPhone without the phone, GPS and camera) to see what all the fuss was about. Suddenly my world changed. This was the gadget that I’d been waiting for for all these years, and it cost me just £150! I’m not going to hark on too much about the device except to say that it is so easy and such a delight to use that it’s blown me away (no, there’s not an app for that Wink). There are over 100,000 native apps available for it (plus many more web apps that act like native apps) - many of which are free and most of which cost under £2 - that every iPhone/iPod becomes a totally bespoke portable assistant. It’s instant, secure, and fits in a shirt pocket like you forget it’s there. This is all-important to our problem, because people talk to each other and as each new iPhone/iPod customer discovers what all the fuss is about, so they tell their friends. Consequently, iPhone and iPod Touch sales are leaving the competition for dead and Apple are set to continue their domination now that sales have reached the critical-mass required to make constant and rapid product development an ongoing reality (not that Apple where ever slow to innovate before). They have the momentum and are running with it.

Another effect I’ve noticed is that my mobile usage of the net has gone through the roof thanks to Mobile Safari and the sites that have already geared up to mobile visitors. Whereas I used to spend all day in my office on my Mac working, and could not spend any time browsing for my non-commercial interests because ‘her indoors’ would understandably moan about me working all hours (even if I was just reading or researching), now I can take my iPod into the lounge with me (as I do to use Tioti TV+) and read web pages while I sit with my wife watching (or not) the sort of TV programmes that society demands I watch with my family so that they at least see me for a few hours each day other than when we are out and about together. I now even download webpages and PDFs and view them off-line whilst waiting for appointments etc. My life has changed to a noticeable degree and I now feel as ‘empowered’ as all the marketing hype has been hyping about for so long.

Anyway, my point is that the iPhone has the market by the scruff of the neck and the competition is going to have no choice but to make sure that their browsers can properly read web pages designed to look good on an iPhone. In a wonderful and ironic twist of fate, MS and the like are going to have to follow Apple, just as we developers have had no choice but to hack our scripts for IE, only this time Apple are following standards so the others will have to do the same. OK, there are lots of different standards to follow, but having read about Apple’s thinking with Safari, I agree with the way they’re thinking on the whole.

So the bottom line is, I think, at this moment in time, that if we use CSS Media Queries for style-sheet switching, the rest of the world will fall in line with Apple and Opera.

Feel free to disagree and discuss ...anyone Smile

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I agree about the dominance

I agree about the dominance of the iPhone touch or otherwise, it's a phenomena, one of those events where one sees a product essentially set out how things should work.

I had intended to get a Touch - refuse to get an iPhone along with the expensive 18 month tied in contracts - but ended up paying a gas bill instead or something like that Sad , very tempted to just log into Dabs and order one next day delivery Smile

It was my conclusion that despite the massive strides forward that mobile devices had made in the last two years we were in one of those wonderful fun periods where standards compete for dominance, sadly that is never a happy time for us lot as we have to struggle to proved solutions that essentially just wear us down and waste too much dev time, something frankly I am utterly sick of, I want a standard that I can work to and be allowed to simply get on with the hard work, too much to ask?

One offering that mustn't be overlooked or bullied out of the way by iPhone is Opera and their Opera Mini solution, it would have been relatively simple if all phones just had Opera Mini client installed. Opera have done more than any other company on the mobile development front, and are one of those true inovators that I feel tend not to get the praise they deserve?

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Opera take the same line as

Opera take the same line as Apple with regards to reading only screen style sheets with Media Query support Smile

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You can bet that it was Opera

You can bet that it was Opera setting the direction originally though Smile

It's good and bodes well that both these companies are on the same track as one can start to see light at the end of the tunnel and an emerging standard.

Opera Mini developer pages are quite a good resource for writing for mobile devices, well written and clear.

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I read your post with great

I read your post with great interest here and it's very well written. You deserve every credit with that detailed information there.

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sockyee wrote: I read your

sockyee wrote:

I read your post with great interest here and it's very well written. You deserve every credit with that detailed information there.

Why thank you Smile

More to come soon.

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I thought I’d let you know

I thought I’d let you know how I got on with my first mobile web app using WAn (WabApp.Net). In short: very well.

WAn’s beauty is in its simplicity of use. Find a feature that you like in the demo (e.g. a change of page colour scheme when a new page is selected or un-hidden), read the (limited) user guide and/or see how the demo has been coded, and then apply this to your own code. What would ordinarily be a very complex bit of JS coding can usually be applied just by adding just a simple HTML attribute or a couple of lines of JS code, thanks to the way the framework has been written.

You need to have a developers ability to think logically, and it helps if you know the basics of JS (if you want to move beyond the built-in features), but all-in-all I got more impressed with the framework the more I used it, and it is not difficult to think outside the box with regards to extending the standard features. For example, the framework puts a header on every page (as per the Apple standard design) but I wanted a logo at the top of my home page, plus I still wanted child pages to show a ‘home’ button which picks up the text from the text on the home page header (a standard feature). I got around this with CSS and JS by setting the logo as the background image of the parent (home page) header and moving the text off-screen, and then changing the CSS styling with JS as the user taps to change each page view. Thanks to the existing framework hooks, it’s a simple and efficient bit of extra code that even I can manage, and I’m no JS expert.

As I’ve mentioned, the WAn author runs a forum and visits it regularly, so if you have a particular problem, the answer may already be there, or the author, Chrilith, or someone else, will probably chip in with a solution or help. Obviously this will become more effective the more ‘forum type’ people register, if you know what I mean. My username on that forum is losttheplot, by the way.

My first webapp can be seen by pointing your iPhone/iPod Touch to http://buckmore.co.uk/mobile and adding the page as a home-screen icon (this is how it changes from being a normal webpage/site with browser bars, to a slick, full-screen web app with start-screen and custom icon). I’ve asked all the members of the client’s club forum to check the app on other touch-screen smartphones and so far not a single person has said that they can’t use it or don’t like it. Admittedly they don’t see the full-screen view and advanced WebKit features such as sliding page transitions, merging header elements and some of the graduated tints on the lists, but it would seem that they are very happy with what they do see, and don’t miss the iPhone UI bells and whistles because they’ve never seen them on their phones in the first place!

Crucially, the list of compatible phones includes the Palm Pre and Android phones. All this is a bonus as far as I’m concerned, and further shows that the deployment advantages and flexibility of mobile web apps far exceed those of native apps provided you’re aiming at a defined target audience (i.e. one that you can promote the app to) and are not looking to charge for the app (in which case a native app sold via iTunes is the way to go).

My next WAn project is going to be creating a mobile interface for one of my complex commercial desktop web applications (a business management and financial control system), where security is key and the pages are many and varied. I probably won’t be able to start on this for a few months but if anything will test WAn to its limits and beyond, this will. Nobody has yet published a phone app that does anything like what I plan to do with it, so I’m expecting to hit more than a few snags along the way, but I was at least five years ahead of my peers when I first developed the desktop app, so that doesn’t frighten me. I’ll let you know how I get on, but needless to say, WAn remains my chosen tool for attempting what will be the platform-port of a lifetime for me.

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Sadly with my old Nokia N73

Sadly with my old Nokia N73 Symbian Smartphone it renders as a black screen with logo, Knew I should have bought that Touch.

The plain vanilla site renders pretty well though, all in all quite usable.

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Ah yes - Nokia have been very

Ah yes - Nokia have been very slow rolling out a WebKit browser to their phones, but with their S60 browser they have finally caught up with the rest of the industry. You need a new phone Hugo Wink

So many of these firms are so used to setting the pace with their tech that they just aren't geared up to playing catch-up to someone else's standards. MS are the exception in the desktop arena of course, as they have been playing copy and catch-up with Windoze to OSX ever since Gates produced his very first copy of Mac OS, I mean Windows Wink

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And both of them stole the

And both of them stole the gui from GEM er actually Apple tried to sue DRI over GEM so maybe not.

No I don't need a new phone just need a Touch but got cold feet hovering the pointer over the 'Confirm Order' button that and the rumour that the next gen Touch will have video capability, at least the chassis is pre-drilled ready for the camera module, but Apple couldn't get it working correctly in time for the 3rd gen batch

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Hugo, you should read this

Hugo, you should read this before making comments like that > http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=On_Xerox,_Apple_and_Progress.txt and I think I'm right in saying that Apple exchanged lots of shares for the ideas that they used from PARC. MS, on the other hand, did steal Apple's work. But let's not start that old chestnut again.

As I understand the iPod Touch issue, yes the 3G was supposed to have a camera, as can be seen by all the covers that were released just before the 3G, so it will no doubt have one soon, but then the price will probably go up. £149 is a pretty good price for what you get, and there are plenty of deals around that effectively bring that price down even lower. But like all things in the tech world, you have to make the purchasing decision sometime or you'll forever be chasing the next dream and never actually get to use anything!

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More importantly though Hugo,

More importantly though Hugo, you should consider the price of an iPod Touch as a necessary business expense, and waste no time in finding out what all the fuss is about. I'm telling you: 2010 is going to be the year of rapid development for the mobile platform - predominantly iPhone/iPod Touch - and if you don't start getting on board now, you'll be left behind before you know what's hit you. Perhaps you should skim this report > http://www.morganstanley.com/institutional/techresearch/pdfs/2SETUP_12142009_RI.pdf then perhaps you'll understand what I'm saying.

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yeah yeah but he doesn't

yeah yeah but he doesn't mention GEM and that was around pre dating anything Windows had, well windows was still in dos 5 mode or thereabouts.

I'm down with the whole mobile app thang and if we rewind they are posts to be read where I remember making prophetic statements about the importance of mobile computing / web deployment over teeny weeny hand held devises; I just didn't figure that I would not listen to my own advice or at least that circumstances would prevent me properly focusing my time on this aspect as I should have been able Sad

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roytheboy wrote: More

roytheboy wrote:

More importantly though Hugo, you should consider the price of an iPod Touch as a necessary business expense, and waste no time in finding out what all the fuss is about. I'm telling you: 2010 is going to be the year of rapid development for the mobile platform - predominantly iPhone/iPod Touch - and if you don't start getting on board now, you'll be left behind before you know what's hit you. Perhaps you should skim this report > http://www.morganstanley.com/institutional/techresearch/pdfs/2SETUP_12142009_RI.pdf then perhaps you'll understand what I'm saying.

I bought it, I bought it stop having a go Big smile I've got my Christmas present and have been sitting playing for the last hour going 'ooh ah cor wow' a lot. Yes it's all it's cracked up to be. The screen is lovely, so bright and clear.

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Excellent - you know it makes

Excellent - you know it makes sense Wink

I'll compile a list of 'must have' apps for you over Christmas.

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Just had a check of the

Just had a check of the /mobile link; see what you mean, looks slick, far more like an app than a standard web page(Drunk
Not sure what the instructions were though in setting as home-screen it seems to function correctly? or have I missed something, which wouldn't be surprising.

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To create a proper iPhone

To create a proper iPhone ‘app’ icon on sites or apps which have been coded accordingly (this includes many of the BBC news sections):

1. Browse to the appropriate URL, tap the plus sign at the bottom of the screen and select 'Add to Home Screen.' Wait a few seconds to see if a bespoke icon has been created, then tap the bright blue ‘Add’ button. If an icon has not been created, the phone will capture part of the page and use that instead.

2. Hit the home button and admire your shiny new icon.

When you open a page/site from an icon in this way, you get no URL bar or back buttons etc., so it's only really good for single pages like the BBC news sections, or AJAX-coded web apps like zimbra, google app, or my one mentioned above, which then act just like a native app.

It's these web apps which are so good, in that they can be hosted on your own server and deployed without having to go via the app store. Obviously you have to be able to inform your target audience that they're there, but that shouldn't be a problem for a defined list of customers, for example. Apps like this can be a new source of income for developers like us, which is kinda why I'm trying to push you in this direction Wink

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