A few years ago, I tried to give some of my most-used websites a nice, clean look on mobile browsers by adding a stylesheeet with the “handheld” type. Then the iPhone came out and ignored them, and everyone copied that behavior, making it useless.

Somewhere along the line, I revisited the same CSS techniques, but used the “max-width” media query to change the layout on smaller screens. This seemed even better in the long run, since screen size matters more than whether a device is a desktop computer or a handheld computer. (The iPad was nothing but a long-standing rumor in those days, but demonstrates this clearly.)

The raw screenshots (click to view) are slightly larger, but since mobile devices often have denser screens, if you’re reading this on a desktop, it’s probably about the same physical size.

That worked great on the iPhone, and on the G1, which I updated through Android 1.6. I stopped testing it after a while, and no one commented on it, so I figured it was still working. (Reminder to self: that’s always a mistake.)

Last week I got a G2, which came with Android 2.2. Last night I visited one of my websites, and was presented with this shrunken, unreadable mess…because Android doesn’t actually use the real screen size anymore. It pretends it has a bigger screen so that it can present a desktop-like view and then let the user zoom around. Mobile Firefox does the same thing.

<rant>Why is it that every time I find a clean technique to use the same markup on both desktop and mobile devices, some browser manufacturer decides to bypass it in favor of giving the user a clunky imitation desktop view instead of one optimized for their experience?</rant>


Anyway, it turns out it’s possible to fix this problem with the <meta viewport tag> as shown here:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width">

So I can provide nice, clean small-screen layouts again…after I add extra markup to every single page that uses these stylesheets.

Problem solved!

Well, almost. It fixes the layout…but it also prevents the user from zooming out for quick scrolling, which can be awfully useful on a long page.

Screenshots of the Barry Allen Flash profile, taken using the Android SDK emulator with stock Donut and Froyo images.

Android and Me is reporting that all Android phones in the U.S. will get Android 2.1 updates — even the G1 — but that they may be missing some features and some models will need to be wiped as part of the installation.

That makes sense, because it would allow developers to reassign some of the space set aside for over-the-air updates and use it for a larger system instead — and maybe more space for apps.

The possibility that the G1 was headed for obsolescence before my 2-year contract was up didn’t bother me much at first, but I’ve watched as even Google has released high-profile apps that required Android 2. Sure, I doubt the hardware can handle Google Earth, and Buzz turned out to be a dud, but they’re signs that Android 1.6 isn’t going to cut it for much longer.

If it does require a wipe and re-install, I can deal with that. A lot of the key data is either synced with the cloud or stored on the SD card. With luck, T-Mobile and HTC will build a decent backup and restore into the process and I won’t have to reinstall all my apps, bookmarks, etc.

Update August 2010: This is looking less and less likely as time goes on.

One minor rant, and one success story, sort of connected.

The rant: My internet connection is acting kind of flaky tonight. Actually, the connection is fine, but it isn’t talking to some content delivery network(s). All the small-time websites load perfectly, but a lot of the larger ones either aren’t loading at all or are taking ridiculously long. I can load the Facebook timeline, for instance, since that’s dynamically generated…but it took 20 minutes for it to load a handful of static 16×16 pixel buttons for things like sharing links. *grumble*

On the other end of things, I had a great experience with Best Buy’s mobile website earlier today. I’m not sure I’ve ordered anything from BestBuy.com in years. The last thing I can think of was my first decent digital camera…in 2003. Usually if I’m going to buy from them I just walk into the store.

Meanwhile, despite owning my G1 for almost a year, I’ve never actually used it to buy anything that I can recall. Lots of research (ShopSavvy, plus various stores’ websites), but no actual purchases. I decided I wanted to see if I could place an order using just my phone, and it was extremely easy to:

  • Find the item
  • Add it to the cart
  • Select a store for local pickup
  • Update my billing address
  • Place the order

The only real sticking points were:

  • Store locations only listed cities. Fortunately, I could just hit a “map” button and they loaded in the phone’s Google Maps app.
  • I had to reset my password, since it had been so long. Since I have POP access to that account, that meant waiting a few minutes for the whole mailbox to download before I could open the message with the new temporary password. Then I had to write it down because K-9 doesn’t seem to support copying text from incoming mail.

Other than that, everything was not only possible using the Android browser, it was streamlined. If I hadn’t needed to update my address and reset my password, I could have been done in two minutes flat. Maybe three once you factor in typing in the credit card info.

I had a harder time posting a link on Facebook tonight — on my desktop — than ordering something on my phone!

Okay, I get it. By buying the first device of its kind (i.e. an Android-powered smartphone), I’m an early adopter. In a sense I was helping out in a massive public beta as Google, mobile phone carriers, and handset manufacturers worked out the kinks in the design and realized things like, “Oh, we really do need more memory than that, don’t we?”

But it’s still annoying to read the early reports that Android 2.0 “Eclair” won’t fit on the G1.

We have done this dance before, when rumors surfaced that the G1 wouldn’t be able to handle Android 1.6 “Donut.” Fortunately, engineers managed to squeeze it into the space available, and T-Mobile sent out Donut as an OTA (over the air) update to MyTouch and G1 devices alike. But I’ve had time to think about the issue, and my thoughts basically come down to this:

  • New software eventually reaches a point when it can no longer support old hardware. You can’t run Snow Leopard on a G4 or Windows 7 on a Pentium II.
  • When the hardware is usually tied to a fixed-term service contract (in this case, 2 years), the provider really ought to fully support it for the length of that contract. The G1 launched 1 year ago with (in most cases) a 2-year contract.
  • Even if this is the last major update, my phone is still better now than it was when I bought it.

It will be very nice if history repeats itself, and Google and/or T-Mobile finds a way to cram Eclair onto the G1. Even if it means dropping the convenience of OTA updates and instead requiring you to download it to a PC and update over a USB cable. More likely, though, they’ll freeze the G1 on Android 1.6 except for bugfix and security updates, and it’ll be up to unofficial distributions like cyanogen to bring a newer OS to the older phone.

Because I don’t really want to mess with rooting my phone and installing a third-party distribution, if this is the end of the line for the G1, well…Android 2 has some really nice features that I’d really like to be able to use, but nothing that screams “must have!” The only real worry I have at this point is that app developers might start requiring newer versions of Android.

The other option: buy a newer phone. I’ll probably want to do that anyway in a year or so, but I’m not there yet. It still feels like I just got this one.

Update (February 26): It turns out the G1 will get Android 2.1 after all, but will probably require wiping the phone. That makes sense, because it would allow developers to reassign some of the space set aside for over-the-air updates and use it for a larger system instead — and maybe more space for apps.