Normally, I bang on endlessly about Web Accessibility, but occasionally branch out to bore about other things. For Global Accessibility Awareness Day last week, my employers at Babylon Health allowed me to publish a 30 min workshop I gave to our Accessibility Champions Network on how to make accessible business documents. Ok, that might sound dull, but according to I.M.U.S., for every external document an organisation publishes, it generates 739 for internal circulation. I’m using Google Docs in the talk, but the concepts are equally applicable to Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and to authoring web content.
It’s introduced by my Professional Better Half, Taylar Bouwmeester –recipient of the coveted “Friendliest Canadian award” and winner of a gold medal for her record of 9 days of unbroken eye contact in the all-Canada Games– and then rapidly goes downhill thereafter. But you might enjoy watching me sneeze, sniff, and cough because I was under constant assault by spring foliage jizzing its pollen up my nostrils. Hence, it’s “R”-rated. Captions are available (obvz) – thanks Subly!
I am a UK-based web developer and accessibility consultant, specialising in ensuring web sites are inclusive for people with disabilities or who experience other barriers to access–such as living in poorer nations where mobile data is comparatively expensive, networks may be slow and unreliable and people are generally accessing the web on cheap, lower-specification devices.
Although I am UK-based, I have clients around the world, including the USA. And, of course, because the biggest mobile platforms are Android and iOS/iPad, I am affected by the regulatory regime that applies to Google and Apple. I write in a personal capacity, and am not speaking on behalf of any clients or employers, past or present. You have my permission to publish or quote from this document, with or without attribution.
Many of my clients would like to make apps that are Progressive Web Applications. These are apps that are websites, built with long-established open technologies that work across all operating systems and devices, and enhanced to be able to work offline and have the look and feel of an application. Examples of ‘look and feel’ might be to render full-screen; to be saved with their own icon onto a device’s home screen; to integrate with the device’s underlying platform (with the user’s permission) in order to capture images from the camera; use the microphone for video conferencing; to send push notifications to the user.
The benefits of PWAs are advantageous to both the developer (and the business they work for) and the end user. Because they are based on web technology, a competent developer need only make one app that will work on iOS, Android, as well as desktop computers and tablets. This write-once approach has obvious benefits over developing a single-platform (“native”) app for iOS in addition to a single-platform app for Android and also a website. It greatly reduces costs because it greatly reduces complexity of development, testing and deploying.
The benefits to the user are that the initial download is much smaller than that for a single-platform app from an app store. When an update to the web app is pushed by a developer to the server, the user only downloads the updated pages, not the whole application. For businesses looking to reach customers in growing markets such as India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Kenya, this is a competitive advantage.
In the case of users with accessibility needs due to a disability, the web is a mature platform on which accessibility is a solved problem.
However, many businesses are not able to offer a Progressive Web App, largely due to Apple’s anti-competitive policy of requiring all browsers on iOS and iPad to use its own engine, called WebKit. Whereas Google Chrome on Mac, Windows and Android uses its own engine (called Blink), and Firefox on non-iOS/iPad platforms uses its own rendering engine (called Gecko), Apple’s policy requires Firefox and Chrome on iOS/iPad to be branded skins over WebKit.
This “Apple browser ban” has the unfortunate effect of ham-stringing Progressive Web Apps. Whereas Apple’s Safari browser allows web apps (such as Wordle) to be saved to the user’s home screen, Firefox and Chrome cannot do so–even though they all use WebKit. While single-platform iOS apps can send push notifications to the user, browsers are not permitted to. Push notifications are high on business’ priority because of how it can drive engagement. WebKit is also notably buggy and, with no competition on the iOS/iPad platform, there is little to incentivise Apple to invest more in its development.
Apple’s original vision for applications on iOS was Web Apps, and today they still claim Web Apps are a viable alternative to the App Store. Apple CEO Tim Cook made a similar claim last year in Congressional testimony when he suggested the web offers a viable alternative distribution channel to the iOS App Store. They have also claimed this during a court case in Australia with Epic.
Yet Apple’s own policies prevent Progressive Web Apps being a viable alternative. It’s time to regulate Apple into allowing other browser engines onto iOS/iPad and giving them full access to the underlying platform–just as they currently are on Apple’s MacOS, Android, Windows and Linux.
Developing a Report on Competition in the Mobile App Ecosystem – The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration is preparing a Report on Competition in the Mobile App Ecosystem, following Biden’s Executive Order to address the problem of “dominant tech platforms undermining competition and reducing innovation”. Includes PWAs and #AppleBrowserBan in scope.
Bundle Buddy – “Visualizing what code is in your web bundle, and how it got there” for all your “we had great DX writing this, why is it so slow and such a network hog and why are our customers using our competitors’ fast apps instead?” needs
today a small number of dominant internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants, to extract monopoly profits, and to gather intimate personal information that they can exploit for their own advantage. Too many small businesses across the economy depend on those platforms and a few online marketplaces for their survival
NTIA is looking for “concrete and specific information as to what app developers, organizations, and device (i.e.,phones; tablets) users experience, and any potential challenges or barriers that limit app distribution or user adoption”. Written comments must be received on or before 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on May 23, 2022.
Several of its questions encompass Apple hamstringing Progressive Web Apps by requiring all iThing browsers use its own bundled WebKit framework, which has less power than Safari or single-platform iOS apps. Here are some of the questions:
How should web apps (browser-based) or other apps that operate on a mobile middleware layer be categorized?
What unique factors, including advantages and obstacles, are there generally for app development — especially start-ups — that are relevant for competition?
Are there studies or specific examples of the costs or advantages for app developers to build apps for either, or both, of the main operating systems, iOS and Android (which have different requirements)?
What other barriers (e.g.,legal, technical, market, pricing of interface access such as Application Programing Interfaces [APIs]) exist, if any, in fostering effective interoperability in this ecosystem?
How do policy decisions by firms that operate app stores, build operating systems, or design hardware impact app developers (e.g., terms of service for app developers)?
How do, or might, alternative app stores (other than Google Play or the Apple App Store), affect competition in the mobile app ecosystem?
What evidence is there to assess whether an app store model is necessary for mobile devices, instead of the general-purpose model used for desktop computing applications?
Is there evidence of legitimate apps being rejected from app stores or otherwise blocked from mobile devices? Is there evidence that this is a common occurrence or happens to significant numbers of apps?
Are there specific unnecessary (e.g., technical) constraints placed on this ability of app developers to make use of device capabilities, whether by device-makers, service providers or operating system providers, that impact competition?
OMG let it be true: The leaked “final” version of the Digital Markets Act: A summary in ten points – “Article 5 point (e) has been expanded to capture instances where the gatekeeper requires business users to offer or interoperate with a web browser engine. This is most likely meant to address Apple’s policy of requiring all browsers running on iOS to utilize Apple’s WebKit browser engine”
Learn PWA – A course that breaks down every aspect of modern progressive web app development
CSS Parent Selector “In this article, I will explain the problem that :has solves, how it works, where and how we can use it with some use-cases and examples, and most importantly how we can use it today.”
Designing for Children – “An evolving guide that aims to refine a new standard for both design and business to direct the development towards products and services that have ethics and children’s best interests at their core.”
The Infinite Exploitation Of Cryptocurrency – “code is law”, so an attacker took $600 million of cryptocurrency from the browser-based play-to-earn blockchain game Axie Infinity, in complete accordance with the contracts involved, because Sky Mavis (the developers) had allowed them to.
The Wall Street Journal indicated that many companies are looking for personnel with accessibility skills and that they can’t find them easily…The number of job listings with ‘accessibility’ in the title grew 78% in the year ending in July  from the previous 12 months, LinkedIn said.
Get ahead! Crush, grind, mash and maim lesser developers! Earn more cash! You can acquire better “accessibility skills” than 90% of the developers on the market by
Are we live? – “If you have an interface where content is dynamically updated, and when the content is updated it does not receive focus, then you likely are going to need a live region.” Scott O’Hara does a deep dive into the fun quirks of live regions in real Assistive Tech.
What makes writing more readable? “An examination of translating text to make it as accessible as possible.” I found this fascinating, especially as each paragraph of the article has a translation next to it
Version 100 in Chrome and Firefox “Chrome and Firefox will reach version 100 in a couple of months. This has the potential to cause breakage on sites that rely on identifying the browser version to perform business logic. This post covers the timeline of events, the strategies that Chrome and Firefox are taking to mitigate the impact, and how you can help.”
PWA Haven – Really neat collection of utility apps, all implemented as PWAs and using powerful Project Fugu. “The goal is to have PWA’s replace as many simple native apps as possible” by ThaUnknown_
Browsing with assistive technology videos – EXCELLENT short videos (<5 mins) that show you how people using screen readers, keyboard-only, screen magnifiers etc use the web. And narrated ASMR-style by “Mr Mellifluous” Pattypoo Lauke
Going Dutch – The continuing saga of Apple’s conflict with the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) — the Dutch equivalent of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. By John Gruber, so expect some reality distortion field.
Using Google Fonts Breaches GDPR – “The Bavarian state court in Munich, Germany, on 20 January 2022, decided that using Google fonts in your site breaches the GDPR” (the linked version. Self-hosting doesn’t breach GDPR, and is better for performance by eliminating another DNS lookup)
No, Apple Did Not Crowdfund :focus-visible in Safari – Uncle Eric sets the record straight: “The addition of :focus-visible to WebKit was lead by the community, done by Igalia, and contributed to WebKit without any involvement from Apple except in the sense of their reviewing patches and accepting the contributions.”
Talking of Igalia, Wolvic is an open source browser “that opens a portal to the Web and all it has to offer, including immersive games, videos, and environments built for XR” from your chums at Mozilla and Igalia