Google Chrome Reverses Course- Will Implement Pointer Events

This is great news. One of the worst chapters from a standards perspective in The Uncertain Web was on user input. At the time I wrote the chapter, I had a relatively positive tone. The flow of the chapter led to a discussion of Pointer Events and how, with support in IE and intended implementation in both Firefox and Chrome, we were on the cusp of having a sane way to deal with user input across devices and form factors.

Then it all went to hell.

Here’s what I wrote in the book:

As you’ve read in the chapter on user input, the Pointer Events specification, proposed by Microsoft, favored by Firefox and adopted by the W3C, is up in the air because Chrome isn’t sure whether or not they are going to support it. This was announced after I finished the chapter on user input. I found out via Twitter that Chrome was going to pull planned support for Pointer Events and felt about as deflated as I’ve ever felt about a web standards topic. For one thing, I like Pointer Events. I’m not sharing them as the way of the future just to be hip and share the new stuff. I really like them. Secondly, Google’s proposed alternative, “incrementally extending our existing input APIs” doesn’t really offer much of a salve to the wound of two wasted years looking for this specification to get off the ground and into browsers.

Maybe, like the door on +picture+ being reopened and bursting through to get into the specification, the already specified Pointer Events’ work will come back from the dead and make it into Chrome and the rest of modern browsers. The Chrome team are listening to feedback, so hopefully that’s just what’s going to happen.

We shall see.

Here’s what I wrote when Chrome announced the changed status of the original intent to implement:

I’ve already had to rewrite a book chapter on input on the web because of Chrome dropping support for Pointer Events (you were the good guys- along with IE you form an 800lb gorilla) to be a lot more bleak (now Chrome is the bad guys and we don’t have any solution on the horizon.) Nothing would please me more than to revert to the original take on that chapter.

I also don’t want to pin my hopes on this issue getting sorted out on the vague promise of “extensions” to the existing screwed up mess. What guarantee do we have that Apple will be any more interested in “extensions.” Will Chrome’s BFFs on the IE team be interested in “extensions?” If we’re looking at incremental extensions as the solution (with no more details than that,) I will be retired, drinking coffee at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè and struggling my way through La Gazzetta dello Sport before the issue of user input on the modern web is sorted out in a way that benefits developers and end users. Smart people are doing stupid things with this stuff because it’s a complicated issue. Browser vendors and the W3C have to lead on this and sort it out from up on high because the bottom up approach isn’t working right now.

Thankfully, the Chrome team listened to reason (and a flood of negative feedback for their decision) and have reversed course.

Now we just need to get the new jQuery-driven version of the Pointer Events polyfill project ready for prime time and we’ll be all set.

As an aside, if there’s one good thing that came out of Chrome’s decision is that they Polymer team deprecated the Pointer Events Polyfill and passed the codebase over to jQuery. The Polymer version of the polyfill had a high barrier to entry to even get to use. I just linked to a version in my own code repo for the book because I hated the idea of forcing people to go through a multiple-dependency, poorly documented rigmarole just to “install” the polyfill. The jQuery team will, eventually, have a handy download link right on the site- like a normal project.

The Uncertain Web: Pointer Event Polyfill and Chrome Fragmentation

Fat Stacks

The Uncertain Web might be out, but that doesn’t mean that I’m done talking about the current state of the open web platform. I’m going to get back to writing a little bit here (as there are no more books on the immediate horizon) and as part of that I’m going to cover some topics that relate to the book under this “the Uncertain Web” headline. Two such topics have bubbled to the surface in recent weeks.

Chrome Fragmentation

Peter Paul-Koch wrote about the ongoing fragmentation of Chrome (specifically Chromium based browsers) last week. He’s identified 11 separate versions on mobile and he details his findings in his post “Chrome continues to fall apart at brisk pace.

There are a lot of things about this that tie into what I’m talking about in the book.

For starters, you might assume that if you test in Chrome on a single Android device or, even worse, test in Chrome on the desktop with just the emulation feature of the Developer Tools you’re fine since it’s all “just Chrome.” That’s clearly not the case. This is exactly what I’m talking about when I urge you to “question your assumptions.”

Secondly, the importance of testing with real devices can’t be understated. I outlined a luxury testing strategy in the book that targeted a half dozen separate Android versions. As PPK’s article illustrates even that is not enough to get the full picture. Still, even falling short of a perfect testing plan, getting a variety of different devices running different Android flavors is important to ensure that you’re really testing your site or application and aren’t merely kicking the tires. Multiply that across iOs, Windows, and whatever else strikes your fancy and you’ll have a robust testing regime for the current state of the web.

Finally, this Chromium soup illustrates the importance of sticking to the tried and true methods of web development that we’ve established over the past decade and a half. Building baseline experiences that work across the broadest range of browsers and devices is going to be the best way to reach the widest possible audience. You shouldn’t have to worry about what browser people are using. 11 versions of Chrome shouldn’t keep you up at night. As long as you’re paying attention to features, using feature detection and device characteristics using media queries you’re going to be better off than if you’re sitting around fixating on the different versions and trying to piece together the differences into some bizarre matrix of pain.

I know there are a lot of people out there that have started to put together sites that only work in Chrome (including knuckleheads from Google that really ought to know better and should be setting a better example for the rest of the web.) That’s a terrible idea to begin with as there are hundreds of millions of people on other browsers out there. Then you factor in this inability to define what “Chrome” even is, and it’s clear that this new-fangled “this site is best viewed in Chrome” trend is even worse than the old-school “this site is best viewed in Internet Explorer” trend. At least back then it was a monoculture with just a handful of variations of IE in the wild and the browser’s penetration was nearly 90%.

Put some PEP in your Step

Since it’s an important aspect of modern web development that remains confusing for many developers, I wrote a whole chapter in the book on dealing with user input on the web. The importance of properly handling user input on the web should be obvious. If you can’t handle clicks of the mouse and taps of the finger on a screen, you’re not going to get very far as a web developer. It’s a complicated mess and plenty of smart people screw it up.

Check out Patrick H. Lauke’s Getting touchy presentation for the best possible overview (that doesn’t involve me re-writing a whole book chapter here.)

The tone of the chapter in The Uncertain Web was initially a hopeful one. There’a technology out there, Pointer Events, created by Microsoft and adopted by the W3C that unifies user input (mouse, finger, stylus, whatever) into a single API. When I initially wrote the chapter, there was support in Internet Explorer (obviously,) intent to implement from Firefox and an open issue to do the same (behind a flag) in Chromium. If all three had fallen into line then there would have been some possibility of forcing Safari’s hand and getting them, too, to implement this simplified interface. That was my hope at least and my tone (originally) reflected that.

Them, during the technical review for the book, the Chromium issue was closed. The Chrome team had decided against implementing Pointer Events in favor of unspecified “enhancements” to the existing Touch APIs So, I had to rewrite the chapter and cast Chrome as the villain in this particular tale. It was a bummer. Especially as, at the same time, the Polymer team deprecated support for their Pointer Events Polyfill. Suddenly we were down one browser and had no supported, high quality polyfill for the technology.

That’s the way the book went out the door. User input on the web was still a mess and Google was the villain.

Then, as the book was finally making its way onto the shelves it was announced that the jQuery foundation was taking over maintenance of the Pointer Events Polyfill. At least in my house, there was much rejoicing.

It’s still early days in the transition, but the project is already active on Github. I’m watching the project. You should too.

Pointer Events are, whatever Google thinks, a better solution to handling user input on the web. Beyond it being easier to code, and it is, it also does away with the conceptual problem many people have with this corner of web development. Despite serious effort from a lot of people, developers still think of it as a binary “touch” or “mouse” choice. It’s not.

If people start to think about “pointers” as a unified interface maybe people will stop doing things like the following example I’ve pulled from Wired.

If you visit with a touch enabled laptop, mouse clicks simply don’t work. To activate many interactive elements you have to touch the screen. It’s super annoying.

Here’s why it happens.

Looking at their code, they’re using a ternary operator to create an event alias named touchity, by using crude test to set the event name as touchstart on browsers with touch capability and click on everything else:

var touchity = ( ('ontouchstart' in window) ||  (window.DocumentTouch  && document instanceof DocumentTouch) ) ? 'touchstart' : 'click'; 

So, later on, when events are bound and touchity is passed into jQuery’s $.on, under the hood, only touchstart or click is set:

$('.wp35-gallery .nav').add('.curtain').on(touchity, function(e) 
  if (isThisADoubleTap()) {
  if ($(this).hasClass('next') 
      || ( === 'curtain-right')) {
  } else {

This breaks on any device with a mouse and a touch screen. For a personal example, with my current set-up I’ve got a touch enabled laptop set up as a workstation 90% of the time. The laptop itself has a touch screen. The external monitor does not. When I visit wired, I get the “touchstart” events even though the screen I’m using isn’t touch enabled. This means the browser being touch-enabled is true on one screen, but not the other, no matter what the browser API reports to their crude test.

To activate a slideshow or other link on I need to drag the window from the external monitor to my laptop, reach up and touch the screen.


Pointer Events helps to make fundamental conceptual errors like that go away because you never think about whether it’s touch or mouse or stylus or three dimensional gesture or eye tracking or thought control or whatever. You just have a pointer.

So, follow the project, use the polyfill and then we can all bug Google to get back on the side of the angels.

Using CSS zoom and CSS Transforms For a Better “Increase Text Size” Button

So… the site I’m working on has one of those “increase text size” controls. On this project it’s turned out to be one of those features that shows up in comps and somehow falls through the cracks until later on in the project cycle. Situation normal, really, as it isn’t a big feature. It’s just one of those things that needs to be buttoned up before the site can go live.

Anyway, I was thinking about how to do implement it the other day. I haven’t done one of these in a long time and the only other time I did one it involved crafting separate, albeit small, style sheets for the larger text sizes. I didn’t want to go that way again. Basically, I just didn’t want to write new style sheets- even small ones.

What’s a fella to do?


So, thinking about it a little bit, I seized upon using the non-standard CSS zoom property. Supported in Internet Explorer (zoom:1 is often used for a hasLayout toggle) and Webkit browsers, it would represent a simple (1 line!) CSS solution to this problem. It’s also one that I like better aesthetically as the site looks the same, just bigger. I figure there’s a reason all browsers have moved to this behavior when hitting ctrl+.

The problem was figuring out an equivalent for FireFox and Opera which don’t support zoom

Enter CSS 2D Transform

A little searching and experimenting later I came up with the idea of using CSS Transforms and the scale value to approximate zoom in browsers that lack support.

Let’s see how I did it.

As you go through the following keep in mind this hasn’t actually gone through testing yet so something weird could yet shake out. I just wrote this code yesterday, so you guys can be my sanity check.

Also, is anyone else doing this?

Continue reading “Using CSS zoom and CSS Transforms For a Better “Increase Text Size” Button”

Recent Reading (JS Natives Duke it Out, Regexp in jQuery, Performance, a New Image Format?)

Sorry, it’s been a while. I’ve been busy at work, I’ve been wringing every last bit out of summer on my bike, and I’ve spent a lot of my free time on my upcoming CSS presentation, so I haven’t been posting as much as I would like. Fall is here. Which means I should have more time for writing. That’s cool.

Anyway, to break the ice here are a few articles that have recently caught my attention.
Continue reading “Recent Reading (JS Natives Duke it Out, Regexp in jQuery, Performance, a New Image Format?)”

My Personal View of Browser Market Share is Pretty Sweet- Firefox Rules, Chrome is Massive, IE6 is Nearly Dead

Here are the numbers for in the year 2009. There were 614,333 visits to that domain last year and the top browsers broke down like this:

Browser # of Visits % of Visits
Firefox 342429 55%
Internet Explorer 162977 26%
Chrome 35801 5.8%
Safari 33545 5.4%
Opera 22826 3.7%

Continue reading “My Personal View of Browser Market Share is Pretty Sweet- Firefox Rules, Chrome is Massive, IE6 is Nearly Dead”