Mobile Archive

NFC Technologies

With 150 million NFC equipped phones shipped in 2012, and an expected 1b+ million phone equipped with NFC to be shipped by 2016, NFC technology is going to be the next generation solutions for interactive consumer experiences . With companies, such as Google, Samsung and (eventually) Apple, backing NFC technology with chips within their handsets giving consumers a way to use the NFC chips built into their phones, it’s becoming seemingly obvious that this technology is growing rapidly.

NFC Technologies also identified by the Razorfish leadership team as one of the top technologies for 2012 and beyond. NFC technology is about to revolutionize the access control industry to create, use and manage secure identity on NFC-enabled smartphones. NFC will change how people access digital content, connect online content with printed media, social media check-in and boost loyalty program, deliver multiple experience regardless of where you are in the landscape.  Smartphone users will  have a single device that provides physical access to their home and workplace, consume various experiences, secure access to their PCs and corporate networks and many more.

NFC Technologies presentation can be viewed or downloaded from Slideshare

Android, platform without a vendor?

Tim Bray spoke at the Razorfish technology summit a couple of years ago. It looks like he’s finally leaving Sun/Oracle to join Google and work on the Android platform. Android has been getting plenty of press and looks like a fun device, I’ve played around with a bunch. In Tim’s post about joining Google, he gives credit to Dave Winer for recognizing that Android is the ‘_platform without a vendor’._  That’s a neat way to put it. At the end of the day, the most exciting thing to me is choice, competition, and different perspectives. We are all guessing at where the future is headed and the only way to find out is through experimentation and learning.

Detecting CSS transitions support using JavaScript

Progressive enhancement is one of the cornerstones of good web design: You build a solid foundation that supports a broad range of different browsers, and then add features either as you detect support for them or in a way that doesn’t interfere with less capable browsers.

One of the awesome new features that’s in recent versions of Safari, Safari Mobile (iPhone browser), Chrome, the Android browser, and in Palm’s webOS is CSS transitions. Transitions work by smoothly interpolating between two states of a CSS property over time. For example, using the simple style rules below, you could have a link gradually change from yellow to red when the user moves the mouse over it:

a {color: yellow; -webkit-transition: color 1s linear;}
a:hover {color: red;}

In a more complicated example, you could use CSS transitions to slide an element off-screen when a replacement element is introduced, like the way that the “pages” slide off-screen when you click through an iPhone’s contacts.

This introduces a problem: What if you’re using JavaScript to add the new element, and you want to remove the old element after it’s off screen, and you need to support multiple browsers?

You need to be able to detect that the browser supports CSS transitions so that you know not to remove the element until it’s done animating, and so that you know that it’s OK to remove the element right away for browsers that don’t support CSS transitions. Here’s how you can detect support using JavaScript:

var cssTransitionsSupported = false;
(function() {
    var div = document.createElement('div');
    div.innerHTML = '<div style="-webkit-transition:color 1s linear;-moz-transition:color 1s linear;"></div>';
    cssTransitionsSupported = ( !== undefined) || ( !== undefined);
    delete div;

The variable cssTransitionsSupported will be set to true when transitions are supported, or to false when transitions are not supported.

You can then either use the webkitTransitionEnd (or mozTransitionEnd) events to detect when the transition is finished, or else immediately perform the action when transitions aren’t supported.

SXSW to Go: Creating Razorfish’s iPhone Guide to Austin (Part 3)


As the Razorfish Guide to SXSW became more fully developed, we started to look at key areas where we could make performance gains and either actually speed up the site or simply make the site appear to load more quickly. (Check out part 1 of our story to see how requirements for the site were gathered and part 2 to learn about how the site was architected)

Cache it good

One of the earliest steps we took to optimize the application was to use server-side caching. ASP.NET allows you to cache just about anything on the server for quick retrieval. Taking advantage of this feature means that you can avoid extra trips to the database, requests to other services, and repeating other slow or resource-intensive operations. The Razorfish.Web library’s abstraction makes ASP.NET’s caching easy to use, and we quickly added it both to all database calls and to store most MVC models.

Zip it up

A second key optimization was to add GZIP compression to our assets. GZIP compression shrinks the size of most text-based files (like HTML or JSON) down to almost nothing, and makes a huge difference in the amount of time it takes for a slow mobile client to download a response. IIS7 has this feature built in, but we were running the site off of an IIS6 server. Happily, Razorfish.Web.Mvc has an action filter included that supports compressing your responses with GZIP.

Strip out that whitespace

Next, we used Razorfish.Web’s dynamic JavaScript and CSS compression to strip out unnecessary characters and to compact things like variable names. Minifying your scripts and stylesheets reduces their file size dramatically. One of the nice features of Razorfish.Web is that it also can combine multiple files together, reducing the overall number of requests that a client has to make. All of this happens dynamically, so you’re free to work on your files in uncompressed form, and you don’t have to worry about going out of your way to compact and combine files.


Another key optimization was combing all of the image assets into a single file, and using CSS background positioning to choose what image to display. Doing this not only cuts the number of requests that have to be made (from 10 to 1, in our case), but also cuts the overall amount of data that needs to be loaded. Each file has its own overhead, and you can cut that overhead by combining them.

Keep it in-line

As we started testing on the actual iPhone, we still weren’t satisfied with the page’s load time. There was a significant delay between the page loading and the scripts loading over the slow EDGE network. This defeated the purpose of the JSON navigation because the user was apt to click a link before the scripts had a chance to load and execute – meaning that they’d have to load a new HTML page. If the scripts were delivered in-line with the page, there would be no additional request, and they could execute right away. Because the successive content was to be loaded with JSON, concerns about caching the scripts and styles separately from the page were moot. We set about extending Razorfish.Web so that it could now insert the combined and compressed contents of script and style files directly into the page. By moving the scripts and styles in-line, we shaved off about 50% of our load time, and the scripts were now executing quickly enough that the JSON navigation mattered again.

Smoke and mirrors

A final touch was to take advantage of Safari Mobile’s CSS animation capabilities. The iPhone supports hardware-accelerated CSS transitions and animations, meaning fast and reliable animation for your pages. We added a yellow-glow effect to buttons when pressed. The glow was not only visually appealing, but its gradual appearance also helped to distract the user for the duration of the load time of the successive content.


The team managed to pull the web application together in time for launch, and the guide was a smashing success. Over the course of SXSW, was visited by 2,806 people who spent an average of 10 minutes each on the site, typically viewed about 8 pages, and often came back for second and third visits. The site attracted a large amount of buzz on Twitter and was praised as the go-to guide for the conference.

When designing for mobile, speed is key. All of the components of the site, including the design, need to work together to connect the user to the content as quickly and as efficiently as possible. In such a hyper-focused environment, the user experience, graphic design, and technology need to be unified in supporting a shared goal.

By producing a responsive, reliable, easy-to-use, to-the-point, and locally-flavored guide to the city, the team succeeded in creating a memorable and positive impression of Razorfish at SXSW.

SXSW to Go: Creating Razorfish's iPhone Guide to Austin (Part 2)

Design and Development

Up against a tight deadline, our small team was working fast and furious to create the Razorfish mobile guide to Austin in time for the SXSW Interactive conference. With our technologies determined and all eyes on the iPhone, we set out to bring the guide to life. (Check out part 1 of our story to find out more about how we set requirements and chose technologies)

The meat and potatoes

The guide is content-driven, and we knew that the site wouldn’t be given a second look without strong content to back it up. Our team decided on structuring the site as nesting categories with a design reminiscent of the iPhone’s Contacts application, and breadcrumb navigation (as is found in the iTunes Store).

With the flow determined, the creative director started developing the content categories and soliciting suggestions from the office about their favorite Austin haunts. She enlisted an information architect to assist with writing the site’s content, and they churned out the site’s content over the next several weeks.

Simultaneously, one of our presentation layer developers began work on graphic design, another focused on hosting and infrastructure, and I began working on database and application architecture.

Getting around

The first major issue we tackled when working on the front-end of the site was navigation. We had identified several features that were essential for the guide to perform satisfactorily:

  • Rather than load a new page, new “pages” of data should be loaded as JSON, and then have their HTML constructed on the client-side. JSON is a very compact way of moving data and is easy to support using JavaScript’s eval function. By using JSON to communicate between the server and the content, we avoided the performance hits of loading a larger request, rendering a fresh page, running scripts again, and checking cached components against the server. Those performance issues are often negligible on a PC with fast internet connection and plenty of memory, but on a mobile device, every byte and every request makes a noticeable impact.

  • Data need to be cached on the client whenever possible, and making repeat requests to the server for the same data should be avoided.

  • The browser’s history buttons (Back and Forward) must work, and ideally work without making new requests to the server.

  • The site must be navigable in browsers that cannot properly support AJAX.

To satisfy both the first and last requirements, we were going to have to effectively have two versions of every page running in parallel (a JSON version for AJAX-ready clients and an HTML version for others). Luckily, the MVC framework makes this easy on the server. By properly defining our data model classes, we could either send the model object to a view page for each of the data points to be plugged in and rendered as HTML, or we could directly serialize the model to JSON and send it to the client. To make it easy for the client script to select the right version, all of the JSON page URLs were made identical to the HTML URLs, except with “/Ajax” pre-pended. With this URL scheme in place, JavaScript could simply intercept all hyperlinks on a page, add “/Ajax” to the location, and load a JSON version of the content instead of a whole new page.

To determine when to use JSON and when to use HTML, we did some simple capabilities testing. If window.XMLHttpRequest, the W3C standard AJAX class, exists, then it was safe to use JSON navigation on the client. Incidentally, Internet Explorer and many mobile browsers do not support this object, which greatly simplified later development.

Several JavaScript classes were created to support page rendering: A history class to manage caching and the forward/back buttons, a base page class that would take care of rendering JSON into HTML, and an application class that would manage the interactions between the pages, the history, and the user. A handful of page types were identified, and subclasses were created from the base page for each specialized layout and different data model.

A method called BrowseTo was defined on the application class that would handle all actions associated with the user clicking a link or going to a new URL. _BrowseTo** **_did several things:

  1. Identify the JSON URL (dropping the “http” and the domain, and adding “/Ajax”)

  2. Determining what page class to use to render the JSON data

  3. Checking if there’s already cached data for the URL, and making a request to get the data if there’s not

  4. Instructing the page to render

  5. Instructing the history to add the new page to the list of visited sites

  6. Caching the JSON data from the response in memory if a new request was made

Due to time constraints, we opted to use “dirty-caching” for JSON data. When dirty-caching, you’re storing the JSON object in memory under a key. In this case, the key was the URL. There are a few downsides to this method:

  • Storage isn’t persistent, and only lasts as long as the browser is open on that page

  • You’re using up memory, not disk space, to store data, which could eventually overwhelm the client and cause it to crash

Because the size of the data that we were caching was very small, and dirty-caching is both very fast to implement and universally supported, we used it to temporarily story data. Given more time, we would have taken advantage of the iPhone’s HTML 5 local storage features. On any browser that supports this feature, you can store data in a database on the client. Many web applications take advantage of this feature to provide persistent offline access to content. The downside is that the HTML 5 local storage API is somewhat tricky to implement properly and is currently confined to a select few browsers.

A little bit of history

Forward and back button support comes naturally when you’re loading new pages, but for the JSON version of the site, we implemented a solution based on URL hashes (the # data at the end of a URL). Most browsers will include URL hashes as a state that can be navigated to using the forward and back buttons. By regularly scanning the URL hash, you can update your page when there’s a change and simulate forward/back button support. Our history class was designed to add the “/Ajax” path as the URL hash, making it easy to determine what JSON data to load when the hash changed.

With our navigation system intact, and our creative team churning out new content for the site, we took a step back and started to look at performance. Check back next week, and see how we fine tuned the site to work quickly and responsively on the iPhone.

SXSW to Go: Creating Razorfish’s iPhone Guide to Austin (Part 1)

Once a year, the internet comes to visit Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference, and, for 2009, the Razorfish Austin office was determined to leave an impression. We ended up making close to 3,000 impressions.

Industry leaders and the web avante-garde converge on Austin for one weekend each year to learn, network, and see the cutting edge of interactive experience and technology. And also to take advantage of any number of open bars. It is a conference, after all.

The Razorfish Austin office typically plays host to a networking event and takes out ad space in the conference guidebook. In 2009, confronted with shrinking budgets in the wake of the global financial crisis, we knew we had to set ourselves apart and do it on the cheap.

iPhone Apps were on everyone’s mind (and would be in every conference-attendee’s pocket), and would prove to be the perfect venue to showcase Razorfish’s skill and Austin’s personality. In late January 2009, Three presentation layer developers and a creative director formed a small team and set out to build an iPhone-ready guide to Austin.

Over this series of articles, I’ll be diving into how we created the Razorfish Guide to SXSW iPhone-optimized web site. Part 1 will deal with requirements gathering and technology choices, part 2 will cover design and development, and part 3 will talk about what we did to optimize the mobile experience.


The first thing we did as a team was to sit down and discuss what the guide had to be. Going in, we knew we wanted it to be on the iPhone because of the cachet associated with the device. We also knew that we had a very condensed timeline to work in – we needed to launch in 5-6 weeks, and we all had other projects that required our focus.

To App, or not to App?

One of the first decisions we made was to approach the guide as an iPhone Web App, rather than building an Objective-C compiled application. We knew that we didn’t have a technical resource who already knew Objective-C available and that we would have trouble getting approval and into the App Store in time for our launch. Most importantly, we needed as many people as possible to be able to use the guide, and didn’t have time to create different versions for different devices.

iPhone Web Applications offer not only a way to leverage the iPhone’s impressive graphical capabilities, thanks to Safari mobile’s excellent standards and future CSS support, but also a way to reach other platforms using progressive enhancement (testing for a feature, and then enhancing the experience for clients that support that feature).

Mobile madness

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of mobile browsers out there, with wildly differing interpretations of CSS and JavaScript. Check out Peter-Paul Koch’s CSS and JavaScript mobile compatibility tables if you need convincing. Supporting multiple mobile devices is no cakewalk, especially since many of them have incorrect or misleading user agents.

The iPhone was our target, and some mobile browsers, such as many versions of Opera Mobile, also have relatively good standards support, but what about IE Mobile or Blackberry?

We quickly came to the conclusion that, because of the condensed timeline, we should test in and support Safari Mobile only, however, that the site also needs to be fully usable with no CSS or JavaScript whatsoever. By ensuring this baseline level of functionality, we could be certain that even the Blackberry browser could at least limp across the finish line.

Back to the desktop

Along with choosing mobile browsing platforms to support, we also had to decide for which desktop browsers to design the site. Ordinarily, desktop compatibility testing is dominated by Internet Explorer 6, but this site was geared towards web designers and developers.

That means more people would be visiting the site using Chrome than would be IE6.

IE6 was swiftly kicked to the curb, and we settled on fully supporting Firefox 3, Safari 3 and Chrome, with basic support for Internet Explorer 7. Safari and Chrome support came almost for free, because the two render almost identically to iPhone’s Safari Mobile.

Site be nimble, site be quick

Supporting mobile devices supporting weak signals, slow connections, small screens, bite-sized memory, and users who are on the go. There are a number of factors conspiring against any mobile website, and we knew that we would have to eke every last bit of performance out in order to overcome them.

Limit the chatter

Client interaction with the server not only increases design complexity, but it also increases the size and number of requests. There were several key factors that made us decide to keep forms and complex interactivity out of the site:

  • Applications that use forms have to validate the data, and guard against attacks. This can slow down the experience, and also would require a more in-depth security review.

  • POST requests are slow. Data-heavy responses are slow. Increasing the number of requests involved in typical usage puts a heavier burden on the server and delays the user in getting from point A to point B.

  • Sites that can be customized or that allow the user to log in typically can’t cache data as efficiently, because page data is often sensitive to the user.

To make the site run quickly, launch on time, and be successful in its goals, the application would be focused on being the best guide it could be, and not on integrating your Twitter account and kitchen sink.

Sell the brand

Lastly, the guide had to make Razorfish look good and leave a strong impression of who we are and what we’re all about. If the guide was as informative and fast and easy to use as can be, but didn’t sell our brand, it would be a failure.


Based on the requirements we gathered, the team picked familiar development libraries and languages to work with.

XHTML, CSS and JavaScript

These languages should come as no surprise, as they’re integral to all web applications. An important decision that we did make, however, was that no JavaScript or CSS frameworks should be used.

For desktop development, our industry has become increasingly reliant on JavaScript frameworks to smooth out cross-browser wrinkles and speed up our work. Generally, JavaScript frameworks excel at meeting both of those goals.

There are a couple problems when considering a JavaScript framework for mobile development:

  • Frameworks add a lot of bulk to the page. 54 KB for jQuery 1.3 isn’t much on the desktop, where fast internet connections are common, but it’s painful over 2G wireless connections used by many mobile phones (the first iPhone model included).

  • When you’re targeting a single platform (or a standards-compliant platform), a lot of the framework’s code is going to go to waste. Much of the code in JavaScript libraries is for abstracting cross-browser compatibility issues.

  • When you’re targeting multiple mobile platforms, most frameworks aren’t built with mobile in mind, and may be unable to perform properly regardless.

  • iPhone doesn’t cache components that are over 25 KB in size. (Unfortunately, this is when the component is decompressed, so it doesn’t matter if the component is under 25 KB when GZIP compression is used.)

  • The framework’s code has to be executed on the client in order to initialize all of the framework’s components. On slower clients, such as mobile devices, this is a longer delay than you might think, and many of those features probably won’t be used on the site.

In the future, JavaScript frameworks may overcome these challenges, but we resigned ourselves to starting from scratch for this project.

CSS frameworks were out of the question for many of the same reasons.


The ASP.NET MVC Framework was chosen as our server-side technology primarily because of the team’s familiarity with it. Having just recently used the technology on other projects, it was still fresh in our minds. The MVC framework allows for quick, clean and very functional design that you have a great deal of control over.


We elected to use our internally-developed .NET library that’s specialized for use on web projects. Razorfish.Web has a number of features that made it indispensible for this project, such as dynamic CSS and JavaScript compression. As I’ll cover later, we extended the library while building the guide to push optimization even further.

SQL Server

Microsoft’s database engine was the natural choice to go along with ASP.NET MVC. We used LINQ to SQL to easily communicate with the database from the web server.

With our tools selected, we were ready to start building the site. Come back for part 2 to learn about some key design and development decisions that went into making