A New Take on the "Pocket Reference" -- Public Beta of new O'Reilly Mobile HTML App

By Andrew Savikas
August 25, 2010 | Comments: 4

While there's been continued strong interest in our ebook iPhone apps (especially outside the US), taking a book and packaging it up as an app doesn't take advantage of many of the capabilities a device like the iPhone (or Android phone, or iPad) really has to offer. Using software designed to exploit the computational power of a mobile device and the rich possibilities already offered by HTML, CSS, and JavaScript adds a whole new level of practical functionality to content that up to now has only been available in print or ebook format.

An obvious place to try this is with reference material. In the same way that Google Maps redefined the atlas and Wikipedia redefined the encyclopedia, a truly native mobile app can do a lot to improve on the "user interface" of a traditional reference book. Our first experiment with this is a mobile reference on HTML; rather than prepare a revision of the previous printed "pocket reference" format, we've created an innovative mobile app that makes it much quicker and easier to access practical information about specific HTML elements.

HTML_MR_Screen1.png HTML_MR_Screen2.png

As designer and author Jen Robbins put it in an email:

If you've talked to me in 2010, you probably know that I've been busy turning my book, "HTML and XHTML Pocket Reference" into a handy iPhone App. The goal was to break free of the linear page-flipping of an e-book and make the information quicker to get to via menus, tabs, and search. You can also tell the App whether you'd like to see the elements and attributes from HTML5 only, HTML 4.01 only, or both. Simon St. Laurent (of O'Reilly) and I have been working together on this little tool, and we're very excited about the results.

I'm excited too! And after a few rounds of feedback from a select group of web and mobile developers and designers, we're opening this up for a public beta. Eventually this app will be available in the iPhone App Store and the Android Market, but for now it's "just" a web page, best viewed on an iPhone (or iPod touch) at htmlref.labs.oreilly.com/beta.

The app is optimized for iPhone, though it will work on Android devices, as well as on iPads and through Safari on a laptop, but there are still bugs and kinks on those platforms. We've already gotten some great feedback, and would love to hear from you.

4 Comments

Bug Report - http://htmlref.labs.oreilly.com/beta/#doctype

iPhone 3G, iOS 4.0.1 - Impossible to toggle HTML5 doctype display because it's covered by the TabBar div. Page is not scrollable.

Non-mobile Firefox/Chrome: None of the element links work. Would be great if the app worked in a small window next to my editor, or in an eclipse pane rather then needing to use it on a phone.

An eBook on HTML5 in HTML5 format, I like the idea!

By the time you go through the public beta process, Apple's iBooks app will probably support most of the HTML5/CSS3/JS you are using in this app. Why not package it as an ePub file also?


Kudos, guys! Great to see you continuing to experiment. Your app really got me thinking about "app-ifying" ebooks and I whipped up a list of ways I think you can push this experiment even further in terms of serving readers' needs. Here's a quick-hit list:

--Put out a welcome mat (better title page)
--Curate the catalog (highlight tags you think are most useful)
--Help readers browse better (think: Cover Flow)
--More real-world examples (connect tags to others' real-world usage)
--What's popular? (show which tags are being searched)
--Books that power other books (use this collection to "smarten" other books)

I wrote a longer post with details on each idea here:

http://newkindofbook.com/2010/08/rethinking-the-reference-manual/

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