“handheld” Media Type, RIP?

Published on June 30, 2009 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.

Website authors don’t use handheld as it’s barely supported; mobile device manufacturers don’t support handheld because it’s barely used.

This is kind of the situation I think we’re facing—please prove me otherwise—, and it’s a problem. CSS’s handheld media type would be valuable to tailor content and services to mobile devices. The catch-22 we’re dealing with instead means two things:

The CSS Working Group may disagree with my thinking but I like the idea that manufacturers and operators meet consumer needs to make the second point a reality: providing us with smart software and reasonable prices to avoid a mess caused by… yes, who.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On June 30, 2009, 22:32 CEST, Andrei Eftimie said:

    I think you are right about this one Jens. We are going towards a unified internet.

    We just need to present data, exaclty how its going to be recieved will take care of itself.

    Its really nice to see the web grow organically. (As in no matter which things someone is trying to promote, success is, and will be, only defined by the people that use / develop those tools).

  2. On July 1, 2009, 3:24 CEST, Neal G said:

    I’ve always been disappointed by the number of cell phones & smart phones that ignore handheld stylesheets.

    I’ve actually bothered to create a handheld stylesheet for some of my sites (usually using Opera’s ’small screen’ option to test on) but it only discourages me when I view the site on a phone (cough cough blackberries) and the phone ignores my stylesheet.

    You’re right, in that it sort of becomes a chicken or the egg situation between developers and phone companies.

  3. On July 9, 2009, 21:03 CEST, Jonny Axelsson said:

    I kind of agree with your conclusion, but not truly with your premises.

    My amended conclusion is the handheld media type is dead, long live media queries.

    To me @media handheld died when Opera Mini stopped supporting it. The problem wasn’t that it was rarely used, but that it was buggily used. Real browsers on phone browsers, Opera , the Nokia browser and the iPhone Safari browser, supported and support Media Queries, but the incredibly broken phone browsers (people who only complain about IE don’t know how good they have it) broke the standards in every thinkable and many unthinkable ways. I tried to explain @media handheld in a number of articles, but in the end the @media handheld {/* show no useful styles */} meme was too strong.

    @media handheld would be a stop-gap in any case, it is simply not enough information that a device is “handheld”. Media Queries contain more useful data.

    Finally I have to quibble with wording, Media Queries don’t give “alternative access” to services, but you can say they give alternative views. The most common scenario will be not to show content wider than the content window. Yes, that can and will be solved with browser adaptations like Fit to Width, but not all developers are prone to let go control of their design.

  4. On July 10, 2009, 15:48 CEST, Ben Buchanan said:

    Website authors don’t use handheld as it’s barely supported; mobile device suppliers don’t support handheld because it’s barely used.

    It’s not entirely chicken and egg: device suppliers have the power to change the situation and they gain from doing so. Authors gain nothing from writing a stylesheet before any devices will read it.

    So the device vendors should have supported the handheld media type. Probably won’t happen, even though I think we’re still going to see a generation of intermediate phones (better than basic, but not advanced) that would have been quite suited to a simple handheld stylesheet.

    Media queries are probably a better solution really; but given the vendors’ track record can we really expect them to come to the party on those any more than last time they were handed a specific standard to support?

  5. On July 17, 2009, 8:57 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Andrei, right, though it’s interesting to observe organic growth impair standardization.

    Neal, same here… running all sorts of tests seeing handheld fail is pretty frustrating.

    Jonny, keeping it short: Media queries will hopefully work. (That’s why I [originally] asked to ignore them for a moment.)

    Ben, but will this really change? There seem to be few incentives right now for neither authors nor suppliers to support handheld. Media queries to the rescue…