Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Three out of four major Web browsers now support FullScreen mode

I'm grateful to Richard Fink for tipping me off to the fact that Beta 2 of Google's Chrome browser now supports a FullScreen mode (keyboard shortcut F11) in which you can make all browser chrome disappear, leaving only the content you want to read.

It may seem trivial to you, but it's clear to me from all the experiments I've done over many years that when you really want to read something, anything which appears on the screen other than the actual content is a distraction.

You can't help it - none of us can. We're all Homo sapiens Version 1.0, with a hunter-gatherer perception system which uses foveal vision to read, but whose peripheral vision remains highly sensitive to data - especially from the extreme left and right edges of our visual field.

Think about it. Anything appearing in those areas has the potential to be a serious threat to our safety in the natural environment in which our perception developed. Our brains have developed a hair-trigger for data appearing here, so that our "fight or flight" response can be tripped in order for us to act quickly enough to avoid danger.

The problem with FullScreen today, though, is that almost no content exists which has been optimized for it. Full Screen on the laptop on which I'm writing this means 1440 x 900 pixels. On your screen, it could be 1024 x 768, 1920 x 1200, or some other configuration.

Even worse, the pixels themselves are not absolute measurements. They could be 1/96th of an inch square, 1/147th of an inch square, even 1/208th of an inch square. What that means is that any area described in pixel dimensions by a designer assuming 96ppi could actually end up being only one-quarter of the size on someone else's machine!

This is why I'm so insistent on the need for adaptive layout on the Web. We need a layout system which:

  1. Uses absolute, not relative, measurements. 
  2. Interrogates the operating system and determines actual screen size and pixel pitch. 
  3. Translates the absolute measurements of the original design into pixel dimensions for the actual display being used. 
  4. Determines the optimum number of columns for best readability on that particular display given the text-size the user prefers for reading. 
  5. Has much more granularity than today's browser "Text size" options (you should be able to pick 10 point or 11 point for body text, for example). 
  6. Lays out the content accordingly - in pages, not in a bottomless scrolling window.

It all sounds like a tall order, and a lot of work. But it isn't rocket-science, and much of it has already been done in proprietary formats like Windows Presentation Foundation and Adobe AIR. It's time we had the same thing on the Web.

FullScreen support is only a small part of what's needed. But it's another brick in the wall. I hope Safari will get on board soon. It should be easy, since it's using the same Webkit as Chrome...

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