IE11 Embraces Mobile Web in Windows Phone 8.1 Update

To ensure that Internet Explorer 11 no longer lags behind mobile browsers from Apple and Google, Microsoft reworks the app on Windows Phone 8.1.

Microsoft mobile

Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 Update will include "hundreds of Internet Explorer 11 enhancements" to provide a more mobile-friendly Web browsing experience, announced the company.

Adrian Bateman and Frank Olivier, both Internet Explorer program managers, took to the company's IEBlog to detail some of the major changes coming to the mobile browser. Foremost are capabilities that close the gap between the mobile flavor of Internet Explorer (IE11) and rival browsers from Apple and Google.

"Based on your feedback, we pursued a web experience for IE users consistent with what is available on iOS and Android devices—even where this meant we would be adding non-standard web platform features," wrote Bateman and Olivier. "We believe that this is a more pragmatic approach to running today's less-standardised mobile web."

Despite efforts to take a standards-based approach to rendering mobile Websites, Microsoft's developers were forced to resort to some workarounds to properly display sites with nonstandard features popularized by Apple's iPhone.

"These features are not currently on a standards track but browsers that don't support them can't provide a good experience for top sites on the mobile web," explained the IE managers. "One example is -webkit-appearance, which allows a page to modify the styling of an element to match native applications."

In the Windows Phone 8.1 update, IE11 will support such features to more faithfully render mobile-optimized sites rather than display militarized versions of desktop Websites, or worse, broken and incomplete Web pages.

Bereft of a mouse, Windows Phone users may find it tricky to interact with Websites. No longer, claim Bateman and Olivier.

IE11's Pointer Events implementation has been updated "to incorporate changes in the spec" since it first shipped in IE10. "Using Pointer Events provides many performance and functional advantages to sites that wish to use either mouse, touch, pen or other pointer inputs and we continue to recommend this as the best API for sites that work for users across all of their devices," they said.

Microsoft is tackling mobile browser detection issues by taking a page from the company's previous work on IE11 for the desktop. In short, getting mobile Websites to render properly on a smartphone often involves a little subterfuge.

"When we shipped IE11 on the desktop, we added the token 'like Gecko' to the string because it significantly improved compatibility with desktop sites. Chrome and Opera claim to be like Gecko and Safari in order to be compatible with web content," said the Microsoft staffers.

They applied a similar strategy for IE11 on Windows Phone. "We updated the User Agent string in IE on Windows Phone to increase the number of sites that would correctly deliver the best mobile content."

Windows Phone 8.1 Update is expected to be released for developers in early August. Browser updates aside, other features include VPN support; expanded language support for Cortana, the company's rapidly evolving digital assistant; and an app-grouping feature called Live Folders.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...