Pixel Pioneers: Interviewing Ada Rose Cannon, Developer Advocate for Samsung's Internet Web Browser

  • Ada Rose Cannon: combining new web APIs together to transform web design

    Ada Rose Cannon is a Developer Advocate for the Samsung Internet Web Browser and one of the speakers at Pixel Pioneers conference, which returns to Belfast on Friday 23 November.

    Speaking to Sync NI, she explained that “the browser is for Android phones built by Samsung. We have our own so we can experiment with new web APIs, integrate closer with the hardware in the Samsung smartphones, and add user-centric features such as ad-blocking and tracking-blocking, increased privacy, and improved battery life.

    “There’s a real focus on how we can make it better for the people who use it.”

    Ada’s admits that “growing up, I never thought I’d be a web developer. It was always just something I enjoyed doing for fun.”

    “Computers just fascinated me, but there were no computer science or computer literacy classes at my school. They had a room with computers and the only way I could build software and write my own code was to use HTML and JavaScript to build websites. This was back in the early days before CSS. I used to make little games that would run in Internet Explorer 5!”

    After college she was a PlayStation developer before working on the Financial Times’ Progressive Web App. “It was one of the really early examples of a fully offline-ready progressive web app – before that was recognised as a concept – designed to replace a native app. It was amazing to see the level of quality that could be delivered through a web browser without needing to download something from an app store.

    “It made me a believer in how powerful the web can be. I’d always been using the web for dynamic interactive content because I used it to make games, and the web could be used to replace native apps.”

    Her talk at Pixel Pioneers is entitled ‘A Rube Goldberg Machine and New Web Technology’. Rube Goldberg was a US cartoonist best known for his regular strip of the Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, overly-complicated contraptions to perform mundane tasks, relying on repurposed household objects and held together with string. The British equivalent would be Heath Robinson’s inventions, which have more recently been seen in films such as The Wrong Trousers with the machine that automatically dresses Wallace every morning when his alarm goes off.

    “When I was a kid I used to love making Rube Goldberg machines, big contraptions with pulleys and dominoes and things knocking each other over and marbles running down, integrating all of these toys which weren’t meant to go together.

    “The web is like that today. It’s a toolbox of APIs that have been built into the platform to serve a particular purpose. But they can be used together to build these wondrous machines that we call websites.”

    Ada recognises that CSS Grid has “really changed the way we approach CSS, allowing us to think about it from the layout in, rather than the content out.”

    Gone are the days when tweaking one part of your CSS would break all kinds of other things. With CSS Grid you no longer have to worry that changing a single component will break the whole layout.

    “I’m really hoping it’s going to encourage developers who had given up on CSS to take another look and give it a go.”

    Her talk will introduce four distinct APIs at a high level before looking at how they intersect: When combined together, the result can be greater than the sum of the parts. CSS Grid; CSS Custom Properties, which allows you to define your own CSS attributes; Web Components to define your own HTML elements; and the Web Animation API, giving users a lot of control through JavaScript when making CSS animations.

    “You can combine CSS Grid with Web Components to remove or hide all of the non-semantic HTML elements. You can replace the elements used just for layout with CSS Grid, and elements which are used for making a component look just right but don't provide semantic meaning can be hidden within a Web Component’s shadow DOM.”

    All this allows you to define an app’s initial state using human-readable HTML, bringing it to life when you download your JavaScript for the custom elements.

    “It really changes the way we can think about web development. We can use very modern APIs and tools to deliver an app we can think about in a much simpler fashion, and one that is much more accessible to newer developers.”

    Ada co-chairs the W3C Immersive Web Working Group, which is making the WebXR standard that is taking over from WebVR. “Virtual reality is one of the topics we’re focussed on at Samsung, and as a Developer Advocate I work with developers to get them building VR content then feed the developer experience back into the standards process.”

    “The web isn’t just delivered from on high as a finished web platform. Anyone can contribute to standards; it’s not some closed-off secret society. So if people really want to make a change in the web, they can do that. That’s what has allowed it to evolve according to developers’ needs, especially in recent years. There’s been a much tighter integration between the people building for the web and the people who are building the web platform.”

    Pixel Pioneers will be Ada’s first visit to Belfast.

    “I always learn something new at these kinds of events. I get a good sense of what developers want out of the web platform. That’s how I know what I should be advocating for, what developers are trying to accomplish, and how we can we can help them do their job as a web browser or within the standards that our browser team contributes to.”

    Feedback from developers pushed Samsung to implement CSS Grid earlier than planned in Samsung Internet Web Browser.

    Tickets (including discounts for students) are still available for the Pixel Pioneers workshops (in the MAC on 22 November) and full day conference (in the Belfast Waterfront on 23 November).

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