Can We Develop Websites on a Tablet or Phone?

Simon Howden
By Simon HowdenWeb Developer
5 minutes to read

As developers of websites we often remind ourselves that we need to make sure the equipment we’re using is up to date.

It’s not just about making sure we have high-spec Linux desktops, an ultra-thin MacBook or the latest version of Windows, we also want to make sure that the equipment we are using actually enables us to perform best in the physical environment that we are in.

This could be at home, on a train, in the office, or even in the pub with your boss- sat across from the CEO of your agency and the head of marketing of your agency’s client (believe me, it happens).

The story

So the idea had already popped into our heads that laptops and desktops might not be the only solution to running ‘desktop-class’ for production work in the modern day. For a while, we’ve already had wonderful apps such as Evernote, allowing us to take notes across multiple devices, and Google sheets and docs, allowing us to work cross-platform on documents.

At the moment, developing on a tablet is considered to be more useful for light revisions to code on the go, rather than getting down to heavy bug fixing in bulk.

Where it gets interesting

Previously, Microsoft had the vision that multiple devices can collapse into one working environment, and acknowledged that multiple devices can be both lucrative, productive and fun.

They had a conference called the Microsoft Convergence Conference, the last of which was held in 2015, being replaced by the Envision and Ignite events, which encompass more aspects of the technical world, including IOT (Internet of things) devices. This is where the theory can become convoluted and the term ‘Convergence’ can be skewed.

Apple’s answer to this is ‘Continuity’, the theory in which work can be began on a device and be continued on another device seamlessly, and Canonical’s answer is its all-in-one Ubuntu tablet or phone solution, where the tablet can basically be used as a full desktop.

These ideas clash slightly, with Apple keeping a restricted number of form-factors of devices, in favour of an easier to maintain hardware environment, and Canonical believing this to be an outdated principle.

Doesn’t the idea of using a super thin tablet to do your work anywhere, and then plugging it into a monitor, mouse and keyboard when needed sound exciting? It does to me.

But can we Dev on it?

The current answer is yes, kind of. We do currently have apps that allow us to both edit code and save remotely via SSH or FTP, such as Diet Coda for iOS, or alternatively, Codeanywhere for Android.This is ideal if you just need to make a change and upload it.

The following is an example of the minimum number of tools required to make a change on a basic website (not any specific stack):

  • A text editor for code such as Sublime, Atom etc.
  • A connection to a server such as SSH or FTP
  • A browser such as Firefox or Chrome (I’ll leave testing in IE for another very stressful day)
  • A web debugging tool such as inspectors in Chrome, Firefox and Safari

You could potentially do your version controlling on the server remotely, but I can’t imagine it being as comfortable an SSH experience as it would be with an external keyboard (thinking about those Vim keyboard shortcuts).

It is also possible to run a web inspector on a mobile device, using browser add-ons such as Firebug Lite, but this potentially wouldn’t help us with a Safari bug, and Firefox’s mobile usage is lower than Safari or Chrome.

The future

With portable devices becoming more powerful (I’ve already ordered a Raspberry Pi 3), Bluetooth 4 and the price of Bluetooth-connected peripherals becoming very cheap, we really only need the OS on the portable devices to work properly with the hardware, to allow us to switch contexts and to be able to run the applications that we need independent of this.

Some of the closest examples of ‘The real deal’ currently include Windows 10 on the Surface pro (Detachable keyboard) and Ubuntu Touch. This gets really interesting when you consider that they are currently collaborating on the Bash sub-system in Windows 10, which will be available in the windows update currently referred to as ‘Redstone’. I for one would like to be able to run NGINX in a bash subsystem on Windows 10 on a surface tablet with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

Conclusion

It’s simply a matter of who gets there first, and the adoption of the chosen platform. We’ve yet to see this kind of implementation by Apple, which only appears to be dipping its toes in the water in this area, while keeping iOS and OSX completely separate.

There are also some exciting future prospects; Google is merging Chrome OS and Android, and the possibilities here are endless. If we could have moveable windows, controllable with a mouse and keyboard inside of Android, this would make for interesting possibilities for expanding on convergence via Android. We also know that users are already eager to extend Android on the desktop, as we’ve seen with ConsoleOS (a distribution of Android designed to take everything that has made mobile awesome, and bring it back to your PC).

Ubuntu mobile also has the advantage of being able to run the same applications as Ubuntu desktop, so you could even have your LAMP server running locally with you.

Ultimately, I don’t think we’re far from having operating systems that begin to take advantage of convergence and offer a fully integrated experience, but I don’t think that we’re quite there yet. For now I’ll remain optimistic while I plod on with developing remotely on my AWS instance from a laptop that takes up most of the space in my bag.

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