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HTML5 in the Web browser: Geolocation, JavaScript, and HTML5 extras

Peter Wayner | March 23, 2011
Geolocation, Web Workers, History manipulation, iFrame sandboxes, and other HTML5 specs laying the groundwork for a safer and smarter Web

A nice feature includes a rough estimate of the accuracy along with the coordinates. There's a separate error range for the altitude because many GPS tools are less accurate in their estimates of the altitude than they are of the position on earth. The error estimates for the latitude and longitude, however, are the same, perhaps a mistake near the poles.

There are two major functions: getCurrentPosition and watchPosition. The first finds the position and the second wraps a loop around the process, generating an event only if there's a change. While getCurrentPosition is pretty straightforward, I'm still wondering why watchPosition doesn't have some parameter that defines just how much motion should trigger an event. There's just one parameter, the boolean enableHighAccuracy, that "may or may not make a difference, depending on your hardware." What is high accuracy? That's a good question. So you get to implement your own loop wrapped around the loop in watchPosition.

Much of this detail is pretty hypothetical for desktop and laptop users, even when they're using a browser that has the capability. Although desktop browsers offer the geolocation object, the computers often don't provide any mechanism for generating even a guess at the location. There are tools that can list the Wi-Fi routers in range and use the information to identify the latitude and longitude with surprising accuracy, but these haven't caught on beyond tablets and smartphones. When the device has no way of locating itself, the API generates a POSITION_UNAVAILABLE.

HTML5 Web Workers Who doesn't want an army of little servants working behind the scenes to make everything wonderful? The HTML5 team borrowed the imagery of this idle fantasy when they rediscovered background threads and called them "Web Workers." Now all of the hacks we've written using the JavaScript wait, delay, and pause commands to poll distant websites or animate sprites on the page can be retired and sent off to the ranch with those crazy symbols from APL.

John Resig, the genius behind the jQuery library, calls Web Workers "the coolest new feature." Although the UI specialists who work with native apps (and have known about threads for a long time) will roll their eyes at this attempt to bring JavaScript up to date with application programming circa 1990, the feature is quite novel and certainly more ornate than the average background thread. The Web Workers spec is part of the HTML5 document.


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