FBS Confessions: iPad support and why I love web developer interns

Feb 9, 2011  |  Michael Wurzer

This post is both pleasing and painful.

First the pleasing part: We’ve released an update today for flexmls Web that significantly improves compatibility on the iPad.  We still have some things to fix (Flash charts and touch controls on mapping), but the basic functionality of flexmls Web now works on the iPad.  Specifically, we’ve fixed the scrolling problems in search results with the detail report and the left list (you can one-finger scroll both), fixed a display bug that prevented emailing of listing reports, and fixed several orientation challenges.  It’s not perfect yet, but it’s a lot better than it was and definitely is functional.

Now for the painful part.  One of the stakes in the ground on which FBS has distinguished itself and its products over the years has been support for multiple browsers.  Our theory in being steadfast about following web standards has been to be prepared for innovations exactly like that brought by the iPhone or iPad.  As  long as they ran a web browser, we’d be compatible.  Of course, life and software development are never that easy.

I’m about to go a bit technical here, but I think it’s useful.  Several years ago, we focused on turning flexmls Web from a web site into a web application that required less scrolling, no (or fewer) popups, and generally looked and felt more like a desktop application than a web site.  In some respects, those changes pushed the boundaries of what even desktop browsers could do.  To accomplish the “application” look and feel we were after, we used lots of iframes and other techniques that later on proved incompatible with the iOS and other touch-enabled mobile browsers.

We knew this going in but figured we’d be covered because we had a mobile version of our web site.  Alas, whereas flexmls Web was pushing the boundaries of what desktop browsers could do, our flexmls Mobile site was lagging way behind the capabilities of mobile browsers. Of course, this conflict came to a head with the popularity of the iPad, which was running a mobile browser on what people viewed as a desktop-like device.

When we first started discussing this problem, we concluded the best approach was to escalate work on our mobile site to take advantage of the increased power and touch-screen support in mobile browsers.  We reached this conclusion because we knew the design of flexmls Web presented big hurdles to compatibility given our use of iframes.  Removing the iframes was a major overhaul that was significantly more daunting than revamping mobile, so that was our direction.

Though we had a plan, our customers wanted a fix and they wanted it now.  Fortunately, one of FBS’s primary hiring channels is an intern program with our three local universities.  We hired two new interns this year, and, one of them, Nick Larson, was assigned the project of trying to fix some of the iPad bugs in flexmls Web.  Now, here’s why I love interns.  They come in with their eyes wide open, willing to try pretty much anything.  Heck, they’re just excited to be coding.  They don’t know or care anything about the legacy of the code or the nasty problems lurking around every corner.  They just go for it.

In this case, within a few days, Nick had figured out solutions to several of the key scrolling problems flexmls Web presented for the iPad, without having to ditch the iframes at all.  (For those interested in more technical details, I’m hoping we’ll get Nick to post a “how to” over on our Developer Center blog in the coming days or weeks.)  Almost magically, what was a major pain point for our customers is now mostly solved.  Again, some incompatibilities remain, but we’re working on those as well.

What’s really fantastic here is that Nick has shown us that flexmls Web can run on the iPad and that fact has changed our strategy.  We’re no longer cornering the iPad only into mobile.  That’s not to say we expect everything in flexmls Web to work on the iPad, but we do expect the basic functions to work. And the really great news is that we also have been making significant progress on our new mobile site, which also will work on the iPad.  So, we’re back to our beginnings and doing everything we can to support the most popular browsers today, which most definitely includes the browser on iOS devices.

For those of you who have been waiting patiently for some form of iPad support, we apologize for how long it took and we hope you enjoy the support we now offer.  We know it’s not 100% but we’re headed in the right direction.

45 Responses to “FBS Confessions: iPad support and why I love web developer interns”

  1. Max Palmer says:

    Best news all month!!!!!!!!!!!!! Any ipad app in the works?

  2. Max Palmer says:

    Actually, you can only scroll the list, but not the detail. What gives?

  3. Michael Wurzer says:

    You should be able to scroll the detail page. Are you running the latest version of iOS? Also, please clear any cache.

  4. S. Picka says:

    pretty darn proud of that “intern”, Nick!! (he’s my nephew!) Thanks for giving those interns the opportunity of a lifetime to build their careers! I think we were all “interns” at some point in our infant careers… way to go!!!

  5. Larry Ficek says:

    Nice work. This will change things up. This makes clearing the paper clutter even easier. I noticed I can not access documents on the IPAD yet. Is there a work around for that issue?

  6. Michael Wurzer says:

    Actually, there is a work around I forgot about. When you’re on the documents tab, there’s a “pop out” icon in the upper left corner of that frame, which, when clicked, will open the frame in a new window and make the links clickable.

  7. FABULOUS! I knew you would figure it out and the wait is over! Thanks for listening to your customers.

  8. Larry Ficek says:

    The work around works for me. Having access to docs online with the IPAD is an exciting thing. Just think of how many trees you saved. We started to spread the word.

  9. John Mijac says:

    Thanks, Thank you. Deep appreciation and take a bow.

  10. Steve Holman says:

    I loved this discussion. Our best coders were between the their way from high school to college. Gota love those “work arounds”

  11. Brian Larson says:

    What I love about this blog is Mike’s willingness to talk about the challenges of his work in almost real-time. It takes a lot of confidence and courage to exhibit this much candor. It helps to have something to crow about in this case, but I think FBS has been pretty forthcoming with things like this in the past, too.

    Good job with this!
    -Brian

  12. Matt Cohen says:

    Mike – good for you! I’m glad you’re doing your best to provide your core app on multiple platforms rather than coming out with a skinny custom app for each platform (a common MLS approach) which would be a pain to maintain and grow in parallel to your core app.

  13. Congratulations to intern Nick! I too have been struggling with this problem for months, but clearly I’m not as sharp as Nick. I do hope he publishes how he handled this to help out some of us less capable web developers out there. 🙂

  14. I really appreciate the technical explanation. It helps understand the new systems we are using. I’m looking forward to more mobile capabilities. As a former software developer and program manager I like knowing how things work. It helps me take full advantage of the software features.

  15. Becky Rio says:

    I tried an ipad at Best Buy today–not able to scroll the detail report. Any help will be appreciated.

  16. Michael Wurzer says:

    Becky, if you could call our support team at 888-525-4747, they should be able to help.

  17. I am planning on purchasing a new cell phone and tablet or netbook this year, the sooner the better. Flex capabilities on these devices is a critical requirement. Are you working on the Blackberry Playbook yet? Are there any issues with RIM OS 6 that present problems? These fast moving OS releases must be a real challenge.

  18. Michael Wurzer says:

    Joan, we have not done any testing with the latest RIM browser, but older browsers from RIM are very weak and we would recommend against them. RIM has announced it is switching to use the webkit rendering engine used by Apple and Google, which we have tested against, but I wouldn’t buy anything until you try it and I would lean towards the products from Apple and Google.

  19. Are you saying we should access Flex on the iPad via the Safari browser and not your mobile app (which is not easy to use anyhow?)

    Also I wish we could go from Flex right into to contracts so we would not have to enter all the info again with the chance of mistakes and errors.

    Thank you

    • Michael Wurzer says:

      Yes, give flexmls a whirl on your iPad. As mentioned in the post, it’s not perfect but searching and viewing listings works.

  20. Julie Paxton says:

    Dear Mr. Wurzer (or ‘From Guam to North Dakota, with Love’);
    Having purchased the iPad in New Orleans, it has become the most useful device other than having a smart phone. Thank you for employing your interns like Nick to assist us iPad novices with the ability to navigate the MLS & even the GPS map has popped up occasionally. We appreciate your efforts in supporting all of us on FlexMLS.

  21. Brtian Czup says:

    What are the major hurdles in creating an iphone app? I’m trying to understand why you would hesitate. Couldn’t it just be fed with a customized RETS? I know updates would be required with changing versions of the OS but it’s such a popular device.

    • Michael Wurzer says:

      With a web application, we can cover all devices with one code base whereas native applications require maintaining a separate code base for each device.

  22. I’ve tested and compared m.flexmls.com and the regular site on the iphone, ipad, and a couple of androids. the moble flexmls site I find way too difficult to navigate. I’m very glad a new mobile site is projected for a summer release…. in the meantime, the regular site through Safari is working great for basic searches. For the Android, which browsers are the FLEX developers working with to maximize navigation and performance? Thanks!

  23. Michael Wurzer says:

    We’re testing with Android browsers that use the webkit rendering engine.

  24. Excellent news, here in latin America our customers use the Blackberry smart phones maybe, for the future you can create and application to search listings that support Blackberry and Iphone smart phones.

  25. Jim Jacobs says:

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for all your efforts for us iPad users. I tried putting an icon on my screen and got a nice flexmls logo. However when I used it, it added a ping to the address and would not let me log in. When I added a link from my mls’s homepage it gave me an icon with a screenshot that worked. Is sure would like to see an app like logo with direct access to my login.
    Thanks, Jim

  26. Michael Wurzer says:

    Jim, I’ll have someone try it with a Tucson login next Monday and see if we can make it work for you.

  27. Jim Jacobs says:

    Thanks for your quick response. I was with 3 other iPad users in a support group, two of us had the same problem and two did not. Go figure…

  28. On the Xoom and the ipad ( I did them side by side) I can only get it to search the first fifity selections on the list of the search (there are 119 to search). Is this a buffering problem or what?… that can be worked around?
    Thanks for any help.

    • Michael Wurzer says:

      Sounds like the browser wasn’t loading the next set of listings for some reason. If you contact our support line, they can help trouble-shoot this problem.

  29. Michael,

    You are wasting our time and yours ultimately by not supporting the iPad properly. If you can not see to do it then I will suggest to our board that we find another provider that will.

    The iPad is the most successful communication product ever developed with 14 million units sold in 9 months.

    Again if you are not going to support what your users want and need just say so and we can move on to a new high tech provider.

  30. Michael Wurzer says:

    Victor, what do you mean by supporting the iPad “properly”? I’ve stated clearly in both the post above and in my comments that we’re working on making flexmls Web work with the iPad (it already does in most respects) and we’re creating a new mobile version of our web site as well for searching and viewing listings that will take advantage of the newer mobile browsers. So, what specifically are you indicating that we’re not doing properly?

  31. Jon griffith says:

    I was excited to attempt a search using the browser on the iPad and I have found myself standing I. The apple store for about 30 minutes trying to do a single search by zip code. So far I haven’t gotten anywhere which is a bit discouraging.

    I click quick search then enter a zip code in the map overlay fiele and it manager to’ disabile the rest of the search options.

    Gotta love auto correct.

    NeXT problem is that i cant seem to’ use the map feature to’ search.

    And by the looks of it, autocorrect is making it very difficult to’ comunicate on the iPad.

    • Michael Wurzer says:

      As mentioned in my post, our current mapping isn’t set up for touch devices like the iPad. We do hope to correct that in the next few months.

  32. Sweet, thanks for your commitment to this platform. It is so much easier for me to show houses now. Instant pictures and data while showing the listing.

  33. David Smart says:

    Hi All,

    I am going to San Diego next month and I plan to buy an I pad. (i have been looking for an excuse and reading the info here has given me one 😉 ). My question to you more in the know than I is which ipad should I buy. I am working in Cabo san Lucas, Baja, Mexico and only wifi works at this time so I will probably get the wifi only one but do I get the 16 or the 32 or the 64 Gigs HD? Thanks for the feed back.

    • Michael Wurzer says:

      I would say more memory is always better but I’m not sure of the cost differences or your usage.

  34. David Smart says:

    Thanks Michael,

    Can you tell me how much of the processing capacity (and ram) FBS web site would normally use.

    Thanks

  35. Michael Wurzer says:

    David, flexmls runs in the browser and so the memory footprint really is dependent on cache settings, etc.

  36. I was on top a mountain, with a buyer, looking off in the distance at a property. The buyer then asked me… hey is there anything else around here for sale? I popped out my ipad. Clicked on the Flex MLS Icon… and sold him a property. Thanks for bringing Flex to the Ipad.

  37. Brian Czup says:

    I still feel that us as customers would be better served with an iPhone or iPad app rather than a web app. Not all of us live in areas where we have 3G available everywhere (especially mountain tops). I could really use a modern version of the old FlexPC adapted to an iPad app for offline use. I think FBS doesn’t want to do it purely because it’s a cost issue consuming more programming hours keeping it updated. Plus they would have to build an android version. But my feeling is FBS will eventually have to accept that that’s the reality of today’s demands.

    FlexPC didnt work a few years ago but now is the time and these tablets are the devices.

    • Michael Wurzer says:

      Brian, we’ve been very clear why FBS is not building a native application: because we can cover many more devices with a web application. Importantly, however, we’re building our mobile web application on top of an API that is standard across all of our customers and other developers will be able to use to build an iOS or Android application. So, undoubtedly, as you say, native applications for both iOS and Android will be built to access flexmls data, they just won’t be built by FBS except to the extent they use our API. All that being said, I think you misunderstand how native applications work, because I don’t see anyone building a native application that works off-line. The native apps will still need internet access for data and photos. Maybe the smallest of MLSs would be able to download and persist data for off-line use but most would not.

  38. Brian Czup says:

    Maybe some developer out there will read this and discover a need for an app that will download and persist data for offline use using your API. I’m just saying. I’m a customer, I’m up to date with available technology today and I could really use an app that will keep me from buying a separate 3G plan for my tablet or paying for tethering service.

    Maybe I’m alone on this but let’s throw it out there. Could anyone else use an app that could sync with your MLS so you wouldn’t need an Internet connection wherever you are to search and view listings?

  39. Steve Martin says:

    As for Brian’s comment, maybe a workaround would be a way to export the data in such a way that it could be imported into a database app (Like Filemaker’s Bento). This would be more work, but you would have access to all the MLS info without a connection. This is where a 3rd party developer might be able to create a template.