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Back and Next Buttons Revisited

So, many moons ago, I wrote a post about how to make iOS style “Back” and “Next” buttons using CSS. Only problem was that technique used a span tag to create the pointer. For some reason it slipped my mind that I could use the CSS generated content property with the :before pseudo-element. Rather than being bothered with having to stick spans into buttons to turn them into pointers, I now introduce you to a more sane method of creating “Back” and “Next” buttons with just CSS.

Now you might be wondering how we would generate the node we need to style as a pointer. Using the CSS content property we can generate automatic content inside the button, removing the necessity of having a tag sitting there for no other reason. Unfortunately the content property only generates alpha-numeric content. We can’t use it to create a span or any other tag. But we don’t have to use a normal character as the content. A space will suffice to create the desired pointer. We make it display as a block element and then style it as if it were a normal pointer. Problem solved.

To accomplish our goal we need to switch out any reference to < span.pointer for :before

So, here’s the styles for a normal button, followed by the styles for the pointer.


.button.bordered.back:before {
	content: " ";
	display: block;
	z-index: 0;
	background-image: 
		-webkit-gradient(linear, left top, right bottom, 
			from(#92a1bf), 
			color-stop(0.3, #798aad),
			color-stop(0.51, #6276a0), 
			color-stop(0.51, #556a97), 
			color-stop(0.75, #566c98),
			to(#546993)); 
	border-left: solid 1px #484e59;
	border-bottom: solid 1px #9aa5bb;
	-webkit-border-top-left-radius: 5px;
	-webkit-border-bottom-right-radius: 5px;
	-webkit-border-bottom-left-radius: 4px;
	height: 23.5px;
	width: 23.5px;
	display: inline-block;
	-webkit-transform: rotate(45deg);
	-webkit-mask-image: 
		-webkit-gradient(linear, left bottom, right top, 
			from(#000000), 
			color-stop(0.5,#000000), 
			color-stop(0.5, transparent), 
			to(transparent));
	position: absolute;
	left: -9px;
	top: 2.5px;
	-webkit-background-clip: content;
}
.button.bordered.back:hover:before, .button.bordered.back.touched:before {
	background-image: 
		-webkit-gradient(linear, left top, right bottom, 
			from(#7d88a5), 
			color-stop(0.3, #58698c),
			color-stop(0.51, #3a4e78), 
			color-stop(0.51, #253c6a), 
			color-stop(0.75, #273f6d),
			to(#273f6d)); 
}

You can check out the finished version online or download the source code.

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Subpixel Rendering

You know the problem. No matter what you do you can’t get two elements to line up properly. The connecting points are always off by one pixel.

Everyone doing Web development at some point or other comes across a layout problem where no matter what you do, you can’t get two elements to align perfectly. One or the other is always off by one pixel. I was pulling my hair out try to get the pointers on the back and next buttons to align perfectly. They just didn’t look perfect. Worse still, when I used the browser’s “Zoom In” command from the view menu, I could clearly see that the lines did not connect properly.

After hours of fiddling with element sizes and positioning, I was on the verge of giving up. It was then that I remembered similar layout problems that I dealt with when doing Silverlight development. Silverlight is Microsoft’s vector-based, Flash killer/non-killer plugin for creating RIAs. For whatever reason, versiond before 4.0 had terrible problems with exact positioning of elements, causing frequent one pixel disconnects when rendered to screen. The only way to resolve this was to use subpixel rendering. This was accomplished by positioning an element by using partial pixel values, such as 1.5 or 1.25. This would force Silverlight to output the element with subpixel rendering, eliminating the visual disconnect.

OK, so what the heck is subpixel rendering? You experience it everyday with the browser’s font smoothing. You know it as anti-aliasing. The browser looks at the bézier curves of the font and when it sees that a line passes though a pixel, it looks at how much of the pixel is intersected. Depending on the percentage, the browser outputs a percentage of the font’s color. Less means the pixel gets less of the font’s color. For the human eye this creates the illusion of smoother curves.

You can use this same technique to trigger subpixel rendering on an element by giving it percentage-based position, or percentage-based dimensions. Here are some examples:

.button {
    position: absolute;
    left: 0px;
    top: 2.5px;
    height: 23.5px;
    width: 23.5px;
}

Here’s a image of my next button with the browser zoomed in. As you can see the pointer doesn’t line up perfectly with the rest of the button. This caused a slightly noticeable disconnect at normal size as well.

next button with its pointer misaligned

Now here’s the same button with the pointer using position set to top: 2.5px;:

next button using subpixel positioning

Subpixel rendering solved the connect problem I had at all zoom levels, including at normal size. Depending on your problem, subpixel positioning may be enough, or subpixel dimensions may be enough, or you may need to do both. Using subpixel values can help resolve problems when your layouts are not coming out pixel perfect.

You can try this out online or download the source code.

Today’s new technology terms:

subpixel:
   A pixel rendered with a shade of an adjacent element’s color to make it appear as if the element occupies part of that pixel’s space.
subpixelate:
   To force the browser to render an element with subpixel values.
subpixelation:
   The act of forcing an element to render with subpixel values or the condition of being rendered with subpixel values.

Making an iPhone Switch Control without Images

Works on desktop Safari, Chrome and Firefox, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

On the iPhone and iPad, Apple uses a control called switch. It’s actually a different take on the checkbox. Like radio buttons, checkboxes do not lend themselves to touch interfaces, especially guys with fat fingers, cough! Instead of making us suffer with those dinky checkboxes, Apple uses a more visual cue to what the user is actually doing, switching something on or off. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly how the control is labeled: “on” or “off”. They’re really easy to use, just swipe your finger to throw the switch, done. In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here they are:

switch control

OK, so all the mobile Web frameworks have a switch control. And I hate them all. They either do an instant switch between the on and off state, using an image sprite, or they do this really lame thing where they animate the horizontal background position of the image on a checkbox with its default styles removed. None of those implementations feels the same as when you swipe the switch control in a native iOS app.

So what am I going to do? I tell you, I’m going to throw the friggin’ image out and build the whole control from scratch using just HTML, CSS3 and some JavaScript to make it work. Bada-bing! To start with, here’s the basic markup for a checkbox:

<div class="checkbox unchecked" id="sleepSwitch">
	<div class="on">ON</div>
	<div class="thumb"><span></span></div>
	<div class="off">OFF</div>
	<input type="checkbox" value="ZZZZZZZZ!" offvalue="But, I need more sleep!">
</div>

As we did when we created iPhone style radios buttons, we’re using real checkboxes in our iPhone switch controls. And like in the radio button example, we’ll set the checkbox input’s display value to “none”. We’ll use CSS3 properties to style the markup to look like a real iOS switch control and we’ll attach event listeners to set the input checkbox’s check state to true or false, depending on whether we want it to be selected or not.

To create this switch control we’ll need to style the frame named “checkbox” with rounded corners. Notice that the markup above contains three parts: the on state, the thumb and the off state. The rounded frame will only be wide enough to show one state plus the thumb. Using CSS3 transitions and transforms, a click or touch will cause the three elements to side back and forth within the rounded frame. For positioning the switch’s elements and sliding them back and forth we’re going to use CSS3 3d transforms on the x axis. Here is the CSS to make this happen:

/* Checkbox */
.checkbox {
	display: -webkit-box;
	-webkit-box-orient: horizontal;
	-webkit-box-pack:justify;
	-webkit-box-sizing: border-box;
	-webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent;
	width: 94px;
	overflow: hidden;
	-webkit-border-radius: 6px;
	text-align: center;
	line-height: 28px;
	cursor: pointer;
	-webkit-user-select: none;
	position: absolute;
	right: 10px;
	top: 7px;
}
.checkbox > input[type="checkbox"] {
	display: none;
}
.checkbox .thumb {
	-webkit-border-radius: 7px;
	position: relative;
	z-index: 3;
	border: solid 1px #919191;
	-webkit-transition: all 0.125s  ease-in-out;
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox .thumb span {
	display: block;
	-webkit-box-sizing: border-box;
	height: 25px;
	width: 38px;
	border-top: solid 1px #efefef;
	-webkit-border-radius: 6px;
	background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#cecece), to(#fbfbfb));
	border-top: solid 1px #efefef;
	position:relative;
}
.checkbox .on {
	color: #fff;
	background-image: 
		-webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, 
			from(#295ab2), 
			to(#76adfc));
	width: 54px;
	padding-right: 4px;
	border: solid 1px #093889;
	-webkit-border-top-left-radius: 6px;
	-webkit-border-bottom-left-radius: 6px;
	margin-right: -6px;
	height: 25px;
	-webkit-transition: all 0.125s  ease-in-out;
	position: relative;
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox .off {
	color: #666;
	background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#b5b5b5), color-stop(0.50, #fff));
	width: 54px;
	padding-left: 4px;
	border: solid 1px #a1a1a1;
	-webkit-border-top-right-radius: 6px;
	-webkit-border-bottom-right-radius: 6px;
	margin-left: -6px;
	height: 25px;
	-webkit-transition: all 0.125s  ease-in-out;
	position: relative;
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-54px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.unchecked .thumb {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-54px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.checked .thumb {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.unchecked .on {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-60px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.checked .on {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(0px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.unchecked .off {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(-54px,0%,0%);
}
.checkbox.checked .off {
	-webkit-transform: translate3d(6px,0%,0%);
}
/* For Very Important changes, use the orange checkbox */
.checkboxBase.important .on {
	border: solid 1px #d87100;
	background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, left top, left bottom, from(#e75f00), color-stop(.5, #ff9c12));
}
/* End Checkbox */

To make the switch more realistic, I’m transforming all three pieces of the switch at the same time. This gives the switch a more realistic feeling. Notice the comment in at the end of the above CSS about the important class. You can use this to indicate a switch that makes a very important change. This class changes the default switch’s blue color to bright orange. This is the color Apple uses to show that a switch’s action is very important.

Having the CSS defined for the look and animation brings us close to the finished control, but we need to write some JavaScript to make the switch interactive. The JavaScript needs to do two things: toggle the classes “checked” and “unchecked” on the switch, and toggle the checked value of the checkbox between true and false. I’m using the ChocolateChip JavaScript framework to do this. You can switch my code to whatever library you want. If you know basic JavaScript, it shouldn’t be hard. Here’s the JavaScript to make it happen:

Element.prototype.toggleSwitch = function() {
	if (this.hasClass("switch")) {
		if (this.last().checked === true) {
			this.last().checked = false;
			this.toggleClass("checked", "unchecked");
		} else {
			this.last().checked = true;
			this.toggleClass("checked", "unchecked");
		}
	} else {
		return false;
	}
};

The last() used in the code above is a ChocolateChip method to return the last child of the control, which happens to be the checkbox input. That way we can set its checked state to true or false.

Now that we have the code to setup up the switch control, we can make it work as follows:

$(".switch").forEach(function(checkbox) {
	checkbox.bind("click", function() {
		this.toggleSwitch();
	});
	
	checkbox.bind("touchstart", function(e) {
		e.preventDefault();
		this.toggleSwitch();
	});
}); 

That’s it to make the switch switchable. But to make it do something you’d need a bit more as well. In my example, I’m getting some values from the switch and outputting it to a response field like this:

$(".switch").forEach(function(checkbox) {
	checkbox.bind("click", function() {
		if (this.last().checked === true) {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("value"));
		} else {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("offvalue"));
		} 
	});
	
	checkbox.bind("touchstart", function(e) {
		if (this.last().checked === true) {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("value"));
		} else {
			$("#switchResponse").fill(
				this.last().getAttribute("offvalue"));
		}
	});
}); 

You can try this out online or download the source code.