PSA: Android browser and soft hyphens

The default Android browser does not love soft hyphens (Unicode: U+00AD, HTML: ­ or ­). This means, for anyone using the good old PHP Typography tool or its WordPress plugin equivalent, wp-typography, that you’re in trouble if you have mobile viewership at all. While it’s nice to have a sensible hyphenization algorithm at play – the sort that can prevent widows – it’s a bad idea to be running anything that doesn’t support mobile these days.

That’s no skin off the backs of the folks who developed it; KINGdesk are no doubt decent folks and their PHP code hit the streets before the explosion of mobile that we’ve seen today – and, more importantly, the real problem is in the rendering on the Android stock browser. (Seriously? Doesn’t support a standard typographic character, even by just ignoring it entirely? Boggles. The. Mind.)

More bad news: there is a really solid Javascript implementation that works nicely. You can get it here. Unfortunately, it too uses soft hyphens (added after the text has been rendered, instead of before, but with the same net effect)… so your site still looks terrible on the stock Android browser if you’re running it.

Good news: Chrome for Android should be installed by default on most or all Android devices in the coming years. My guess is, this just won’t be an issue for the vast majority of smartphones in use in the US by 2015, seeing the regularity with which people upgrade their phones at this point.

Even better news: within another couple years, you’re not even going to need even that sort of front end solution, because the CSS3 module hyphens is coming along nicely in terms of browser support. (At the time of writing, Firefox and Safari Webkit – but not Chrome – implement it. Safari Webkit seems to include the iOS browser as well.)

Along with full support for hyphens should also come better support for dealing with widows. No, that doesn’t get you anywhere with older browsers (and that really means everything before Firefox 4, IE9, and Webkit browsers of similar vintage) – but let’s be honest: good typography is best taken as a case of progressive enhancement at the moment. It’s delightful, really delightful, when we can use it, but it’s not the end of the world when older browsers don’t get it: that’s just the norm for how text looked on those browsers anyway.

Lesson learned: don’t make use of soft hyphens on the web if you have any mobile user base. Or, in other words (it being late 2012 and all): don’t use soft hyphens on the web. Yes, that stinks. But the Javascript solution works well enough for now if you particularly want your text to be a bit less ragged, and it’s rare that you get major problems with your typesetting that way.

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