When I reviewed the reactions to my There is no WebKit on Mobile post, it became pretty clear that few had expected its conclusion that there is no single WebKit on Mobile. Overall, it seemed that most people were pretty surprised, and hurried to revise their ideas of the mobile browser market. That was the point of the article, so I was happy.
(I’m still tinkering with the interface, by the way, and I didn’t have the time to finish my current revision. So the coloured bars are temporarily gone, but they’ll return in the future.)
By far the most interesting and important reaction came from Alex Russell, who has the annoying habit of being right. He wrote WebKit, Mobile, and Progress, and while he does not contest my findings, he objects to my interpretation.
Basically, while I said that the WebKit on Mobile glass is half empty, Alex maintains it is half full. Besides, and this is his point, the interesting part is not the fullness of the glass (which is what I measured) but the speed with which it gets fuller.
I agree mostly; in order to get a real feel for what’s happening on mobile we have to be able to measure progress.
So what I want to do is compare mobile browsers that have been released in the same year (or in the same quarter, or whatever). Sadly, right now I don’t have the time to implement a nice data interface that allows me to draw conclusions, so I have to postpone this experiment. Still, this is something that needs to be done.
In addition, Alex feels the mobile browsers are developing at a faster rate than the desktop browsers. This could be true. First of all the mobile browsers have more stuff to catch up with, and in order to make the mobile web truly break through into everybody’s life the browsers have to get a lot better.
Besides, some HTML5 features, notably geolocation, appcache, and the online/offline events, are mildly interesting on the desktop, but absolutely vital on mobile. Mobile browsers therefore have a larger incentive to implement them soon.
Finally, it’s IE that’s keeping the desktop’s average down. I wonder what would happen if we’d take IE out of the equation. Would mobile browsers still evolve at a faster pace than the desktop ones?
Alex’s most important point is this:
PPKs data is missing some other columns too, namely a rough estimate of the percent of mobile handsets running a particular version, [and] rates of change in that landscape over the past 18 months.
He’s absolutely right. I should have included these numbers. Problem is: I don’t have them. Nobody does.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The AdMob mobile advertisement platform regularly publishess mobile metrics, and I always study them, partly because they’re genuinely interesting, and partly because there is nothing else.
I give huge amounts of kudos to AdMob for publishing these figures. In fact, I’d willingly borrow kudos at a prohibitive interest rate in order to give them to AdMob.
Still, there are a few problems that preclude their analyses from being exactly what I need:
Thus this source of data, which is by far the best I’ve found so far, does not suit our needs. If you know of more good, free data, please leave a comment.
Until we have a good data source, we just do not know the market share of the various WebKits, or of most other mobile browsers, in fact. We can only be certain of Safari, whose market share coincides exactly with the iPhone’s, but even there we need version numbers.
Alex says that the turnover rate of mobile devices is somewhere in the order of 24 months. From anecdotal evidence I gathered (mainly among my mobile-web-illiterate friends) it seems that this rate may be significantly longer. Without good data, however, we cannot tell who of us is right.
Still, turnover rate is very important. Right now I spend a lot of time on S60v3, which was created back in 2005 (Alex’s date), and which was an insanely popular OS for quite a few years. I’m not sure when Nokia stopped producing S60v3 devices in favour of the S60v5 touchscreens, but it wasn’t long ago. (If you know a date, please leave a comment.)
From what I gather the S60v3 WebKit is still pretty important (provided its owners surf the Internet, which is not certain). This clashes partly with Alex’s turnover rate, and shows once more how vitally important it is to get good data on mobile browser use. Is S60v3 still very important, or is it being rapidly superseded by newer Nokias? I just don’t know.
Several people asked me why I didn’t include Safari on Mac in the table. Simple: I don’t own a Mac, and it seems unlikely I ever will in the future.
Somewhere around Safari 1.3 I gave up on Mac. I was fundamentally unwilling to pay a lot of money for an OS upgrade every time a new Safari was released, because I used my Mac only for testing purposes, and not for any other reason. Besides, Apple is the only browser vendor that requires you to pay for a new browser (plus other stuff, admittedly, but still). I’m sick of that behaviour. #appleisevil
As a result I wholly skipped Safari 2, and only restarted my Safari testing when the Windows version was released. Nowadays I only test Safari on Windows.
I have never yet heard of a difference between Safari on Mac and on Windows, and besides, the whole point of the Windows release was allowing non-Mac web developers easy access to the browser. Apple would seriously damage itself if there were any differences between the Mac and Windows versions.
Somebody else asked me why I haven’t included iCab. Although the answer is again that I don’t own a Mac, I must admit I made a mistake long ago. When iCab 5 (right?) was released and it turned out to use WebKit as a rendering engine, I stopped testing it because I assumed it would be equal to Safari. In hindsight, I understand I might have found some interesting differences between the two. Too late now.
Finally, a not-wholly-related but not-wholly-unrelated-either item. Android in particular is going to become a chaotic OS browser-wise.
Yesterday I briefly tested the HTC Hero, which ostensibly runs Android 1.5 . I found that:
The other Androids I tested (which were, incidentally, also HTCs) did not have these features.
If Vodafone has an HTC Hero I plan to do some tests next week, but I can already tell you HTC Android WebKit 1.5 is not necessarily the same as HTC Android WebKit 1.5. Isn’t web development fun?
Upcoming speaking gigs:
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