Since my attempts at capturing web developers’ hearts and minds by publishing fundamental research have failed miserably but my thirst for attention continues unabated, today I will once more shout at iPhone developers. That’s proven to work.
More specifically, today I will shout at web developers who think that delicately inserting an iPhone up their ass is the same as mobile web development.
Before we start, a little thought experiment. Suppose I proposed the following:
Would you agree with those sentiments, even if we’re back in 2000 and IE6 is really the best browser we have?
Or would you reply that our sites should work as well as they can in all browsers through the use of web standards, progressive enhancement, and all the rest of the best practices we’ve been preaching for the past ten years?
I distinctly remember a time when we web developers cared about such concepts. But those times are long gone.
Nowadays we live in a fantasy world that focuses exclusively on one platform, and does so exclusively for reasons of eye candy.
We laughingly disown every single principle the web standards movement has ever stood for in the past ten years in order to swoon and drool over Apple’s iCandy and happily accept the reality distortion field that emanates from it.
The iPhone has become an obsession. If we don’t pay attention, we’ll have a mobile web that only works on the iPhone. And then we’ll have the real mobile web that wasn’t made by us and doesn’t give a shit about web standards and best practices.
Worse, it seems web developers are happy with this state of affairs. It seems web developers are congratulating themselves on excluding 85% of the smartphone users. They certainly never bother to check their sites in S60 WebKit, the largest smartphone browser in the world.
We’re doing exactly the same as ten years ago. We now say “iPhone” instead of “IE6,” but otherwise nothing’s changed.
No, wait, there’s one more change: the iPhone has far less mobile market share now than IE6 had desktop share back then.
Let’s illustrate that last remark with some smartphone sales stats:
Let’s break these sales stats down by continent. Asia excluding Japan first:
Finally North America:
Apple is second in every market, but the least difference with the market leader is 22% in North America.
Source: Morgan Stanley Mobile Internet Report (48Meg PDF) p. 160
North Americans are parochial in their choice of a smartphone. One more reason why the North American market has zero predictive value for the rest of the world.
Oddly, Europeans buy relatively more Asian smartphones, while Asians buy relatively more European smartphones.
The Japanese market is so very different from all the others that I left it out. Besides, a full 20% of Japanese smartphone sales fall in an unspecified “others” category. Apple is fourth with 10% of sales.
The Japanese are even more parochial than the Americans when it comes to selecting a smartphone, but that’s partly caused by the unique shape the mobile space has in that country. None of the Western manufacturers has truly created an inroad in the most advanced mobile market in the world.
Incidentally, the Japanese market does have predictive value for the rest of the world, but it’s sometimes so advanced that it’s hard to understand.
And here are the smartphone OS stats, also from Tomi Ahonen (whose blog I highly recommend, by the way):
Despite the platform having only 15% sales market share we all want our mobile websites to look exactly like an iPhone app and we only want to use iPhone features.
We want to happily live forever in our fantasy world that’s filled to overflowing with fucking iPhones, and where Nokias or BlackBerries aren’t welcome. Our rationalisation machine is running overtime to maintain this illusion and filter away reality.
We’re a bunch of lousy amateurs, that’s what we are.
No “mobile web development” specialist ever mentions Nokia ever. After all, Nokia only sells more smartphones than BlackBerry and Apple combined, so there’s no reason to mention it.
Mentioning Nokia is the mark of the rude boor. The man of discernment mentions the iPhone. And mentions it and mentions it and mentions it. And then mentions the iPad, to show he is open to non-iPhone devices. The bigger the better.
Oh, and don’t bring up Android. Yes, it’s an excellent system, and yes, it could have a bright future ahead of it, but right now it doesn’t amount to anything in the global market. It certainly won’t serve as a “Hey, I do multiple platforms” alibi.
15% + 4% = 19%
Turn off the fucking reality distortion field.
“But ... but ... ” I hear you sputter. Sputter on. You’re wrong.
But the iPhone has the best user experience of any phone!
True. So what?
Whole flocks of web developers swear that their Mac is far more user-friendly than any Windows machine that will ever be invented. Still, do they develop websites only for Macs?
But Safari iPhone is the best mobile browser!
True. So what?
Firefox is the best desktop browser. (Or Opera, or Safari, or whatever.) Do you develop sites exclusively for Firefox?
But Safari supports amazing CSS-driven graphic capabilities!
True. So what?
Use these capabilities, by all means. Just don’t depend on them. Don’t stare at them obsessively for hours on end and then decide you’ve made your site “mobile compatible.”
There’s this thing called progressive enhancement. It’s a neat trick that allows you to use the iPhone’s capabilities without damaging the experience of users of other phones.
But Safari iPhone has about 50% of mobile internet traffic market share! You can’t ignore that, can you?
Watch me ignore it.
First, so what? No, let me rephrase that: So fucking what? Since when does web development mean leaving 50% of your mobile users out in the cold? Since when is “I only support browsers with a large market share” a valid argument? (Answer: since we have an iPhone up our ass.)
Next, I’m not so sure if it’s true. Mobile browser detection is really hard.
None of the reports I’ve read so far show
how they detect browsers. Lots of mobile browsers have
their UA strings to work around browser detects that obsessed web developers have set up.
Do all traffic market share reporters work around that problem? Most probably do, but we can’t be sure.
Besides, what will happen when the operators abandon the economically untenable flat rate for iPhone data traffic? Will iPhone users maintain their current traffic market share when they have to pay as they go?
Next, many market share reports apply only to the US market, and it’s exactly these reports that are discussed most by the influential American tech bloggers.
The real mobile battle, however, will take place in Europe and Asia. The US is a sideshow. Unfortunately it’s extraordinarily hard to convince people, both Americans and non-Americans, of that fact. So let’s try again:
Contrary to every single other technical advance of the last 50 years, mobile did not start in the US, and the US has always been somewhat behind Asia and Europe. For instance, SMS only really took off with the Obama campaign, while the rest of the world became addicted to it years ago.
Source: Morgan Stanley Mobile Internet Report (48Meg PDF) p. 75
While North America has 17% of the world’s internet users, it has only 7% of the world’s mobile users. Europe (22%) and Asia (45%) have the same figure for both.
The US market doesn’t have any predictive value for the rest of the world, either, because Nokia is absent. It’s just a small niche market.
That means that, contrary to every other branch of tech, American mobile opinions just aren’t very important to the rest of the world. For the American market, yes, of course they matter. For all other markets, don’t listen to them.
The problem is that too much of the rest of the world takes its cues from the well-read US tech bloggers that have made obsessing over Apple and Google while being blissfully unaware of the rest of the mobile ecosystem into a fine art.
In the medium run the problem will solve itself. Either the US bloggers will catch up with mobile reality, or they will cease to be read. I’m guessing the former. They’re not stupid.
But with all that said I still have no reliable traffic market share figures. So let’s accept that 50% of all mobile web traffic comes from the iPhone. Or 30%. Or 70%. Whatever. Far more than its sales market share, in any case.
Point is, that’s our fault.
I can vividly imagine an S60 WebKit user getting tired of shitty websites whose developers were too busy playing with their iPhones to bother with the largest worldwide smartphone browser.
We web developers are doing an amazingly lousy job right now. We have to start serious mobile testing instead of just playing around with our iPhone for a few minutes before declaring our site fit for mobile.
Supporting all browsers is the whole fucking point of being a good web developer, and I’m going to force you to do it even if I have to personally swear at each of you individually.
I’m sick of the travesty that calls itself “mobile web development” but mostly amounts to Apple-obsessed idiots with iPhones so far up their asses that their brains are starving for oxygen.
Do you ever see any mainstream mobile web development article that talks about S60 WebKit or the (lousy) BlackBerry browser? Due to our iPhone obsession we are deliberately not paying any attention to a user group that’s four times as large as the iPhone.
We have come full-circle back to developing for only one browser. Worse, we are congratulating ourselves on that bit of cleverness. Christ, do we really have to go through the whole standards movement once again?
True, the default browsers on Nokia and (especially) BlackBerry phones are less advanced than Safari iPhone, but so what? Dealing with them is the job we signed up to do. Besides, Nokia and BlackBerry are fully aware of the situation, and I expect significant improvements during this year. And if not, there’s always Opera.
As to traffic, Nokias and BlackBerries may consume less that their fair share, but as I said earlier that’s our fault. We can’t use the mess we created as an excuse to create an even larger mess. Besides, which web developer ignores 85% of his potential users? (The answer, obviously, is: one with an iPhone up his ass.)
Web developers should take a look at their sites on a Nokia and a BlackBerry and fix whatever’s wrong. It isn’t that hard to get your hands on a testing device. Just ask around or use PerfectoMobile. (I do not trust emulators, so I don’t recommend their use.)
Install Opera Mini on the device, and also install Opera Mobile if you have a Nokia. Check in both. The native browsers are more important, though.
Oh, and remember: Fixing a site for a browser does not mean making sure the complete feature set works in that browser. Use progressive enhancement. Lots and lots of it. Especially on BlackBerry. That’ll keep you sane.
Finally, I’ll be monitoring new mobile web publications, and I’m thinking of instating an “iPhone Up Ass Award” for the mobile web development article that ignores reality most effectively. You have been warned.
If you write an article about mobile web development, I expect you to devote a significant chunk of it to one or two specific Nokia or BlackBerry phones. Show you can look further than just the latest fad and see the mobile web in its entirety.
To those who still want to blather about seamless UX and swoonworthy CSS and all the rest of the bullshit: why don’t you fuck the fuck off and go wank your stupid iThingy elsewhere? If you’re not interested in universal access you’re not a real web developer and you don’t belong on the mobile web.
As for the rest of us, we’ve got work to do.
I’m speaking at the following conferences:
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