December, 2010

Dec 10

Mobilising the Web – A necessary evil?

The mobile ecosystem is extremely diverse with more and more devices being released using a variety of different software. Although the iPhone is having the most impact on the mobile industry over all else, mobile web browsing still only accounts for around 4% of webpage views (Dec 2010). And despite all the noise, the iPhone’s not the only one out there.

Of this 4%, Mobile Safari only commands 23.44% of the market (17.51% on the iPhone, 5.93% on iPod Touch) – not much of a lead on Opera Mobile, Nokia & BlackBerry’s browsers. In fact there are 5 very different mobile browsers within 4% of each other, making a very fractured ecosystem.

Browser Market Share
Safari 23.43%
Opera 20.1%
BlackBerry 17.87%
Nokia 15.68%
Android 13.23%
Other 20.1%

With the constant growth in mobile devices, client requirements / briefs for creating mobile friendly services are commonly very vague. Many things need to be considered before building for multiple devices. For example:

  • What devices are we building for (desktop/tablet/smart phone/WAP)?
  • Defining device groupings based on device capabilities (e.g. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Video, Flash support etc)?
  • Create functionality, restraints and support for each device grouping.

This can prove frustrating to clients as sacrificing important functionality for differing devices can be a bitter pill to swallow.

This approach can also be increasingly confusing, frustrating and discouraging for traditional ‘desktop web’ developers and consequently focus on optimising their sites for just one device… the one in their pocket. Ironically, if you suggested to a developer that they only built for one desktop browser they’d look at you like you just insulted their mother.

With the mobile ecosystem being as fragmented as it currently, it is hard to see clients spending the time and money on developing specifically for the 5 big name browsers  individually. So what is the way forward? Do we just develop versions with Safari and Opera in mind and cover as much of the market share as possible? Or will we see a move towards building sites which degrade gracefully throughout the mobile browsing ecosystem?

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