“Every major mobile platform is now either using WebKit or will be soon. Except for one.”
— John Gruber, on RIM’s new WebKit-based browser, the one obvious holdout being Windows Mobile.
While I’m a huge fan of WebKit, both in my pants and on my desk, this strikes me as an odd thing to triumph. For one, replace “WebKit” with “Flash” and suddenly the iPhone is the holdout.
Well, that’s only “sort of” true. Right now, most smartphones don’t actually support Flash, they just have it announced for 2010. Many of them also had it announced for “late 2009” and that didn’t happen. The few phones that currently do have Flash support also have notoriously terrible battery life when browsing the Web.
Perhaps this year we’ll actually see the major iPhone competitors add Flash support to their devices. Sure, it’s very possible. But we’ll have to wait and see when that happens whether it’ll actually create a better user experience.
Anyway, that wasn’t your point, but I felt it worthwhile to explain the reality of the Flash situation, which you inaccurately described.
More importantly, though, with something like browser rendering engines, I’m philosophically opposed to a monoculture.
As am I, but I’m on the fence when it comes to the mobile sphere. I fully agree that competition between WebKit, Gecko and Opera/Presto would be great on the mobile platform as well, I just don’t feel so strongly about it being such a bad thing that this competition currently does not exist.
I’d like to see it in the future, but there are two big reasons why I’m happy it’s not the case right now:
1. Two sides of the lack of competition coin
As far as mobile browsing is concerned, I’ve yet to see a particularly great mobile version of Firefox or Opera. I know many people that work for both Mozilla and Opera and I think they’re doing lots of great stuff on the desktop, but on mobile I’ve yet to be impressed at all. The lack of real competition right now, as far as I can tell, mostly just stems from the lack of a worthy competitor to mobile WebKit. That will change, but that’s the situation right now.
2. HTML5 and CSS3
I would like for us to have some semblance of cross-browser support for the coolest stuff in HTML5 and CSS3 before we start having to worry about mobileGecko and Opera Mobile on smartphones.
Apple doesn’t allow runtimes, but…
…what’s the case for WebOS and Android? I see that there’s a Firefox for Android, but can’t find such a thing for WebOS (which, I’m guessing, makes some sense due to the entire OS being WebKit-driven). And Opera?
Apple is, as far as I know, the strictest of rulers when it comes to deciding what is and isn’t allowed on their devices. But when it comes to the users, that doesn’t seem to be an issue either way: they’re just wanting sites to render (Flash issue aside for a moment).
And that’s the thing: when it comes to mobile devices, there actually are far more different browsers right now, but almost all of them are so totally not as usable as the WebKit browsers that there are very few developers who think it’s worthwhile catering to those browsers.
Unless Mozilla and Opera manage to produce a browser that performs better than mobileSafari in virtually every way possible, it doesn’t seem like competition is going to happen on mobile anytime soon. And that’s not such a bad thing, because the WebKit team is so busy competing with them on the desktop and porting everything to mobile and making it perform really well, that both users and developers are currently reaping lots of benefits from the status quo.
I suspect that when either the iPad allows competing browsers, or someone makes a competing product that gains enough mindshare and market share to make a difference, we’ll see the mobile browser sphere opening up quite a bit more after all.
I’m hoping it adds the excitement to my life that I need.
If you wanted to taste some seriously great Dutch cheese, you should’ve just forced me to open one of my cheeses during SFTU and share with all.
In fact, can someone please punch me in the stomach for not doing so anyway? You all would’ve loved it and I would’ve been super popular by offering everyone cheese. What a missed opportunity…
I’m sorry, but I’ve already left LA. Didn’t have time there for almost anything, it was just a quick in-and-out to chat about important matters with my buddy Luke and then onwards to D.C. (where I’m at now). Alas!
Next time I head to SoCal I’ll definitely announce it well enough ahead of time so we can arrange a meetup!
(answered here so that all other SoCal peeps know, too)