On the flip side of the debate about whether Flash is ill, in rude health, or simply untroubled by Apple’s wilful refusal to countenance it on the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, we have an analysis from Peter-Paul Koch, a “mobile platform strategist, consultant and trainer” who says (with plenty of swearing to boot, if you’re in filter territory) that the iPhone is the Internet Explorer 6 de nos jours.
Yes. That’s right. He’s saying: don’t develop for it. Or rather, don’t develop exclusively for it to the exclusion of other mobile browsers, and certainly don’t give it special status.
The long, detailed and faintly angry blogpost doesn’t pull any punches:
“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.”
Oh? Suppose, he suggests, one proposed the following:
1. IE6 is today’s most advanced browser. (Note: this was actually true back in 2000. Please bear with me.)
2. IE6’s market share is about 80%.
3. The other browsers are way worse than IE6, and developing for them is a pain; something we’re not interested in and are a bit afraid of.
4. Therefore we will develop websites exclusively for IE6.
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?
Well, would ya, punk?
Certainly he’s making some of the same points that were made in comments to my earlier post about Flash:
“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.”
He thinks that the iPhone doesn’t really have the claimed 50% share of the mobile web:
“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 iPhone in 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?”
Well, let’s deal with the second one first: if mobile operators do that, they’ll find iPhone customers abandoning them by the thousands, and demanding their money back, and suing them for breach of contract. That sort of data deal that Apple got from AT&T, and from all other mobile operators, is a ratchet – you can’t go back to a pay-by-byte, just as anyone who’s experienced broadband is simply not going to go back to clock-watching unless they’re taken to another country or location where the internet is in a rudimentary state. It may be true that iPhone users are the exception, but it will be more common – a family member who has a BlackBerry got a pleading letter from Orange imploring them to upgrade to an all-you-can-eat data package for just £5 per month.
Back to the blogpost…
“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?”
This is the core of his argument, and it is a good one: that in developing only for the iPhone, you ignore all the other people out there, and that’s not good.
Then again, the closer a mobile browser comes to being standards-based (if there is such a thing – which is another question entirely) the easier it should be to develop for.
And of course one can’t help thinking that a lot of this development for the iPhone is still based on the same thing that got sites developed for IE6, and which was the prevailing credo of Willie Sutton.
Sutton, you’ll recall, was a bankrobber of great notoriety in the early 20th century. Caught and interviewed by the FBI, he was asked why he robbed banks.