OS and Browser Fragmentation

oreillyradar.gifO’Reilly Radar has a thought provoking article on ‘Mobile operating systems and browsers are headed in opposite directions’. It describes how the number of mobile operating systems is increasing while browsers are converging on HTML5 and WebKit.
 
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What the article and numbers don’t show is the total size of the smartphone market. This has been increasing significantly over time. A larger overall market means that it is becoming more viable to pick just one or two platforms and still get a large number of users.

One problem with the web is that, to get a look and feel that’s similar to the underlying platform, it’s necessary to have lots of Javascript libraries that implement native-like scrolling, lists, navigation bars, font sizes, padding and margins. For cross platform, the resultant Javascript code becomes complex very quickly. The alternative, something that looks more like a web page, is much less compelling than a native app.

Similarly, to support native features (location, contacts etc) cross platform you need different web runtimes. While there’s lots of work on standards, there’s still a long way to go before we can rely on them being there on a significant number of phones.

I continue to believe both apps and the mobile web will continue to be used, for a long while, according to their respective strengths and weaknesses.

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