I just realized that I will soon be learning a great deal about something I know next to nothing about, but am very interested in: mobile web development. And that will be a large focus, albeit not the sole focus, of this blog in the foreseeable future.
I know next to nothing about mobile development, and am somewhat in the dark ages with my V3c (affectionately known as the RAZR) which has no data plan. In fact, I would be somewhat intimidated to try to type in web addresses into its web browser. It’s not the ideal way to browse the web, to say the least.
On the other side of the spectrum we have wonderphones such as the Apple iPhone, which is supposedly pure joy to use. I’ve recently been indoctrinated into the Apple cult by purchasing a Mac Book Pro earlier this year, but I suppose my devotion isn’t quite strong enough, as I don’t yet have the faith to baptize myself into the world of all things iPhone.
It’s not the price of the iPhone that scares me. I know it’s a good phone, so I would be happy dumping down upwards of $500 just to own it (the maps feature alone would save me hundreds of dollars in gas, as I’m a particularly terrible driver/navigator). As a new AT&T customer, the price for me would actually only be $99. But what scares me is the $100 monthly bill for the plan (I’m probably slightly exaggerating, but it’s close to that!). By the end of the year, that totals the price of a brand new laptop. And I’d much rather have the laptop.
Anyhow, back to the iPhone itself. I hadn’t realized it, but the iPhone is part of something much bigger than just mobile web development, but applicable to web development in general. Its Safari browser has been continually implementing cool new HTML 5 features. And as these features become supported, web developers have been taking advantage of them.
That being said, there’s always the downside: many many phones such as my trustworthy RAZR lag behind and don’t even come up to par. In the desktop world, it’s the bane of developers known as Internet Explorer 6.0. In the mobile world, I’m almost afraid to ask. The sheer number of different combinations of screen sizes and mobile browsers makes it humanly impossible to develop for ALL mobile browsers.
I suspect that most individual mobile developers decide to develop for only one phone, which happens to be the only phone at their disposal (more and more this is becoming the iPhone). For the individual, this is really the only sane thing to do.
On the other hand, for big companies to focus only on one phone is extremely risky. While the phone might be popular, the popular wisdom has always been not to put all of your eggs into one basket, right? And besides, why develop for only one phone when you can develop for many phones, expand your reach, and ultimately increase sales (I say “ultimately”, but that’s basically the drive that was there from the beginning).
Because this reach is unattainable for the individual developer, the task of developing and researching these phones is the burden of the big corporation. I like what Yahoo! is doing in principle with Blueprint, and I’m sure we’ll see many of these same services pop up soon from other companies (they very well might have already, I really just don’t know). It seems that making progress in this area will require either a huge effort on the part of one company or the collaboration of the community. But so far the community (aka individual developers) seems to be unaware or unconcerned with the larger phone market share. They’ve jumped into mobile development with a very limited focus, not realizing that literally most people don’t use the iPhone, however cool it may be, and how promising it is.
So what is the state of the mobile web? It’s in a state which I suspect it will always be in, just as desktop browsers: looking forward to the future but also clinging to the past in the name of backwards compatibility.