The issues of designing foe one browser, never-mind one device, should be very clear to anyone that has promoted web standards and the open web. Apple themselves have made this even more clear by their latest move. They've just recently anouned the iPod Touch, with the included Safari browser. Now this doesn't suffer from many of the problems of designing for one browser or device; It has the same screen, the same engine and likely the same hardware. However, if we look at all those URLs that have been coming out in the last weeks. like digg.com/iphone, mediatemple.net/iphone et al. we have a problem. It is easy to imagine that iPod Safari users will think these sites are for iPhone only, when they'd in fact work just great on the iPod. Work great that is as long as the authors don't use browser sniffing to detect the iPhone (providing the iPod uses a different user agent string, I'm not sure). These sites will often also work great on other mobile browsers like the S60 browser, Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, but the URLs suggest otherwise.
Of course, the naming and the iPod issue isn't the only reason why it is short sighted. I've hi-lighted why one browser design is bad, in that it introduces cases where you rely (even accidentally) on browser bugs and vendor specific extensions. It may not matter to you, after all the Iphone/ipod is really hot, but it does matter to your potential customers. If we look who there are, then you'll probably see something like this:
Mobile/Handheld browser share for August 2007, as percentage of total browser market share
Data from Net Applications
- Opera Mini: 0.27%
- iPhone Safari: 0.05%
- PSP Internet Browser: 0.02%
- Series60 Browser: 0.02%
- Danger Web Browser: 0.02%
- ACCESS NetFront: 0.01%
- BlackBerry: 0.00%
Mobile/Handheld growth, July '07 to August '07, as percentage of total browser market share
- Opera Mini: + 0.03 (0.24 -> 0.27)
- iPhone Safari: + 0.01 (0.04 -> 0.05)
- PSP Internet Browser: 0
- Danger Web Browser: 0
- ACCESS NetFront: 0
- Series60 Browser: - 0.01%
- BlackBerry: Doesn't feature in July features
The iPhone and Series60 figures were taken from the Operating System figures. For iPhone this will be a accurate measure as Safari is the only browser available. For Series60 it will also include other browsers like Opera Mobile. As always with statistics, take them with a grain of salt. I don't know which sites were monitored to get these figures. As they are a US based company, I'd expect (but don't know) the stats to be biased towards the US or English speaking countries, where Apple tends to be stronger. Nokia tends to be stronger outside the US and Opera Mini historically is also more popular outside the states as Mini doesn't work on Verizon phones and has had issues with T-mobile US.
At least by these figures, Mini is not only far more popular than all the other mobile browsers (put together) but is also growing faster. This is something to bear in mind when thinking of making a device/browser specific web site, or optimisation. I'm certainly not saying to make Mini only sites though, digg.com/mini would just be as bad. Imagine how much work it would be to update and create the regular site, and a Mini, iPhone/iPod and Wii version for example. Admittedly, there is not much to go on with just two months data, and things will likely change as time goes on. The global role out of the iPhone will help its marketshare, when that eventually happens. Mini will always be available on more devices, and more carriers, and in markets where Apple doesn't focus. There are markets where devices like the iPhone will be too expensive, such as the developing world, where feature phones rule. There are a lot of people in these markets. I think iPhone will eventually get a significant percentage of the mobile market and be a major mobile browser, but I don't think it will take over the industry like it has for digital music players. Another advantage Mini has is that for the most part, the users of Mini are people that downloaded a mobile browser because they want to surf the web. For many other mobile browsers, they are pre-installed applications that people don't always use, or know what the application does. Safari wont often have this problem either as Apple will market internet on the iPhone heavily and people buying the iPhone will probably be see it as a reason for purchasing the phone. Who knows who will eventually become the major player beyond the desktop, but I don't think it will be a one horse race like happened on desktop.