Thursday, February 14, 2008

The triumph of WebKit

I’m sorry to be here in San José instead of Barcelona, because this sounds like a particularly momentous 3GSM conference this year. There’s such a huge amount of news that even from 7,000 miles away it’s impossible to keep up, although the FT coverage (and that of CNET and Engadget Mobile) helps.

Although there’s been a lot of coverage about Google’s gPhone prototypes at MWC, I found an article about Google’s business model to be more interesting.

Google on Wednesday said it had seen 50 times more searches on Apple‘s iPhone than any other mobile handset, adding weight to the group’s confidence at being able to generate significant revenues from the mobile internet.

“We thought it was a mistake and made our engineers check the logs again,” Vic Gundotra, head of Google’s mobile operations told the Financial Times at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

If the trend continues and other handset manufacturers follow Apple’s lead in making web access easy, the number of mobile searches will overtake fixed internet searches “within the next several years”, Mr Gundotra said.

Of course, more searches equals more page views of Google-served ads. Does it mean more click throughs? We assume that, but of course there’s not enough of a track record to tell.

This is a clear validation of Google’s efforts to work with Apple to make the iPhone the premier mobile Internet device. Apple deserves a lot of credit for showing others what to do, and will receive abundant flattery through imitation over the next few years.

What I think it makes clear, however, is the triumph of WebKit — a fast, lean, standards-based open source browser that is rapidly gaining share. It’s Apple’s desktop browser, its iPhone browser, Nokia’s S60 browser, Google’s Android browser, and — as a presentation last month at Mobile Monday made clear, coming soon to Windows Mobile.

The next opportunity is obviously to bring WebKit to the 10% of the smartphone world that uses Blackberries. Strangely, an open source effort to port WebKit to Symbian UIQ seems to be stalled — you would think the Sony Ericsson (or UIQ) bureaucracy could spare an engineer for six months to help along the conversion.

WebKit’s success means that mobile websites will eventually be targeted for WebKit browsers — unless somehow Mozilla can up with clean fast code soon. Since WebKit is open source, Apple may be able to put a unique UI on its iPhone but not a unique web rendering engine.

All browser implementations of HTML etc. standards have their quirks. Today many sites don’t work with Safari’s. However, if you have market share then website operators will have to write their code to be compatible with those quirks.

More importantly for Google, if everyone is running Ajax-compatible WebKit browsers, it can develop cross-platform web apps for the vast majority of the smartphone world while others are still figuring out how to port their native apps.


Tom Chavez said...

What about SkyFire? It's based on Mozilla

Anonymous said...

Webkit is a fine example of Apple ruining a decent Open Source Project. The source for the core of Webkit is open source, however it implements closed source Apple libraries. This means that if you deploy to a non-Apple product then you need to write your own version of these libraries