Adam Mc

Thoughts on the web.

The Web Browser: Standards & Mobile

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At work, I write a weekly column about what’s happening in digital. This post is stolen directly from that column.

When it comes to the web every experience has one very important thing in common: The Web Browser.

There is a very dated metaphor from the early 2000’s that says “Web browsers are the car that let us drive along the information superhighway.” (ugh…)

If you’re still thinking that way then allow me to adjust the metaphor slightly for you. “Web browsers are the vehicle that gives us access to the information superhighway”. It’s a slight adjustment – but an important one.

There was a time when browser’s abilities were much more limited than they are today. And during that time almost every browser would bring you to the same online experience. It didn’t matter if you were using Netscape Navigator, AOL or the brand new Internet Explorer 6. You would get the same content, displayed in almost the same way. Back then, the car-drive metaphor worked well.

Fast forward to today: Netscape and AOL browsers don’t even exist anymore and IE6 is 10 years old. We all know how fast things change online and you could say that using IE6 today would be the equivalent to using a 50’s sedan as your daily driver. Not very practical is it?

Over the past few years 100’s of new ways to browse the web have been released. Wether it’s on your phone, your Xbox or laptop – today’s modern browsers came in all different sizes, on different devices and each have their own abilities. The experience you have online today is heavily dependent on the vehicle you use to access the web. So how do you know what browser to choose? And what does that mean to our clients?

There are a handful that lead the pack. The major browsers are considered to be: Internet Explorer (IE), Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

The market share of each browser combined with it’s abilities should be our guiding light when it comes to choosing one not only for your own personal use – but when choosing which browsers we should support for our clients.

Abilities:

New technologies and web standards are adopted on a regular basis. Choosing a browser that keeps up with the changes means you’ll always have a chance to get the best and most secure experience the web has to offer. Things like location powered searches,  auto updating web pages or videos and games without installing flash. (Just to name a few…)

Most of these new technologies revolve around the web standards of HTML 5 and CSS 3. I won’t go into the meaning or details of each of those, but I will say: choose a browser that supports them.

Market Share:

Market share in the browser world works the same way it does everywhere else: “How much of the market uses product x”. But since browsers are software and software changes rapidly the browser market share numbers can swing wildly from one month to the next.

Here is how market share breaks down as of November 2011 and some notes about what each one supports:

Just two months ago Chrome was in 3rd place behind Firefox, now it’s the leading individual web browser. Of course, if you were to add up all the versions of IE and Firefox the leader board would look something like this:

But perhaps the most interesting statistic out of these new numbers is Mobile*. It’s market share is 6.95% and keeps growing every month. Mobile market share is bigger than Firefox 3.7 or Safari. More to the point: It is bigger than IE6 and IE7 COMBINED. Anyone here who has worked on an interactive project knows that one of our first questions to the client is: Will we be supporting IE6/IE7?

If we think that question is important enough to ask when those browsers only represent 6.49% of the market then shouldn’t we also be making a point to talk about mobile? I think the answer to that is obvious: Yes.

In Summary:

Choose a browser that supports web standards. (Chrome, Firefox, Safari or IE9) And when it comes to your clients: Don’t forget about mobile, it’s too big to be ignored.

*The mobile number here represents ALL mobile browsers. (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc..)

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