The death of the mini-browsers

A few years ago I became infatuated with writing cHTML mobile sites. I saw it as a challenge. Develop a website that can render on a 120×120 screen and be considerably usable. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as it has to render correctly to over 25 browsers and their (buggy) iterations, and have an actual design (rather than being a bunch of text on a white background like most mobile sites are).

But these days are gone. There is no point doing that anymore for the future browsers and handsets. Most phone manufacturers these days use either the Safari engine, or license Opera or they try to fake it by licensing Netfront and not give it enough RAM to play well with big sites (Sony Ericsson, this was for you). Most manufacturers now want next-gen browsers. Teleca went out of the mini-browser game last year, while today Openwave, the most popular mini-browser company on the planet, laid off 200 employees today, and they put a stop to further development of their browser (they’ll only do maintenance now, I guess). Thank God my JBQ left this company in time.

This is not to say that mini-browsers won’t be encountered anymore. Nokia still has their own S40 browser, Motorola has their terrible little P2k browser, while LG/Samsung fluctuates between Openwave and Netfront these days. Truth is, no one uses these mini-browsers. The halt of Openwave’s browser today is a testament to that, as Openwave once had 52% of the mobile browser market, and right now are below 20% just a few short years later. Besides, if someone was unlucky enough to get such a low-end handset for free from their carrier, they are much better off by installing the impressive Opera Mini instead.

This is not to say that we should not be writing mobile sites anymore. There are BILLIONS of people still who don’t own a smartphone but they still use one of these micro or mini browsers. Heck, even the mobile IE/Opera/Safari-based browsers DO need a simpler desktop-version site layout with not too much CSS and Javascript to render fast/well-enough. But the point is, the world is going towards a mobile system that can’t be characterized as “limited mobile” anymore, but a mini version of anything desktop. The keywords here are “full-featured browsers”.

A few years ago I said that 2010 will be the time that I will start using CSS and XHTML for my mobile sites instead of cHTML. My estimation seems to be good. Thing is, I don’t have the enthusiasm to do that anymore. I am seriously thinking of giving away my mobile autodetection script, the one that powers OSNews and Gnomefiles.


rcsteiner wrote on April 1st, 2008 at 11:43 AM PST:

I just stick to basic HTML (4.01 transitional, usually) even for the intranet pages I generate here at work, and I make sure that I keep things like image tags and such intact. If most of my content is text (which it generally is), it should work on most browsers regardless of age, screen resolution, or other factors.

CSS and XHTML are a solution looking for a problem – if you want to do publishing, please use PDF or some other appropriate format. 🙂 If OSNews was properly designed (IMO), it would not have to detect browsers at all.

rcsteiner wrote on April 1st, 2008 at 11:45 AM PST:

Then again, I’m admittedly old school (I started playing with web pages back in 1993) and I’m also focused on multiplatform support. That isn’t always the case for “mainstream” sites.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on April 1st, 2008 at 1:03 PM PST:

>If OSNews was properly designed

rcsteiner, you don’t know what you are talking about, sorry. When I am talking about micro/mini browsers above, I talk about browsers who can’t even load sites over 16 KBs of overall data. There is no way, no matter how much “properly” you design a modern site to not be over 16 KBs. So as long you want to support these mini-browsers, like I want to, there should ALWAYS be a mobile site that’s special. You can’t expect to somehow “design properly” using HTML 4 any modern/full site and expect it to work with EVERY browser out there, like OSNews does today with its mobile site. This just shows me that you haven’t really worked with mobile browsers, but only maybe 2-3 of them. I’ve worked and tested 95% of them, plus embedded browsers.

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