How long do mobile browsers last?
There have been a lot of articles recently that are talking about when to stop/drop support for IE, specifically IE8. This is a big deal for those who are stuck on Windows XP or Vista, but don’t have the option to update. So i started looking at what people will do with mobile browsers.
The likes of Meego, WebOS and QNX have come and mostly fizzled away. In some cases, you may decided not to even test against the device, let alone support it. We also have to deal with browsers that are not fully baked yet, Windows phone for example. Finally, the choice of when to drop support for older browsers, how long do you wait, what is the tipping point?
In a lot of ways, it will depend on your market and when you live, but i think any phone that you can into a shop and buy should be in your first line of supported devices. This may cause you a little amount of pain as you will probably dealing with at least 1 or 2 crap phones. However, as Android and iOS move on, the browser support gets a lot better, so the days of some Android browsers are numbered.
What is on the way out?
A lot of what I am about to say is speculation, it is based somewhat in trends that we have seen, what our stats indicate, research on sales figures and market data. We will look at 3 main browsers, Android 2.1, Windows Phone 7.5 and iOS. With IE8 still in the game, we will look at some mobile browsers that hanging around, but which may be reaching the end of there lives.
From what we have seen from our stats, Android 2.1 is nearly gone, with most of the Android users on 2.2/3, which reflects the global stats.
When looking at Chrome and Firefox, the version a lot of people are now supporting is the latest one, as the auto update feature takes over. Android is essentially the IE of the Android world, the versions are tied to the OS version and users may not want to update the OS.
What I predict is a lot of people dropping support and not testing Android 2.1 after it hits 3 years old, October 2012, this is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, most phones are sold on 2-year contracts, with some 2.1 phones on the shelves for sale in late 2010, this prolonging the support. Also, some Android OEMs will not have launched a phone until they got the source code and updated it, which means a delay in 2.2 adoptions. Secondly, Android 2.1 users will be tempted by iOS 6, Android 4.1, Windows Phone 8 and maybe BB10 in the next few months.
Windows Phone 7.5
Windows Phone 7 hasn’t really grown to a big user base, so should you support Windows phone 7 and 8? If you take a look at the BBC news site, m.bbc.co.uk/news, on a Windows Phone, you will see our arrows are missing. Thanks to a post on ubelly, downloadable fonts, as well as other features, are missing from WP7, which is really annoying.
When WP8 comes out, it hopefully be a fuller version of IE10, so much better support than most other browsers today, but given how small the WP7 market is, we will most likely support WP8 straight away, with a more relaxed approach to WP7. As always, we will look at our stats, but given how long WP7 has been out, it seems clear that MS is putting it’s money on WP8 and it’s shiny new browser. WP7 should be put to bed in 6-8 months, knowing it helped a better browser on a better OS. The main downside of better support from WP8 is not upgrade path for existing WP7 users, which means you will be forced to support both, unless you cut the cord early and chose WP8.
iOS has a 80% change in versions once a new one is released, which bucks the trend in the rest of industry. This is good for support as most of the user base are on either 4.3 or above, given excellent support. We test back to 4.0 though, as well as supporting versions in between. Anything before 4.3 doesn’t get support by our media player, which is most likely where i see our version testing moving to when iOS 6 comes out. I don’t know how many of you support below 5 still, it might be good to know, but testing against a version of iOS with just a few percent market share may start having no return in visitors.
What i see happening in the next few months is WP7.5, Android 2.1 and iOS 4 being made redundant, this will free up time testing for more modern browsers.
Based on the fact Android 2.3 phones are still on sale, with only the second Android 4.0 phone coming out in April of this year, will we be supporting Android 2.3 in 2014, 4 years after in launched? Will mobile browsers start auto updating independant of the OS? Will we see the browser move into the app arena like Google have done with Chrome on Android?
I didn’t really want to finish on a question, but if you have any for me, or how the BBC builds our site, you can tweet me and our team @davey_blooman @danscotton @kaelig @tmaslen @jcleveley @AndrewVos