WEB STAN­DARDS: WHY BROWSER DI­VER­SITY IS GOOD

Why browser di­ver­sity is good for the web, by Peter O’Shaugh­nessy

net magazine - - PROJECTS - Peter (@poshaugh­nessy) is a de­vel­oper ad­vo­cate in the web browser team at Sam­sung. He demos, speaks and writes about the lat­est web APIs and how to de­velop the best web ex­pe­ri­ences.

As a web de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity, we tend to fo­cus on a small set of web browsers; usu­ally Chrome, Sa­fari, Fire­fox, IE/Edge and Opera. In the last decade, the web land­scape has un­der­gone a ma­jor shift to­wards mo­bile, which is now the dom­i­nant plat­form. Our ideas about ma­jor browsers tend to have lagged be­hind though, be­ing overly fo­cused on desk­top and miss­ing some of the new, mo­bile play­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to StatCounter, the third most pop­u­lar mo­bile browser in Europe – with a ten per cent share – is one that has a very unas­sum­ing la­bel: ‘In­ter­net’. It goes by the full name of Sam­sung In­ter­net and it is the de­fault browser on Sam­sung Gal­axy de­vices. When you con­sider that there are a lot of Sam­sung de­vices out there, it might not be quite such a sur­prise, but there is usu­ally a sense of shock when peo­ple hear the es­ti­mated num­ber of ac­tive Sam­sung In­ter­net users is 400 mil­lion! StatCounter puts Sam­sung In­ter­net in the top five mo­bile browsers world­wide, with around the same mar­ket share as Opera.

It’s not just Sam­sung In­ter­net though. StatCounter es­ti­mates that UC Browser, which orig­i­nated in China, has a greater mar­ket share. That’s de­spite it be­ing al­most un­heard of. An­other ex­am­ple is Yan­dex, one of the most pop­u­lar browsers in Rus­sia and else­where.

You might not use these browsers your­self, nor know any­one who does. How­ever, the web is a big place. As Bruce Law­son said, “Where will your next cus­tomers come from? You don’t know. In our truly world­wide web, you can’t know”. At first, hear­ing about these other browsers might sound dis­con­cert­ing, or even down­right un­de­sir­able. No one wants more browsers to test!

There are many pos­i­tive as­pects to this browser di­ver­sity though. In fact, it’s what makes the web the web. If ev­ery­one had to use the same client to ac­cess it, it wouldn’t be an open plat­form. One of the beau­ties of the web is that you can select which­ever client you wish, based on the fea­tures that you want.

Browsers not only bring ad­di­tional choice to users. They bring ideas, con­tri­bu­tions to web stan­dards and in­vest­ment into open-source browser en­gines. For ex­am­ple, Sam­sung is one of the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors into the open-source Chromium project, upon which Chrome, Opera and many other browsers are based.

The ques­tion we are most fre­quently asked when we talk about Sam­sung In­ter­net is “why?”. The short an­swer is that we be­lieve that the best UX of­ten comes from com­bin­ing hard­ware and soft­ware. De­vel­op­ing our own browser en­ables us to in­tro­duce spe­cial hard­ware in­te­gra­tions, such as the abil­ity to log into sites with your fin­ger­print, and au­to­mat­i­cally open­ing your cur­rent page in our Vir­tual Re­al­ity browser when you put your phone into the Gear VR head­set.

Hav­ing said that, Sam­sung In­ter­net is no longer ex­clu­sive to Sam­sung. Ear­lier this year we opened it up to Google’s Nexus and Pixel phones. Then in Au­gust we re­leased our lat­est beta for all An­droid 5+ phones. This is part of our quest to make Sam­sung In­ter­net more vis­i­ble. We also had the great news re­cently that Sam­sung In­ter­net is now be­ing bro­ken out sep­a­rately in Google An­a­lyt­ics. Pre­vi­ously it was misiden­ti­fied as ‘Chrome’.

If you are wor­ried about hav­ing an­other browser to test, please don’t worry too much. Be­ing based on Chromium and the Blink ren­der­ing en­gine means that there shouldn’t be many dif­fer­ences in how your sites ap­pear com­pared to Chrome. Of course, we still rec­om­mend giv­ing it a try. Please raise a bug if you hap­pen to find one!

There may be more ma­jor web browsers out there than you think, but it’s no bad thing. The web brings us to­gether, no mat­ter which browser we’re us­ing, and each browser con­trib­utes to the web in its own way. In­stead of ask­ing “why” there’s an­other browser, let’s ask “why not”!

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