WEB STANDARDS: WHY BROWSER DIVERSITY IS GOOD
Why browser diversity is good for the web, by Peter O’Shaughnessy
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”!