The Age of WebKit

On Monday I linked to the announcement of RIM’s acquisition of Torch Mobile, developers of a WebKit-based mobile browser, and briefly mentioned that more and more, it seems that WebKit is becoming the de facto browser for the mobile platform—and rightly so. The iPhone has long proven that with the right browser and user interface, you can have (almost1) the entire Internet in your pocket in a highly convenient and usable manner.

Today, the news broke that Maciej Stachowiak, Manager of Apple’s WebKit team, has become one of two new co-chairs on the W3C HTML Working Group, together with Paul Cotton, who manages the Microsoft Web Services Standards team. This is significant in a couple of ways:

  1. It acknowledges the tremendous innovation that WebKit has brought to and continues to bring to the Web and to Web Standards;
  2. It places WebKit in an even higher profile position, particularly so for the desktop platform where, unlike with the mobile platform, Safari is still often considered as a “less important” browser to test for when the reality is that web developers should be developing in Safari, first, and test in other browsers after that;
  3. The HTML Working Group is now represented by people from IE and WebKit, as opposed to only IE before (and Sam Ruby, who has no direct affiliation with any of the browsers). No Mozilla/Gecko representatives, despite Firefox’s larger market share compared to WebKit’s.
  4. Maciej has played a key role in the creation of a lot of innovation on the browser landscape; as co-chair of the HTML Working Group he’ll presumably bring more of that kind of progress to the standards body as a whole, rather than just WebKit, which would be beneficial for everyone—browser vendors and web users alike.

I’d like to discuss #2 a little further, as it’s bound to solicit some strong disagreements from various Firefox fans.

Why develop in Safari first?

As any good Standards-aware developer should know, the best way to build a website is to build and test your ongoing progress using the most Standards-compliant browser available. Today, that is Safari. Firefox 3.5 is a formidable browser and, thanks to its extensions, has a lot more to offer that can help in your development efforts, but when it comes to support for HTML5 and CSS3, Firefox is still lagging behind Safari in a number of ways. For instance, try loading up Modernizr.com with the two browsers; the green checkmarks behind each feature listed on the front page indicate that the current browser has native support for these. Safari supports all of them; Firefox 3.5 supports about half.

As far as browser bugginess and standard CSS handling is concerned, the two browsers perform about equal, but any designer or developing taking advantage of native implementations of certain CSS3 features in the browsers that have them will simply have to use Safari to test the full range of them, no matter what.

Additionally, knowing what your site looks like in Safari means you also know—more or less—what it’ll look like on the iPhone and iPod Touch, which combined make up for 66% of mobile browser usage.

Chrome currently has @font-face embedding disabled “pending security review”, meaning that if it weren’t for that, Safari could be read as “Safari or Chrome”. Until that changes, or for those who launch Chrome with the command line switch --enable-remote-fonts.

WebKit’s rapid rise from being a decent browser (Safari 2.x) to the absolute leader in cutting-edge technologies and innovations (Safari 3.1 and beyond) has clearly been noticed by both mobile and desktop industries. The fact that they have built such a fantastic mobile browser, however, gives it a tremendous edge over all other browsers for the foreseeable future. People are browsing the Web more and more on their phones nowadays, and WebKit really is becoming the de facto standard for the platform.

What this means is, Web Designers and Developers will get increasingly more tempted to start using HTML5 and CSS3 features because WebKit’s share of the market will grow steadily, more so than Firefox’s, and the more people start building sites with these features, the more people we’ll get using browsers capable of rendering them.

So here’s some claim chowder for Gruber: I predict that within 10 years, WebKit’s market share will rise to as much as 50% among all browser usage in the US. That’s for both mobile and desktop combined.

Disclaimer: I’ll also be doing whatever I can to help WebKit get there, simply because I love the Web, and WebKit lets me enjoy the Web in the best and most beautiful way available today.

Let the Age of WebKit begin.

  1. With the except of Flash content, which many people—myself included—consider a feature rather than an omission.

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