Mobile diversity causes problems

Mobile diversity causes problems

Developers and content providers face bewildering array of technologies and form factors

The browser has lost its ability to be all things to all devices as the web goes mobile, according to the company behind the .mobi domain.

Browsers have never lived up to the ideal of being completely independent of the platform using them. They came close when they first hit the internet as they understood the same HTML description language. But even then, a page might render differently on a Mac and a PC.

Internet Explorer notoriously pushed Microsoft-specific features but desktop browsers today have a large pool of common functionality. Major desktop browsers differ in only five to 10 per cent of their features, according to Dotmobi chief technology officer James Pearce.

"Web designers will gripe and groan that some things won't work on both but the browsers are only slightly different," he said at Mobile World Congress.

"The problem with mobile browsers is at least two orders of magnitudes worse. There are hundreds of handsets around the world. Our database has three thousand. Some of them are old, some from obscure manufacturers and some used only in certain places.

"There are probably several hundred in use on the high street. Among them there are probably 10 to 15 key types of browser and twenty to thirty types of screen ratio and screen size.

"There is a big physical diversity in these devices. Then you have to ask: 'Does this one support Flash? Does that one support Javascript? Does the iPhone support J2ME?'.

"So if you want to provide a consistent experience you have to send Flash to this handset, Javascript to that one, and Ajax to the iPhone."

Pearce said mobile video modules were also diverse, making it hard to deliver video consistently. He believed the problems would be ironed out within a couple of years, by which time technology would have moved on and new problems would appear.

Content providers at the show also spoke of the difficulty of providing products and services that functioned on all platforms.

Dotmobi has launched a Device Atlas for developers who want to know the characteristics of handsets in its database. A number of other tools are available at its developer site.