The Google Android SDK, released yesterday, confirmed what had been long been rumored: Google’s mobile platform uses WebKit, an open source browser engine . “We have been working on our mobile implementation of WebKit for quite some time,” someone from the Android team wrote on The […]

safari.jpegThe Google Android SDK, released yesterday, confirmed what had been long been rumored: Google’s mobile platform uses WebKit, an open source browser engine . “We have been working on our mobile implementation of WebKit for quite some time,” someone from the Android team wrote on The Surfing Safari, the official blog of the WebKit community.

Given how much Google has helped Firefox, its choice of WebKit strikes me as hugely significant for the browser market. Such an endorsement is only going to increase the importance of WebKit’s growing presence in the mobile ecosystem.

WebKit is an open source web browser engine. WebKit is also the name of the Mac OS X system framework version of the engine that’s used by Safari, Dashboard, Mail, and many other OS X applications. WebKit’s HTML and JavaScript code began as a branch of the KHTML and KJS libraries from KDE.

Even though Opera is still the mobile browser to beat, WebKit-based browsers are fast becoming a common presence in some of the newer mobile platforms. In addition to Google’s Android, WebKit has found a home inside the Apple iPhone platform as well as the Nokia-backed Symbian S60 phones, such as the N and E Series devices.

If you take the total number of the N and E Series phones and iPhones, my back-of-the-envelope (and highly unscientific) estimates put the number of handsets using WebKit-based browsers at over 30 million.

In the desktop domain, the growing popularity of Mac OS X computers has resulted in the WebKit-based Safari grabbing between 3 and 5 percent of the total browser market share, thereby making it the third most popular browser after Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

The real opportunity for WebKit seems to be in the mobile world, where no browser has been able to establish an IE-like hegemony. Sam Sidler, who has been working on the open source Camino browser, in a recent essay wrote,

Mobile browsing is still very much in its infancy, but innovation on the mobile platform is moving faster than ever. What you are able to do today on your cell phone (surf the Web, view digital media) isn’t anywhere near what you’ll be doing in five years

The growing popularity of WebKit, according to some of my browser guru sources, is due to the fact that it’s easier to code for compared with other browser engines. It also has a well-organized and smaller code base, which is easier to manage. Finally, it is quite fast and renders faster, which makes it attractive to developers.

More importantly, however, WebKit has a smaller footprint, which means it has less memory and CPU requirements and as such, is ideal for the mobile environments. Apple’s (and now Google’s) mobile ambitions have prompted the company to devote a lot of resources to WebKit, turning it into a viable mobile platform. In comparison, IE Challenger, Firefox and its Gecko engine are only getting started in their mobile efforts. They’ll have to cover a lot of ground before they even catch up with WebKit.

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  1. It seems like it’d be worth mentioning in there somewhere that WebKit began life as an Apple open-source project (even though it was based upon work done in KHTML).

    I’ll grant that the info is somewhat well-hidden if you don’t already know it.

    But there’s a bit of a difference between Apple has devoted a lot of resources to WebKit and Apple created WebKit. And I’d argue that the latter is clearly more accurate.


  2. Excellent observations; wanted to add another. Just last month Wake3 announced WebKit was coming to Windows Mobile: http://www.wake3.com/ Add another potential few tens of millions to the back of your envelope. ;)

  3. …. and also let’s not forget that Adobe adopted WebKit as the rendering core for their cross platform AIR (Adobe Interactive Runtime) environment. WebKit is on the rise everywhere…

  4. This has to be hugely significant for interface developers.

    Cross-browser compatibility is a massive pain when attempting a consistent interface appearance. But if the iPhone and Android are using the same rendering engine, i.e. Webkit, it could potentially lead to a Web which is only rendered by a single engine. No more IE conditional comments or hasLayout! Happy days!

  5. It certainly does read as if you worked very diligently not to link WebKit with Apple. Was this some intentional sleight, or are you really unaware of WebKit’s Apple origins?

  6. reinharden,

    now that is error of my ways. i know it has been supported extensively by apple and it is because of their push we are going to all benefit from it.

  7. See now, Om, you’re doing it again… WebKit hasn’t been “supported extensively” by Apple… WebKit came out of Apple. Period. WebKit was released by Apple as open source at WWDC 2005.

    Since so many have ridiculed Apple’s efforts with WebKit and Safari for years, now that the platform is taking root in a big way, it’s only fair for you to give credit where credit is due.

  8. Surfin’ Safari – Blog Archive » WebKit in the News Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    [...] below) has led to a new round of stories about WebKit in the blogosphere. Om Malik writes about The Amazing Rise of WebKit Mobile. Jason Delport echoes his sentiment in a piece titled The Rise of the WebKit Browser. Ajaxian [...]

  9. @Neil: If any one single rendering engine dominates and cross browser compatibility is ignored, it won’t matter what the rendering engine is- WebKit OR IE, code won’t be “standards compliant”.

    With the rising additions of vendor specific properties to WebKit, not very different from IE’s ActiveX “extensions”, such as the recently much talked about “CSS Animation”… dare I say it, will Safari turn out to be the next IE? Not that I’m opposed to it, I’d personally like to see Firefox clean up its act, maybe finally realizing how much bloat XUL is and such?

    I almost feel sorry for Opera.

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