WebKit Is Great, But Isn't the Great Unifier

WebKit has gained astounding traction in the world of the mobile web. The open-source layout engine is at the heart of browsers used in Android, iPhone OS, Symbian and webOS — and most recently, BlackBerry. That leaves Opera and Mozilla as the only two mobile browser developers of note to eschew WebKit. But it won’t be the unifying force in mobile data that some wishful thinkers have envisioned.

There’s a lot to like about WebKit beyond its dominant presence in mobile. The technology supports HTML5, which will help lessen the need for proprietary technologies such as Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight. Its small footprint and high performance make it ideal for mobile, where devices are smaller and less powerful than other platforms. And developers say it’s easier to code for than other mobile browser engines.

Indeed, WebKit has the potential to be a huge force in moving mobile data beyond native apps and toward a standardized world of web-based apps where developers can address huge mobile audiences with a single build and consumers aren’t constrained by the kind of hardware they carry.

But as I point out this morning in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, the world of WebKit isn’t quite as unified as it may appear. That’s because there is no single WebKit standard. Companies and developers are free to create and distribute their own individual WebKit browsers, and they alone are responsible for creating and pushing out updates. Which means it’s even more susceptible to fragmentation than Android, which is already struggling to cope with multiple versions of the OS being deployed by carriers and handset manufacturers around the world.

WebKit may eventually serve as a kind of baseline platform for developers of web-based apps, foundations they can then tweak for each WebKit-enabled browser. But it won’t do much to make life simpler for developers with a plethora of mobile operating systems on which to build. Read the full post.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Johan Larsson.

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