Decent browsers on mobile phones: Are we there yet?!

Brion Vibber summarises from OSCON on the future of browsers on mobile phones.

Some quick thoughts – capable smartphones are expensive (e.g. $350 to $1000), and the basic phones below that price point tend to be pretty limited and have small screens (but they’re cheap and fairly tough, so as an actual phone they work fine, but as an internet-enable communication device, they suck).

The good news that is that people turn over their phones relatively quickly (e.g. in Aus approx 11 million phones were sold for the last few years to a population base of 21 million, so average active phone lifespan presumably is around 1.9 years). So even if everyone bought only capable smartphones from this point onwards, it would take most of 2 years to get to sufficient market saturation that a phone with a capable browser could be assumed. But the fact is that people won’t all start buying smartphones (without a truly compelling reason to), and people who have smartphones won’t all sign up to mobile internet packages (it’s better in the US I think, but in Aus you usually have to pay extra for this, and you typically get an allowance of anything from 100 Mb to several gigs per month of bandwidth, and if you go over that you get slapped hard with extra usage charges – I’ve heard up to $1 per megabyte, but that’s so scary I hope it’s not true). So yeah, it puts people off. Realistically, probably 4 or more likely 5 years before this mess is sorted out and most people have a decent enough phone with a reasonable browser with mobile internet.

And for things like GPS, I say “BOO!” to only native apps being able to access that. GPS badly needs a standardised JavaScript interface, that can do stuff like say “do you have GPS?” and get a boolean answer, “do you have a signal?” and get a boolean answer, and then ask “what is the long + lat?” and get back an array of two decimal numbers. When this is native and works and runs without throwing errors in all browsers (both on phones and on desktops), then it’s going to be fricken awesome (e.g. walk around and have your phone display the Wikipedia article for the nearest landmark, walk around the city/go skiing and see where your mates are on a map on your phone and so be able to easily meet up with them for lunch/coffee, go to a new city and get a tour on your phone that knows where you are and tells you the most interesting tourist highlights that are closest to your location and that you haven’t visited yet, and so on and so forth). When it happens it’s going to be heaven-on-a-stick, but getting there feels like it could be painful and slow.

Pronunciation of Dutch names vs anglo-Australian naming

Gosh, Dutch names are hard to pronounce correctly. I just finished a business phone call to South Africa, and the person I was after had the surname of “Van Wyk”. My British/Australian upbringing tells me to pronounce that as “Van Wick”. So I did, and was met with complete and utter bafflement as to who I was after. On realising that I was a) not making a crank call b) calling from overseas c) after a person who did work there, the kindly secretary gave me a brief pronunciation lesson, and it’s pronounced “Van Veek”, as far as I could tell. The secretary also assured me that they probably couldn’t pronounce Australian names properly either… but I didn’t have to heart to tell them that actually no, they’d probably be fine, as anglo-Australians use surnames fairly sparingly, and often like to name people with very short words (example first names/nicknames: “Sharon”, “Kylie”, “Gazza”, “Mark”), and to name places in a relatively unimaginative fashion (e.g. Sydney has a harbour, so it’s called “Sydney Harbour”; there’s a bridge over that water, so it’s called the “Sydney Harbour Bridge”; there’s a tunnel under that water, so it’s called the “Sydney Harbour Tunnel”; the other side of the water is to the north, so it’s called the “North Shore”; the suburbs to the east/south/west of the city are called the eastern/southern/western suburbs; and so on and so forth). Personally, I quite like the shortness and simplicity of this style of naming, but as a consequence, I suspect it results in many Aussie names being comparatively easy to pronounce. Of course, Aboriginal place names are harder, but these generally use phonetic spelling.