Is the iPhone wrecking the web?

Summary:Scott Gilbertson, writing at Compiler on Wired News posted a pretty inflammatory piece titled "The iPhone is Internet Explorer 4 All Over Again". As you might imagine, the comment thread is long, heated at times, and populated with the expected mix of "you're an idiot!" and thoughtful replies both positive and negative. Gilbertson is essentially trying to argue that Apple gets a pass on stuff that would (and has) gotten Microsoft into big trouble and unloved.

Scott Gilbertson, writing at Compiler on Wired News posted a pretty inflammatory piece titled "The iPhone is Internet Explorer 4 All Over Again". As you might imagine, the comment thread is long, heated at times, and populated with the expected mix of "you're an idiot!" and thoughtful replies both positive and negative. Gilbertson is essentially trying to argue that Apple gets a pass on stuff that would (and has) gotten Microsoft into big trouble and unloved.

While I think that there's the germ of a good question in his piece, it was asked in far better fashion by ScottMcNulty over at TUAW. My response is that Gilbertson is barking up the wrong tree and makes a horribly flawed analogy. Here, in a nutshell, is why I think so:

  • The iPhone is a fringe device used by a couple of hundred thousand people. IE4 was one of the dominant browsers of its day on the dominant operating system platform that, through the implementation of proprietary tags and features, broke the browsing experience for Netscape users (the other big gun at the time). Netscape "lost" as a result and IE became the dominant browser. There is zero chance that optimized for iPhone web sites will have the same effect on the market.
  • Most iPhone websites/apps are variations on existing web properties so no one is being excluded. When they do provide something unique, it's generally (in my experience) been to address the perceived deficiencies in what Apple has shipped in version 1 of the iPhone and so of little or no interest to users of other mobile devices.
  • You can view an"optimized for the iPhone" site in any browser unless the site designer has specifically chosen to prevent this which is their prerogative (unless they're providing an essential service that cannot be accessed in any other way which would be a ludicrous decision for anyone to make).
  • Aside from Flash and some JavaScript, the WebKit-based browser on the iPhone is highly standards compliant. The optimization being done for the iPhone is largely visual enhancements to make the touch screen UI experience better.

What do you think? Is Apple guilty of the same sort of behavior Microsoft engaged in back in the IE4 era? Are they forcing anyone to do anything to ensure their web presence is viable? Do they get a pas just because they're "cool"?

Topics: Browser, iPhone, Mobility

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