iPhone OS overtakes Symbian OS

By Alex Walker
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What is your position on testing your sites for mobile devices?

Pie chart.Plenty of us don’t, and there has never been a lack of good excuses not to:

  • “My content just isn’t mobile-appropriate
  • “Honestly, who beside supergeeks, would want to look at the web via their phone?”
  • “Mobile browsers are rubbish so people expect everything to look trashy”
  • “There are too many devices out there – how could you possibly choose which devices to test for?”

Yes, screens were tiny, hardware controls maddening and browsers simplistic and clunky. Why waste your time trying to build for that??

Pie chart.Well, perhaps April 23rd, 2009 could be considered the day those old excuses officially bite the dirt. Admob, an ‘Ad mob’ that specialize in the mobile space, have just published a report stating that iPhone OS had now officially overtaken Symbian as their most commonly detected mobile OS. iPhone OS now presents worldwide on 38% of the devices they serve to, with Symbian OS easing to 36%.

Of course, this doesn’t mean there are more phones using iPhone OS than Symbian — because there aren’t. Symbian has been around for more than 10 years and is present on literally tens of millions of phones out there. But it does give you a good snapshot of who’s using the mobile web. Just because a user CAN access the web via their handset, doesn’t mean they do.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It was only in January that Google told us that their iPhone traffic was challenging their Symbian numbers despite the Apple device only representing 2% of the smartphone market. Symbian accounted for 63% at that time.

It also seems to tell us that mobile web usage is tied to the software experience, not the hardware. There is no shortage of beautiful, web-enabled, big screened handsets out there. Apple’s key differentiator is the software experience – an idea that Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericcson seem to have been slow to understand.

True, there are a few caveats. The world phone market IS very geographically segmented. While the US and UK markets have quickly become very iPhone-centric (50% of mobile web requests), large parts of Asia and Europe still love their Nokias while South Africa seems to have a strange love affair with Samsung.

Nevertherless, if the US is an important market for you and/or your clients, the mobile future is now. Arguably, with the Palm Pre and a next gen iPhone rumored for release in the coming months, the importance of mobile traffic is only likely to increase.

Other notable figure:

  • The iPod Touch accounts for approximately 2/5th of iPhone OS traffic. Incredible considering it has no phone capabilities (wifi only).
  • Applications are becoming a hugely important growth area for developers in a tough economy. In March more than half of AdMob’s ads were served to applications (i.e. iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc) as opposed to than the web. Follow the money if you can.
  • Indonesia (where the Nokia N70 is the handset of choice) represents Admob’s second biggest mobile market (9.2%)

Interesting times.

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  • zuneone

    Web sites look just fine on my HTC Touch Pro (Win Mo 6.1/Opera), the only problem I find is when I double click to zoom in on some text and then navigate to the next page, the zoom is lost and I go back to full screen – quite annoying.

  • klive

    Optimizing sites for mobile devices is definitely something that people should consider in 2009. The iPhone has 2% of the phone market, but 36% of mobile web usage. That’s huge.
    I think it’s pretty clear that Apple plans to replace the main iPod with the Touchscreen iPod once they can fit 128GB into it, and this just means even more people browsing the web from these mobile devices.
    This is in addition to the fact that other mobile phone manufacturers are now starting to think seriously about the ease of use of the phones software – including the web browser. If 2% of phone users make up that much of internet usage, imagine how much it would be if 70% of phone users had a browser as easy-to-use as the iPhone, Palm Pre, etc.
    Mobile browsing is going to be huge and if you do not consider these visitors you will lose out.
    The downside could be that we may see messages reminiscent of the “THIS PAGE BEST VIEWED IN NETSCAPE AT 800×600” from the mid 90s. Unless you have access to other mobile devices you have no idea how your page will render in those browsers. Fortunately Google Android, iPhone OS, and the Palm Pre (AFAIK) all use webkit-based browsers. So this may not be so much of an issue.

  • I have a samsung omnia with windows mobile 6.1. It comes with both internet explorer and opera but internet explorer on the mobile is rubbish. Opera however is pretty nifty but does take some getting used to (also clicking links can be a pain sometimes). As for developing our sites for mobiles, i don’t think there’s much work to do unless you want to optimize for the best performance. Mobile browsers and mobile internet speeds are going to improve which will leave us with little to no work. Atleast this is what i hope as i don’t have the time to maintain 2 versions of the same site.

  • klive

    You can optimize your site for mobile with no more than a css file if done properly.

  • Dr-Net

    the usability of the IPHONE OS is so high everybody can operate the phone within a few hours of using it compared with other systems which they are difficult

  • madr

    You can optimize your site for mobile with no more than a css file if done properly.

    Not really. You can make the visual presentation good enough for small screens, but to build a really good site for the mobile web one can’t rely on traditional publishing methods.

    The HTML document should have a mobile doctype, and the content should be more precise and straight-on. A whole different story than the desktop web.

  • samuel_folkes

    The iPhone progress doesn’t surprise me, the mobile OS I have my eye on is the RIM OS. Anyone with any figures showing the growth of the mobile browser request share by the RIM OS browser? I think as the year progresses we’ll continue to see some pretty drastic shifts in the respective mobile browser request shares. Some mobile markets are expanding very rapidly. Take for example the Caribbean where I live, specifically Jamaica. We’ve always had access to mobile internet but it used to be so slow/expensive/unreliable that no one really used it. Now with the iPhone and BlackBerry explosion just about everyone is using their mobile to access the net on a daily basis. As I said earlier, expect to see some noticeable shifts in the numbers…

  • Ultimately it’s always going to be much better to create a specialized mobile version of your site, whether that’s a separate entity or a mobile-optimized version of your standard site.

    However, at the moment the percentage of sites that ARE optimized for mobile is tiny. I think it shows that if the device/experience is good enough, people WILL do significantly more browsing using a mobile device.

    I used to occasionally check sports score or twitter on my Nokia N70. Now, there wouldn’t be many days that I don’t visit a new site on my iPhone — just cos I can. I suspect I’d do the same if I had a Pre or G1. That’s a fundamental change in usage pattern.

  • Gareth

    Glad you mentioned this is a mostly US phenomenon. Apple will never establish that kind of dominance all over Europe unless they can help address the cost issues around flat rate data plans. It’s just to expensive to surf the web and people typically use limited sites provided by their operators.

  • Anonymous


    Not sure what you mean exactly as I have a flat rate data plan with my iPhone in the UK. I still do most of my surfing over wifi though for speed reasons.

    Now roaming data rates are where I feel pain. I took my iPhone with me to Berlin and could have really used the GPS and mobile web but because of the cost of roaming data couldn’t.