Mobile Safari has been a great success for mobile web browsing. Since the arrival of the iPhone, we finally have a really functional mobile web browser (bar Flash, of course). Though, it is not the only player in that market, few will argue its superiority in this field. However, with the way things are moving, iPhone users may stand to loose out in the end.
There are two data points that support this statement.
In the first place, let’s take the desktop (and laptop) browser environment. There is real choice there with Firefox, IE, Safari, Chrome, Opera and others. On almost all three major operating systems, we can use any of them (though some work better than others).
When we look at the numbers, it is rather clear that Safari is not the dominant browser on the computer. Some would argue that this is due to the fact that until recently you could only run it on macs. Others mention that is rather fast at rendering pages. However, this does not take away from the fact that it has only a small percentage of the market. In turn, Firefox is by far the success story, as it generally does not come pre-installed on any computer and still has a browser share of around 30%.
Why should Mobile Safari be the dominant mobile browser when on the desktop it is not? A lack of competition is key here. Mobile browsing is still making baby steps. Many people do not use their phone for surfing the web, but the rise of the smartphone will accelerate usage. It is becoming ever more important to offer a mobile browsing experience at least as good as Mobile Safari does. Just yesterday I saw the following two videos that reminded me that a lot of good work is being done out there. I believe it is only a matter of time that we see better mobile browsers than Safari.
Fennec (beta 4) on the N900
Opera Mobile 10 (beta) on N97
Unless Apple opens up its smartphone to other browsers, iPhone users will not be able to benefit from these advances. Though probably many iPhone users do not consider that to be an issue, I personally think it is a waste of good hardware.