HTML5 Gaining But Mobile Fragmentation Remains

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The HTML5 programming language may be gaining ground as a standard for the mobile Web, but there's still a long way to go before it leads to a seamless user experience on devices. That's the upshot of a new study (registration required) by mobile software firm Netbiscuits, which found that a majority of the top-selling 10 smartphones in the U.S. have adopted HTML5 features.

Between 70% and 90% of the top devices support key HTML5 programming elements including offline Web application capability, a geolocation API (application protocol interface), 2D animation rendering and Web storage. That's an improvement from 6 out of 10 smartphones providing those features in November 2010.

But Netbiscuits, whose cloud-based software powers cross-platform development of mobile sites and apps, noted that only four of the 17 standard HTML5 standard components are supported by the leading handsets. The company found similar -- if slightly worse -- results for other countries included in the study, such as France, Germany and Spain.

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HTML5 has gather growing support for mobile Web development in the last year from prominent publishers including The New York Times, Conde Nast and Meredith, in addition to backing from major technology companies including Apple and Google. But most smartphone users prefer to access content on their phones using native apps.

Among other findings, the Netbiscuits report showed that smartphones accounted for almost 80% of North American traffic on its platform, with feature phones driving 11%, and media players about 7%. Among smartphone operating systems, Android generated 46% of traffic, followed by Apple's iOS at 35%, and BlackBerry at 15%.

When it comes to individual devices, the iPhone is the top device accessing mobile sites, with a 24% share in the U.S., followed by the iPod Touch with 6.3% and Android with 3.1%. The dominance of Android and Apple still hasn't solved the fragmentation problem in mobile, however, according to the study.

"Even if all iPhones or Android devices were running on the latest version of their respective operating system, differences in hardware would still hinder the implementation of a single user experience among all devices," it stated.

The issue is especially pronounced for Android, for which some 40 different manufacturers worldwide are creating phones based on the Google platform. Screen sizes for Android phones, for instance, vary widely.

"This report illustrates the need for brands, publishers and retailers to think beyond iPhone and Android when developing and executing a sustainable mobile strategy," said Netbiscuits CEO Michael Neidhoefer, in announcing the results.

Underscoring that point, the company recommended that a company's mobile Web program should be tailored to up to 3,000 different devices. It also pointed out that the long tail of devices generates about two-thirds of all mobile site requests.

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