Opinion - The beta release of a Windows version of Apple's Safari browser made a lot of waves this week, but in the bigger picture of a software market already well defined, Safari is really more of a muted splash.
Let’s be realistic: The only real draw that Safari currently offers is faster load times for Web pages – in a market that most of the time is already fast enough. While that's great for those who have already grown accustomed to the browser, it's a very small incentive for Windows users, many of whom have been using the same browser since the day they bought their computer (I am leaving Netscape out of the picture here.)
Don't get me wrong. Competition and choice are great. Firefox brought a breath of fresh air in a market segment that had become boring and stale. It brought what people were looking for at the time - not just new features - and Internet Explorer dropped from a monopolistic 95% usage share in 2004 to an estimated 77% in February 2007, according to Adtech. The increased competitive pressure eventually forced Microsoft to revamp its browser to version 7.0, after more than five years without a major overhaul.
However, Firefox is one of those right-place-right-time cases, and has become the browser of choice for users who simply don’t like Microsoft, for users who are looking for a more secure browsing experience (though we will have to see how this pans out when more and more people are using Microsoft and the target of finding Firefox vulnerabilities gets more attractive) and a tool that exactly does what it is supposed to do, without forcing a bloated piece of software down your throat. Plus, Firefox was able to draw from the huge community following of Mozilla and, if you look at it, a fantastic grass-roots marketing campaign, that surely has caught Microsoft on the wrong foot.
Let's also not forget the strain these browsers put on developers. Many of them don't have time to develop sites optimized for every little Web viewing tool out there. Though I consider myself a loyal Firefox user, I need to jump to Internet Explorer every now and then for a page that just won't load correctly in Firefox. A lot of people aren't that forgiving of lower-tier browsers.
Even feature-packed browsers that have been around for years aren't making a dent. Opera has been revered by its faithful users, and for good reason. It sports an entire slate of features that aren't available in any other browser, like a shared tab history, "fit to window" viewing, and a fully customizable user interface. Yet, Opera doesn't even have a hold on 1% of Internet users. Adtech showed it pulling in about 0.85% of the market earlier this year. At such an abysmal level, the contributions made by Opera don't seem to have any effect on the rest of the browser market.
Looking at the Windows browser market overall, Apple may have the marketing experience, but it doesn’t have the product. It will tough for Apple to compete in the world of Windows browsers, especially considering Safari brings almost nothing new to the landscape. Safari been the Internet Explorer for the Mac and had an easy game with a user base that does not like Microsoft anyway.
Visuals are a matter of taste, but clearly, Safari is designed to fit in with the Mac operating system. It looks sort of out of place on a PC. The blatantly polarized differentiation between PC and Mac users makes the Safari browser unlikely to rise in the long term much beyond the the 1.6% usage share it has attained as a Mac-only product.
Bringing Safari to Windows with simply more speed seems kind of pointless to me. There’s got to be more, right?
That more could actually involve the iPhone. Safari will also come pre-installed as the browser for Apple's upcoming iPhone, in a bid to bring full Web access to owners of the $600 device. Could the release of the Windows Safari be a move to expose more potential developers to a different browser interface? Perhaps.
A 2006 poll from the Associated Press, AOL, and Pew Research showed that 30% of people want to browse the Net on their cell phone. It seems unlikely to me, though, that third-party Internet developers will develop new Safari tools just because of the inclusion of the software on the iPhone, and those specializing in mobile devices will likely stick with the more limited, easier development platforms that are deployed in the vast majority of the mobile market right now.
Competition is great for sparking innovation, but competitors like Safari that bring very little to the game are unlikely to impact anything.
What do you think of Safari? Is there value in this browser for Windows? Share your opinion with other readers and write a comment below.