I’ve been thinking about this one for a while and I think I found the new IE6 and yes… I’m scared.

Every web developer remembers the IE6 nightmare years. A browser, that came by default on a system used by 90% of the people (Windows) ended up having such a large marketshare that they didn’t care about improving the product, respecting industry standards or even updating the product.

So, for years, web developers couldn’t take advantage of the standards innovation that were showing up (Transparent PNGs, CSS floats, etc.). Everyone had to “support” IE6 and it was a real, terrible NIGHTMARE.

Nowadays browsers are updated every few weeks, adding new features and supporting new standards much more faster than before. And with autoupdate is even more transparent for the user.

But there’s an exception to the great days we’re living. It’s a browser, that updates only once a year in a plattform that doesn’t allow any other browsers on it and with over 50% market share. Yes I’m talking about Safari Mobile.

Safari Mobile might become the new IE6.

With iOS not allowing any other rendering engines there are no browsers besides Safari Mobile in reality. For example, Chrome in iOS might add a nice set of feature on top of it (tab sync, etc), but in the end it’s still the rendering of Safari Mobile. No V8 engine, no custom new standards support.

But with Chrome moving to a new rendering engine in a few weeks the divergence between Chrome on Desktop (and Android) and Chrome on iOS will be a lot more noticeable soon.

Mozilla doesn’t make Firefox on iOS because they cannot use their Gecko engine. So, in iOS, we’re stuck with Safari mobile rendering.

If Safari mobile updated every few weeks automagically with the latest webkit specs that wouldn’t be that bad. But it only updates once a year, and it’s starting to feel “outdated” when you compare it to the latest browsers.

For example take Flexbox support. The spec has changed significantly over the last few months. Chrome already have the latest implementation built-in, Firefox as well but Safari and Safari Mobile…. well no, because they haven’t been updated.

But we developers need to support Safari Mobile. It has around 61% market share in mobile market share. We cannot ignore it. Welcome to the IE6 nightmare, all over again.

Right now is barely noticeable but as Chrome moves to blink and Firefox continues to innovate so quickly, Safari Mobile most likely will become the “IE6” in the block. We’ll all hate that we have to support it and being unable to use the latest specs because Safari Mobile doesn’t support them.

I don’t think it wil be as horrible as the IE6 years. iOS has a much smaller market share than IE6 had, they need to compete with Android and Chrome which will surely improve a lot faster and Safari Mobile is built on an open-source engine, and that ensures that every update Apple makes to it, will get the latest stuff.

So it won’t be as horrible as IE6, but I do think that over the next few years Safari Mobile will be the browser that all web developers hate to support.

I really hope Apple allows other browsers (with other rendering engines) on iOS 7. That would solve the whole thing automagically, or at least that they decide to go on a quick-silent update cycle for Safari Mobile. But yes I know this is Apple I’m talking about… a developer can only dream.