“I want that tested on every browser” What, all 4.5k of them?

16 Dec


I was looking through Google Analytics stats recently to see how many poor old sods there are who still use IE8 and it surprised me that the audience share of the Internet Explorer suite of browsers was less than 11%.

The reason that surprised me was that IE was still in the top 3 browsers (at #3, but still hanging in) but getting a titchy market share.

When I started web development, IE was the top of the tree; in fact, IE even had a version for mac. Internet Explorer commanded the web: Netscape was near retirement and starting to hit the bottle, Mozilla was in short trousers, Opera was struggling to pick up girls at the disco  and Firefox, Chrome and Safari were just glints in the tech entrepreneurs’ eyes. By 2004 IE commanded 95% of all browser traffic.

Fast forward 10 years and the top 3 IE browser versions (10,9,8) account for 10.8% of all browser traffic and 95.5% of all IE traffic. These days the top 3 browsers take less than 60% of the market share.

The 10 most popular browsers (based on millions of impressions last month) were:

  1. Safari (26%)
  2. Chrome (22.3%)
  3. IE (11%)
  4. Android (9.9%)
  5. in-app Safari (9.8%)
  6. Firefox (7.9%)
  7. Opera mini (6%)
  8. Mozilla (2.5%)
  9. Mozilla Compatible Agent (1.2%)
  10. Blackberry (1%)

 The Magic 5%

Up until very recently, the  rule of thumb when designing a website was that if it was used by more than 5% of the current (or predicted) user base, a site should behave perfectly in that browser. So reproduce those rounded corners, make sure that any browser quirks were hacked and go that extra mile to ensure everyone has the same user experience.

Those browsers used by fewer than 5% of the audience would not be tested on. Or at least, not properly tested; one would ensure that users could view the site without it looking like a broken mess.

Sounds sensible. It was sensible. But things have to change…

Today’s 5 percenters

I took the top 5% of browsers based on version and browser type and out of the lot just five had over 5% of the market share. FIVE.

  1. Safari 7
  2. Chrome 31.0.1650.57
  3. Safari in-app
  4. Android 4.0
  5. Firefox 25.0

Internet Explorer 10.0 missed the cut by a tiny margin, so if we’re being generous, we can say that developers these days should just develop to 6 browsers, right?

Well, we can’t really develop for in-app Safari, as the app can use a myriad of settings, so we’ll bring it down to 5 browsers again.

But what if the client is using Firefox? Or Amazon kindle? Or Opera mini? What if there’s a slight difference between Chrome 31.0.1650.57 and 31.0.1650.63?

Well, maybe we can see how many browser/version combinations are there and we’ll create some kind of cut off.

Good idea, but if we look at last month alone we recorded 4,470 different browser / version combinations on Google Analytics alone (ie no spiders or bots) and a mind-blowing 725 unique browsers.

4,470 Browsers

This is why the market share of the top 5 browsers is so titchy in comparison to previous years and leaves developers staring into an Escher staircase of browser testing.

1 year ago, we had 2,984 browser/version combos and 652 unique browsers and 7 years ago we had fewer than 40 browsers to deal with. 

Browser Growth 2006-2013

So what next?

Well, I sure as hell ain’t browser testing 5,000 browsers next month, but I have been in situations where the site is deemed successful if it works on the CEO’s machines, regardless of how niche they are.

The most reasonable method for testing would be to ensure it works on an agreed set of the most popular browsers – IE10, Chrome, Safari, Firefox and on an agreed set of tablets/phones.

If a CEO gets in touch saying that the site’s looks funny on a new device launched after the site was launched, or that a jquery/css effect flickers on his obscure phone, then the account handlers have to have an awkward conversation.

Hopefully telling them this story of the 4,500 browsers will save you a bit of cash.

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