I think the biggest problem with an approach that relies on “other manufacturers playing catchup” this is by no means a linear path, with only one possible end result.
Let’s say we take a base set of features and call those “modern”. At the moment, the smartphone market place may consists of maybe (random number) 50% modern and 50% who “need to play catch up”. The problem is that by the time the 50% have caught up, the definition of modern will have changed once again (due to Moore’s Law, lower cost of certain materials, progress of web standards, new APIs and different idea around what ‘modern’ means).
The second problem is that mobile devices (and to be honest, many other products such as cars, fashion etc.) are designed to suit very specific price points and their featuresets vary a fair bit based on the value proposition and intended price point of each device. Take the Kindle 3 for example. Amazon is selling this device at such a low price point that they’ve had to make decisions around where to focus the bill of materials.
In the case of the Kindle, the product focus was obviously on reading books so the browser took a back seat in favour of high battery life, a lightweight device, and a fairly high dpi display. They made sure the browser was however “good enough” as one of the means of buying books is using that same browser on that same device. And although the new Kindle Fire is a much better device, Amazon is still offering the prior model (as a matter of fact they released yet another cheap model when the Fire was released) because their priority is to get one of these readers into the hands of every Amazon customer (to the point where some analysts are suggesting that the base Kindle models may eventually be free with a minimum Amazon purchase).
These types of tradeoffs are occurring all the time (especially with Android devices which are being sold at anywhere from Â£50-Â£600+) but it’s not always immediately obvious how these changes in materials and overall spec impact web development. For example, the choice of an ARM6 vs ARM7 processor (which has repercussions in overall device cost) can also impact performance to such an extent that web animations and transitions may be unusable.
I’m pretty sure we will continue to see this type of diversity…if anything it will get worse as it becomes easier and easier to add internet connectivity to almost any device.