Monday, March 12, 2007

Random thoughts on web browsing in S60

As I was involved in the development of S60 browser for years, I think I have a good overview on how a mobile browser works. Therefore I'm particularly interested in the "mobile browser war" taking place in S60. First of all, I'm surprised that there's a _war_ at all.

Of course, I'm talking about Opera and the new S60 (or OSS) Browser. You know, I'm a big fan of the latter (for reasons, see above) and I think it's a fantastic piece of software. I see that there are lots of other people around the world who share my opinion. Nevertheless, I still don't decline using other similar software, like Opera, just because it's not my favourite. Even more, I don't understand why supporters of either browser hate the other software and argue endlessly protecting their favourite. Hey, it's a free world, anybody can like anything and no need/place for hate.

It's just because both browsers are good. Extremely good in a not-so-easy environment! Whilst OSS Browser (any official name of this software?) is strong in showing web pages in their original layout, it's often found as a weakness, too, when the user has to scroll sometimes a lot in order to navigate to the relevant part she's interested in. Opera solves this problem by rendering the web page smartly (I mean, knowing that it's going to be displayed on a smartphone) so that it always fits on to the screen horizontally and even if the user has to scroll she has to do it only vertically. However, small screen rendering ™ has a drawback: the layout of the web page is changed and it's sometimes not what the author of the page wants and/or the users like. I think this is the main difference between these two fantastic browsers and it's really up to the users which one they prefer knowing the pros and cons. I personally bow to scrolling a bit more, but expect to see the page in its original layout, thus vote for the OSS browser.

But as to Opera Mini, Opera Software's free browser: I bow before them! To those who still don't know, Opera Software has written two different browsers for mobile phones: Opera and Opera Mini. So far I've been talking about the first, but I must tell some words about the latter, too. You know, I have visited Opera's boot on Smartphone Show and had a short chat with one the guys there. Besides that they share my opinion on the opposition of these two browsers, I heard some technical details about Opera Mini from them. First, it's not written in Symbian C++, but Java programming language. I was surprised to hear that as browsing requires as much resources (memory, CPU, I/O, network) as possible and the Java run-time environment is not famous of providing this as it would be desirable. But to my biggest surprise, it turned out that Opera Mini turns to an Opera server first asking it for downloading and rendering the web page in question on behalf of the mobile phone. I guess, the second step for Opera Mini is to download and show the "pre-digested" page information (not confirmed, though). That's fantastic! I mean, I'm amazed of how they could come out with such a brilliant idea. They can even apply compression techniques on the pre-digested data so that they reduce the amount of data to be transmitted to the minimum. Very cool! It's unnecessary to tell you that I've already downloaded and taken Opera Mini into use on my Nokia 6630. To my biggest pleasure - also unnecessary to say. What? - I hear. Yes, I'm using Opera Mini on my Nokia phone as the built-in browser is not good enough to my needs (OSS Browser has not been backported to older S60 versions).

Finally, as I've already written, I have attended Google's Q&A session on Tuesday. I was not surprised when they applied the common formula and said that "we're going to port/write as much software for Symbian in as short period as possible". I mean that's natural, it's certainly in their interest, too. Nevertheless, I started to think whether it's really worth for them to write software for S60 at all. Provided that the built-in browser is already close to perfection (just close, though), users of advanced S60 phones can enjoy almost(*) desktop browsing experience. Thus, no need to write anything for this platform! However, in the (*) section I wrote "almost" and I did it on purpose. You know, a mobile phone with such a small screen, never-enough memory, slow(er) CPU will never be able to beat desktop browsers, in my opinion.
Side-note: interestingly enough, I was not there when Nokia had announced their vision on the Smartphone Show that new mobile phones would slowly replace even desktop computers in the not-too-far future. Having mobile phones used for almost a decade, I would never have predicted it to happen. Tell me, when will you want to stare at a small display 1/20 (or less) in size of a desktop display? Or type in long documents with an ITU-T keypad?
So, it's Google's interest to make their services available on Symbian, too. Fortunately (and due to the fact that they're smart enough), their APIs enable anybody, not only them, to make this happen in a relativel short period. I can hardly wait until they announce their LBS-supported Froogle! :)

Any comments?

Migrated from Forum Nokia Blogs.


Update: I was wrong when I wrote that it had been Nokia announcing mobile phones replacing PC in the near future. Mentioned in Michael Mace's great article, it turns out that it was Symbian. And don't forget to read the comments, too: I also share Steve Litchfield's opinion that we don't have to over-react this announcement. :)

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