The Mobile Web: WebKit, Safari and the S60 browser

Web Browser for S60

I am sitting on a plane en route to the Web 2.0 Summit writing this on my N800, enjoying my time to write some things wihout distraction… aside from the guy in 11B reading this over my shoulder!

About two weeks ago, Tommi at the S60 Applications blog asked for feedback on the Nokia Beta Labs program. My initial thought is that it’s really a solid idea which enables the feedback loop via the blogosphere and certainly on the applications blog comments. I posted something similarly on Tommi’s site but now that some time has passed it seems that perhaps the focus could be on altering the existing status more rather than pushing out the new. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an applications junkie just like most of you, but I would like to see some renovation before building more.

When I attended the Evening with S60 event in NYC, I was told (incorrectly now) that the S60v3 FP1 browser would be released within 30 days to other S60v3 devices which was great news. I saw a massive spike in traffic after my update on this news which confirmed I was far from alone in looking for this type of update. Nokia, with the exception of Maps, seems to require a new unit to get what become device standard features (of course right after you) purchase your phone.

Of course, a long time has now passed and we’ve yet to see a release. Instead, we heard about the widgets which will be coming in FP2 probably in Q1 2008. Not to take away from widgets (I think I’ve seen the light a bit for very task specific information), the browser now seems a bit limited in one very key area thanks to some healthy competition from both the iPhone as well as Nokia’s own N800 . The iPhone has enabled a VERY rich use of tabs which make maintaining simultaneous activities online possible. The S60 browser can also do multiple tabs and actually does them quite well. There is NO WAY TO MANUALLY OPEN A NEW WINDOW.

The hack I’ve found for this is silly, and takes longer than I would like to get going, but has now become a part of my browsing process on the N95-3.

  • You first have to set the window preference to allow pop-ups. This will allow ads to pop up or under … no way around that I know.
  • Once this is on, you visit a site that forces links to spawn in new windows. My choice for this is the site as it’s mobile optimized and loads very quickly. I can get a few windows going right away and move about my business. I usually maintain 3-4 tabs now…
  • Once you have a second, third or even fourth window open, you can press 5 to see your tabs and then using the nav key move either left or right to select which site you want. Pressing the center key selects and opens a more full view. From the tabbed view, you can use the left soft key to see th options for tabs which let you close either the current or all other tabs you have open.

The browser is the perfect candidate for a quick beta release through the labs. Many devices do not have enough RAM to browse in this manner (yet) and it’s probably more power user than mass feature, but isn’t that who’s visting and using the beta labs anyway? We should not have to wait for a Firmware release (which we all know wipes the device fresh) or worse, a new device to get such aseemingly small adjustment. This really should be something we just have in devices like the N95-3, N95 8GB, N81, N81 8GB, E90 and as well as future devicess that have enough operating RAM to make this possible – which should cover all N and E-Series moving forward, right?

The iPhone has really turned the mobile browsing experience up on its head. Regardless of their true capabilities, all mobile devices are being compared to the iPhone. The fact that the same engine is used in S60 and the iPhone makes this even more open to scrutiny.

The N800, which does not share the webkit engine, can go toe-to-toe with the iPhone even defeating it with some complex sites, but requires a second purchase. This is great for both Nokia’s bottom line (as well as non Nokia handset users) It is admittedly far more enjoyable to browse on the larger screen, it’s not something you always want in your pocket.

There are some great mobile web applications and services which have sprung up seemingly overnight to support the million plus iPhones… How many S60 devices are there? Considerably more…

A device like the N95-3 should not be hamstrung by a missing feature like this. The game has changed a bit now and we need to look how others are doing things and what can be learned to improve what we have and what’s to come.

Love to hear your thoughts here…

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10 comments for “The Mobile Web: WebKit, Safari and the S60 browser

  1. jthousand
    10/17/2007 at 6:30 am

    I would love it if S60 would provide updates to the browser as well as other programs on all the S60V3 phones as they are updated BUT…I don’t think this is really a wise idea. I had a Nokia E62 which seems like it was crippled by Nokia at (then) Cingular’s whim. While I liked the phone, I didn’t know what I was missing. I have since received a Nokia E61 (the phone the E62 was supposed to be). I like you say am an applications junkie. I tried Nokia podcasting, but without wifi (US 3G was a pipe dream for a Nokia phone at that time) the program wasn’t worth the trouble. I thought Nokia was whacked for releasing such a program, but now with wifi, it all makes sense. I feel the same type of problem could happen by updating “standard” items like the browser on the old devices (see the new conversations app. on most Eseries devices). The result would not be good for S60 (or Nokia) in this highly competitive market. That being said, I would like a crack at the FP1 browser on my E61 🙂

  2. 10/19/2007 at 3:27 am

    > Beta Labs … perhaps the focus could be on altering the existing
    > status more rather than pushing out the new

    We have been thinking whether or not to include new versions of mainstream S60 applications in Beta Labs, as a short sidestep, before they are published. It doesn’t always make sense, for example if the time window is too short for the development team to truly do improvements to the commercial release based on the feedback.

    Anyway, I think we’ll get something interesting done here, too.

  3. 10/19/2007 at 9:43 am

    @Tommi – Thanks for the comment!

    I think a lot of people would really appreciate the release of an updated browser in between firmware updates… assuming the timing is right.

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