Internet-able smartphones have been out on the market for long enough, and offered by enough major device makers, that now might be a good time to assess the state of the web browser in the never-ending smartphone contest. Especially since now is when a whole bunch of exciting announcements have come out by makers of that very software we count on to get online – web browsers.
Any article that claims to summarize the current state of smartphone web browsers must start with Opera Mini, as it is far and away the best web browser the mobile device market has yet produced. Yes, better than Apple’s Safari, better than the Blackberry Browser. And certainly better than Windows’ troubled IE.
And now Opera has jus announced the beta launch of the next Opera Mini upgrade, Opera Mobile 9.5. Once again the best is getting better, which is as it should be.
Also recently announced was the impending arrival on the smartphone scene of one of the most popular web browsers in the desktop and laptop markets among both Windows and Apple users – Mozilla Firefox. This Linux-based browser has been eagerly-awaited by its devoted fans since smartphones first went online. And now their…our wish is being answered.
A start-up named Skyfire Labs is also planning a smartphone browser launch sometime soon, but what we can expect of it is anybody’s guess. The Skyfire browser will be what’s called a “thin-client” browser, basically meaning that it runs with limited resources of its own, mostly running with the aid of Mozilla’s servers and Firefox desktop browser. Both the Firefox and Skyfire mobile browsers will initially be released, as expected, in beta form.
Personal favorites aside, the statistics cite Apple’s Safari/iPhone web browser as the reigning champ among U.S. smartphone users (this according to StatCounter), and number two globally. The number one browser worldwide, interestingly enough, has yet to be mentioned in this piece – that being Nokia’s. (And to think, all this time we though they were just the best smartphones for making actual phone calls.)
The big improvement that all smartphone web browsers have either implemented or will be wise to any day now is the integration of the desktop interface with the mobile content delivery format. Now users browsing the web on their handhelds can view a full-screen window of the entire web page (minus scroll-downs of course) just like they would on their desktop or laptop. Then to read a specific portion of the page, they just move a sort of magnifying glass over the section with their cursor and zoom in.
In the past, users could only view web pages reformatted in a messy, clunky single column resembling nothing like the web pages they’re familiar with. This made navigation next to impossible, even if one was already familiar with the layout of the web page (as it would appear on a full-sized computer). Thank goodness for progress.