Browsing With A Smartphone

Moto QThe need for always available email had me recentlyequipping up with a Motorola QWindows Mobile 5-based smartphone. With Exchange Direct Push email capabilities (where the device opensan idled HTTP connection, being notified expediently when newmessages are available with the minimum of data throughput), it hasserved the core purpose admirably, and is a wonderfully handylittle device.

The addition of wireless, always-available communications hasmade it infinitely more useful than prior abandonedoutings with PDAs.

Ultimately it’s a Blackberry(TM) competitor. While I’m only 60kmfrom RIM headquarters, for me this was a better device than themore commonly chosen option. In this case the technologyinfrastructure didn’t require a third-party to unnecessarily act asan middleman of messages.

I don’t only use it for email, though. Every now and then thedevice serves secondary duty as a web browsing tool: The landscapeQVGA screen isn’t exactly copious, but it’s enough for basicbrowsing for some sites, catching up on tech news and happenings insituations where a traditional network isn’t available, and I don’twant to open up a laptop.

This blog looks great on it. The “content” column perfectlyfilling the screen by luck rather than intent. The homepagerequires an excessive 229KB of transfers, but at least most ofthose bytes are filled with content text. Nonetheless, I think I’mgoing to change the settings to show fewer days of history on themain page.

Despite the grand pronouncements by the telcos about their highspeed, next generation networks, the speed is often closer todial-up, and where throughput is high the latency isoften poor, making pages with dozens of elements a timeconsuming affair. Even with a speedy connection, many telcoshave low throughput limits with exorbitant fees beyond that.

Loading a page like Joel’s discussionpage — a very basic text discussion site —remarkably pegs in at 280KB or so oftransfers (grab a copy of the extraordinary Firebugadd-in for Firefox and look at the Net tab. It is often eyeopening), overwhelmingly for scripts that have no use on thediscussion site.

Sure, caching helps for subsequent requests, but on smalldevices there’s often little room set aside to cache 100s of KBs ofirrelevant scripts. Worse, the linked versioning — adding a dateversion number as a parameter — used by Joel and crew hasseen the cached scripts invalidated frequently.

It’s too bad there wasn’t a, err, “function-level linking” forJavaScript, automatically eliminating all of the unused script frompages that don’t require it.

One of the better sites for mobile browsing is Google:Recognizing the limits of the device (presumably by noting theMozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 4.01; Windows CE; Smartphone;176×220) user agent string — not sure why it says 176x220when the actual resolution of the device is 320×200), it renders apared-down (even more!) version of the search engine, better stillautomatically proxying search results through an agent that filterspages down to more mobile friendly forms. Very nice.

It’s a good thing that Google filters results, as many sitesjust render terribly in the small confines of QVGA on a WindowsMobile 5 device.

Obviously the mobile browsing market is a tiny, butgrowing, contingent of users, but it is something I’m going topay more heed to. Too often we presume that everyone has a 7Mbpshigh speed pipe feeding an ultra high resolution display, when thatisn’t always the case. As smartphones continue to take off, andproviders facilitate use by easing off on the restrictions andexcessive charges, it’s going to become a very importantmarket.