Symbian Anna Browser & HTML5: is it the evolution expected?

Nokia has just announced Symbian ‘Anna’, an updated version of Symbian^3 that will be shipped with new devices, such as X7 and E6, and will be available as an OTA update for other devices, such as N8 and E7. I’ve the opportunity to test the new updated browser and here are the results.

As you may know, Symbian is one of the main smartphone platforms out there. Of course, if you live in the US you may think I’m crazy. Outside US, Symbian still has a great amount of devices available and even with the future Windows Phone replacement, dozens of millons of Symbian devices are going to be sold in the next two years.

I’ve tested a Nokia X7-00 prototype device with the final version of the new Symbian Anna. If we see the website, “the new browser” is one of the key features. It’s funny to see that the announcement was done the same day as Microsoft showing the Internet Explorer 9 future browser for Windows Phone.

Symbian browser, as mentioned in my book, has a lot of history. It was one of the first mobile browser using WebKit as its engine. However, since devices like Nokia N95 (shipped before iPhone arrives to the market), the browser has not evolve as fast as developers wanted. It was WebKit, but it was far away in terms of standards supports if we compare it with Safari on iOS, Android Browser or other WebKit-based mobile engines.

You are waiting for my veredict, I know. Well… honestly, I was expecting more. The browser is much faster than before, but it still feels old compared to other smartphone’s browsers.

Here you can see what Modernizr has to say about this browser:

The features detected by Modernizr have some mistakes. For example, it does support SVG.

The new stuff

The key new features are enhanced CSS3 support and multi-window browsing. Without taking performance on the test, the Symbian Anna Browser add support for mostly every CSS3 feature on WebKit browsers, such as Android, iOS and webOS including:

  • Gradients
  • Transformations 2D
  • Transitions
  • Animations
  • Media Queries

 

Talking about APIs and Graphic drawing, it supports:

  • Canvas – 2D drawing API
  • SVG (it was supported before)

The browser seems much faster than the previous version but it’s difficult to have an exact measure because I couldn’t test it yet on the same device.

HTML5, are you there?

We know that HTML5 is not a simple concept. It’s an umbrella for many, many different things. However, every browser shipped in 2011 needs to be HTML5-some-kind-compatible.

I can’t believe that a mobile browser released this year can be shipped without W3C Geolocation API support. It’s a basic API, a more mature standard than HTML5 and very simple to implement. So: Symbian Anna Browser does not support Geolocation.

In fact, it doesn’t support any HTML5 API apart from Canvas (2D drawing). Other great missing is video & audio support. You can still use Flash for video playing on Symbian browser, but video tag was a feature I was expecting for this release.

What is missing from the main HTML5 features available on other platforms:

  • No Viewport support
  • No Audio & Video tag support (the multimedia events seems to be there, but I couldn’t see a <video> tag working)
  • No Application Cache / Offline storage mechanisms
  • No Geolocation API
  • No Accelerometer / Motion API
  • No HTML5 new input types (even when Modernizr says ‘supported’, every input type uses the same text input with the same on-screen keyboard)

We can still access most of these features from the WRT widget platform (see Chapter 12). In fact, Symbian is one of the main platform supporting Home Screen widgets created entirely from HTML, CSS & JavaScript. But the lack of these features from the browser environment makes me feel strange about this new browser.

I believe Nokia has work to do in the next two years for the Symbian Browser. I hope a new update later this year will add more compatibility. BTW, I’m a Forum Nokia Champion and I have a lot of Nokia devices on my pocket’s history ;).

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Comments, ideas, questions?

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  1. #1 written by Saurav Srivastava April 14th, 2011 at 08:26

    I would like to know if this new browser supports text wrapping when zooming the page?

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  2. #2 written by Acat April 14th, 2011 at 08:31

    just did the html5test on the current internet explorer on windows phone 7 and got a score of 17. what does that tell ya?

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  3. #3 written by firt April 14th, 2011 at 16:48

    Windows Phone 7 includes a version of Internet Explorer that normally is mentioned as 7.5. Because it includes an engine that is a mix of IE7 and IE8 for desktop. This also means that there is NO HTML5 or CSS3 support right now on Windows Phone. However, there is an announced update of the Windows Phone 7 platform that will include IE9 (right now in private beta). Therefore, in the following months you will have HTML5 & partial CSS3 support on your phone.

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  4. #4 written by Justa Notherguy April 15th, 2011 at 00:56

    @ Acat

    …while the stock browser in Android 2.2 (‘FroYo’) scores 182.

    I think that says it all.

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  5. #5 written by Nik Rolls April 15th, 2011 at 02:35

    An HTML5 score of 111 is pretty good considering that even Firefox 4 only scores 255.

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  6. #6 written by Mika Hanhijärvi April 15th, 2011 at 12:54

    This is just a first version of the new browser. Obviously HTML5 was not the most important part of the browser which needed updating first. But you should understand that this is not the last version of browser. Development will continue after this version is released. Browser will be improved step by step. And that’s good because that gives user new browser faster.

    The first version might not give you all the HTML5 features, but so what? HTML5 sure is not the most important feature to improve first. It can wait next coming updates. Of course Nokia could delay the release of browser so much that every piece of HTML5 support is implemented, but then there would be lots of people shouting that nokia should release the browser NOW!!. Don’t you see why it’s better to improve the browser step by step so people can have most important improvements faster.

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  7. #7 written by firt April 15th, 2011 at 13:10

    Mika, thanks for your comments. I don’t agree with you. The thing is, I’m not seeing any new browser. It’s the same browser, with a great speed and UI improvement, but it is still far away from other competitors in the smartphone area. If you are slow, you are out in this market. And that is what happened to Symbian; this is the evidence. They have more than one year from the previous browser and it still seems old. Some features of HTML5 doesn’t matter. However, for a mobile browser for touch devices, using different input types for showing different keyboards is a MUST. If the field is numeric, the device should show a numeric keyboard. Apple added this feature 3 years ago! Geolocation is other thing I believe it is a MUST for a mobile browser. In fact, they have it implemented on the WRT engine. So I’m not seeing a big deal on adding support on the browser. Please, compare Gmail for iOS/Android and Gmail por Symbian (web version). You will see the differences. And with the new browser, Gmail can not update the Symbian version to be similar to the iOS/Android webapp. That is why I feel the browser needs to be more powerful. If not, the webapps aren’t powerful for the platform and that is not a good news.

    And I’m saying this convinced that the Symbian guys can do it better. They created the first smartphone browser supporting the latest technologies 5 years ago.

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  8. #8 written by Mika Hanhijärvi April 15th, 2011 at 14:40

    > I don’t agree with you.

    And I don’t aggree with you.

    > The thing is, I’m not seeing any new browser.

    Well thatä’s purely your problem then.

    > If you are slow, you are out in this market.
    > And that is what happened to Symbian;

    Rubbish.

    > this is the evidence. They have more than one
    > year from the previous browser and it still
    > seems old. Some features of HTML5 doesn’t
    > matter.

    HTML5 content is still rare, And HTML5 is NOT even a standard yet. So it really is NOT any big problem if the upcoming first version of the new browser does not have all the HTML5 features yet. As I said HTML5 support will be improved step by step.

    > However, for a mobile browser for touch
    > devices, using different input types for
    > showing different keyboards is a MUST. If the
    > field is numeric, the device should show a
    > numeric keyboard.

    Symbian’s keyboard does adapt to those situations. Ofcourse if some application developer uses textinput where actually a number is requested then that’s not Symbiabn’s fault.

    > Geolocation is other thing I believe it is a
    > MUST for a mobile browser.

    Not really because most of the time you want to use specialized apps instead of browser. The power of smartphone is in apps. WRT, Qt, Symbian C+s, Pythom, Java etc apps can all access geolocation on Symbian. Sorry but I don’t see geolocation in browser as important feature as you do. Sure it might be nice feature, but sure NOT any MUST have feature. Lack of it is not any show stopper.

    And I said this upcoming version of browser will not be the last version. it’s just first step in the series of updates improving the browser. Development of browser wont just end.

    > Please, compare Gmail for iOS/Android and Gmail
    > por Symbian (web version). You will see the
    > differences.

    Exactly why should I want to use some webmail version of gmail when Symbian’s email-client supports gmail? I personally have never used webmail much on desktop computers and I never use those on mobile devices becauce spusing specialized email.client is so much more convinient, I prefer IMAP and POP and PUSH-email used with specialized email-client.Symbian ^3 ‘s email.-client is nice to use, so WHY should I use some clumsy and ugly webmail? WHY should I start webbrowser just to be able to read emails’s when I can use specialized email-client.

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  9. #9 written by firt April 15th, 2011 at 15:58

    @Mika Hanhijärvi
    Mika, thanks again, but this is the end of the discussion; it’s clear that you can’t accept other opinion and you are angry about something.

    We have strongly different visions about the mobile and mobile web ecosystem (and I’m not a US-based guy). Even we strongly disagree on what HTML5 is or should be. HTML5 will never be an standard as you want. Lack of some features, it’s a problem for innovation and what happens is that nobody (developers, big companies like Google, Yahoo) cares about this browser and the user received a “clumsy and ugly” interface.

    I’m also sure that the Symbian Browser will still evolve in the following 2 years. My point wasn’t that.

    Thanks again.

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  10. #10 written by Armen April 15th, 2011 at 17:12

    Thanks for the review. I agree with you. Web app era is already here and support for HTML5 APIs is a must for all new devices and browsers. Guys at Nokia should understand this.
    Anyway, now the question is, how long it will take before the next update? And will it be pushed as an automatic update, like Microsoft is planning to do?

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  11. #11 written by firt April 15th, 2011 at 17:16

    Symbian^3 supports over the air updates, so it will be similar to Windows Phone (or Android) updates.

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  12. #12 written by Leandro Peralta April 15th, 2011 at 18:36

    I highly recommend all of you to Google who you are discussing with before making any comments. Otherwise, to avoid being arrogant and disdainful works just as well.

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  13. #13 written by Shah Nawaz April 26th, 2011 at 19:36

    Symbian is still good for many mobile phone users. People may like the dazzle of the Android OS, but the simplicity of Symbian still appeals to a sizable proportion.
    Android was not developed in a month, and accordingly Nokia will take time to update and try to get at par or overtake.

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  14. #14 written by sam April 29th, 2011 at 14:07

    when we talk about html5 css3 or flash player 10 its future but nokia browser 7.2 dosn’t even display some websites properly even its javascripts dosn’t supports some sites like yahoo mail , shoes.com where first they have to ensure that the browser is full compatible with all the web content and display and work properly with all sites on web as they supposed to be.

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  15. #15 written by Vladimir May 7th, 2011 at 16:03

    I’m a student at a university in Sweden, and here there are several campuses, one of which is about 90km from the main one.

    If you visit the mobile website of the university, it uses geolocation to determine where you are and offers you relevant campus map, schedule for campus bus and other nice things… Currently iOS and Android benefit from this. It’s a shame Symbian is going to have to wait to get this feature… if it gets it at all.

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  16. #16 written by bronzedragon18 May 18th, 2011 at 01:14

    Hello , my 2 cents’ worth lol . I must say that I agree more with Mika , though I do see your side of it firt . That said , I agree that the N8 browser ( i currently have the N8 ) does need improvement , but , by the same token , it’s just not as bad as some people claim . Sure , it’s slower than the Iphone and Android browsers , but not much slower IMX ( In My eXperience ) . Of course , most of my smartphones were Windows Mobile .. Something most people seem never to remember is that the iOS and Android have had many updates ; naturally they r better ! Sy

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  17. #17 written by bronzedragon18 May 19th, 2011 at 01:37

    Sorry , got cut off lol … What I was going to add is that while iOS and Android have had numerous updates , Symbian 3 has only had 1 ; people never seem to remember this . While I’ve never had an Iphone , it would be more appropriate to compare the PR1 update to Android 1.5 ; if u do that , it’s obious how much progress Symbian 3 has made ! And I should point out that despite 6 updates , Android is STILL missing core functionality : no file manager or task manager , the stock media player sucks , battery life sucks out of the box , and don’t get me started on the constant connection or the security issues … Sure u can download great apps to fix these issues , but this is stuff that Android should come with out of the box !

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  18. #18 written by debranjan goswami July 8th, 2011 at 13:26

    nokia browser 7.3 is detestable.it loads mobile sites well and fast but lags in opening web pages.it shows java script errors.while accessing a heavy page(more than 2mb),the browser exits.the two bottom corner visible icons prevent input in some cases

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  19. #19 written by debranjan goswami July 8th, 2011 at 13:32

    the html5 compatibility test gave anna browser 123 in my case.the acid3 test showed a ludicrous rendering of the smiley sample and with false colouring too.the browserhawk test showed the flash player version to be 9(which is incredible,i thought it was 4.1).flash rendering however is very well handled by anna

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