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Mobile and web 2.0 developer, consultant and speaker. Author of "Programming the Mobile Web" book, published by O'Reilly in 2010. Forum Nokia Champion. Maximiliano is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 36 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

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

04.14.2011
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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 ;).

References
Published at DZone with permission of Maximiliano Firtman, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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