Android 2.3: This Isn’t the Browser You Were Looking For

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Google yesterday announced the latest release of its Android mobile operating system: version 2.3, codenamed Gingerbread. While there are a number of cool new features available to native app developers (such as front-facing camera support, mixable audio effects, and a ton of new sensor input options), those of us who prefer to work in the browser have received little in the way of new toys. Last week, I blogged about the new features in iOS 4.2, and there were a few of particular interest to web devs: notably an implementation of the device orientation API and support for websockets. Unfortunately, neither of those features have made their way into Android 2.3.

A quick browse through the release notes reveals precious little in the way of added support for browser-based technologies: no websockets, no accelerometer, not even SVG. In fact, the only addition to the webkit-based Android browser appears to be support for WebM HTML5 video and AAC audio.

Given Android’s huge gains in market share over the course of this year, this lag in implementing new browser features is a real pain for web developers anxious to roll out cool new sites making use of all the latest bells and whistles. And, since most of the missing features are already present in Chrome on the desktop, it’s difficult to understand Google’s decision to leave them out of the Android browser. It’s possible that some of these browser features might show up when the OS is actually made available for users, and that they’ve only been omitted in the SDK release notes since they don’t impact native app developers—but it seems more likely that we’ll have to wait until the next major release.

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  • Martin

    Wait 1-2 months for 3.0 ;-)

  • Edison Leon

    Man!! that really sucks :(

  • Steve Davis

    Eh, I use Opera Mini anyways. It’s faster.

  • Wonsil

    If you’re just interested in a good browser for Android, I would recommend the Dolphin HD browser:

    http://home.dolphin-browser.com/tunny/Feature.htm

    It has great multi-touch support and some HTML5 features already.

    • Louis Simoneau

      Hi Wonsil, it’s not so much that I’m disappointed in the browser as a user, I’m disappointed as a developer. So it doesn’t really help that I can download a replacement browser, since most Android users won’t and that’s what limits our ability to use these features in mobile web apps.

      • Wonsil

        I understand Louis. The same issue of having browsers of various capabilities exists on the desktop as well and it looks like we’re in for another round with HTML5 and CSS3. It’s yet another argument for Progressive Enhancement. The reason I brought up the Dolphin Browser is that I was able to run iPhone touch-enabled web pages using jQuery’s touch library on my Droid. So one can write code for the lowest denominator and enhance the experience with more capable browsers.

        Best,

        Mark Wonsil

  • IRL

    Debatable “wishes”, honestly.
    Device orientation API seems like a small gimmick, but sure it’s fun… I guess. More of an “ooh” and “aah” for the next Apple iPad presentation, the part about how awesome Safare for iOS is (regardless of the extent of real-world applications at this time).
    The latter is not even fully supported on most stable releases of desktop browsers, erm? I understand that desktop Chrome has it, but in my opinion that doesn’t logically mean it should translate automatically to Android browsers. Sure, you could think that Google will bring it across quicker than some other mobile OS, considering how excellent Chrome. However I believe Google is concentrating more on making the mobile OS itself the king of the hill (if it isn’t already), and for now bells and whistles on the browser can wait.
    Don’t see what is difficult to understand here, and don’t see this as lag at least yet because of the devices we are talking about.
    Sorry about the “blatant” reply, but this just rings (loudly) in my ears as a “ha!” from iPeople and almost nothing more.

    • Louis Simoneau

      Hehe, I get where you’re coming from, but don’t worry, I’m definitely not one of the “iPeople”, I’m a devout Android user. I’m just a little disappointed as a web developer that some of the features I’d love to start playing with in mobile web apps aren’t being rolled in to my OS of choice (and I’ll agree that orientation is a gimmick, but websockets and SVG aren’t!)

      • IRL

        Louis,

        No worries, I do understand your point. It would be nice to start playing around, I get that. I also know websockets and SVG are not gimmicks, in any way imaginable.

        I just think Google is concentrating on a “no hiccups” -general experience first, and hence browser standards perhaps lag a bit on the mobile side.

        I’m sure Google will come around soon enough. Oh, and sorry about the iPeople thing. You just managed to perfectly recreate such a devotees rant ;)

  • ibp

    it seems you haven’t used the Nokia S60 browser… are they sure that crap is Webkit?? D:

  • OKParrothead

    Perhaps Android is becoming the red-headed step-child. With the debut of netbooks powered by Chrome OS (this winter? next spring?) I’m thinking Android may slide to the back burner…

  • Whosdigit

    I agree with your statement that development may be taking a back seat to the Chrome netbook OS. There may be issues that need to be resolved there before they can implement them in Android.

    I think it’s unfortunate that used such a derogatory statement to do so. It is a slur against a minority. Red headed people have been derided for centuries, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gingerism#gingerism.

  • Daniel Laidler

    I am looking forward to the development in gaming, guess I will be waiting to the until HTC roll out the sense version….

  • Sphamandla

    I hear opera mini is faster though,Google should go back to the drawing board and add more features because they are nowhere near Apple at this point

    • IRL

      You familiar with the dozen other browsers available for Android? Not to mention a couple excellent ones. Installing them after getting your new Android phone is simple, and it’s default that people ask other what are the best apps. Always one of the best (and fast/smooth) browsers is mentioned.

      The difference here is that Apple is nowhere near Android when it comes to the flexibility/opennes of designing new apps. Just look at Apple in regard to Mozilla.