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Summary:

Three years ago, average page loads on ARM device could take over 20 seconds. Today that number is down to half that, if not less. But mobile apps are increasing in availability and functionality. Which is it for you on a mobile device: browser or software?

palm-pre-browser

Not that long ago, surfing the web was a chore on any non x86 mobile device. There were exceptions of course — browsers like Opera Mini come to mind — but browsing on a handset simply didn’t cut it. Two years back, Steve Paine from UMPC Portal ran some comparison tests and found that ARM devices took nearly twice as long to render web sites as their x86 counterparts did — the average ARM device took over 20 seconds for a full view. Many of us suffered through the lack of speed by valuing mobility back then. I know I did. Fast forward to present day and the gap has closed considerably.

Pocketables recently ran similar browser tests on the current crop of smartphones and what used to be an average of 20 second page loads is now under 10 seconds. That speed increase, coupled with the portability of a phone, can go a long way towards faster smartphone adoption. What used to be a painful experience is becoming tolerable — and in some cases, even enjoyable. Take a look at the test results from an Apple iPhone 3GS, Nokia N900, HTC HD2 and Google Nexus One to get a feel for the browsing speed on devices of today:

Steve notes that three of these four current devices are now “in the green zone,” which he considers to be 10 seconds or less. For most sites and devices, that was unheard of as recently as 2007. Advancements in browsers, JavaScript and hardware are all contributors here — and the last factor in that list is right in line with a theme I’ve mentioned for months now: the perfect storm for the ARM platform is here. Devices built on the newest ARM chip architecture offer enough processing power for handheld devices and do so in a battery-friendly way, which is why I fully expect Google Chrome devices to be ARM-powered. I actually enjoy surfing on my Google Nexus One, just as I did prior on my iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre. Before those devices? I certainly surfed on handhelds, but gravitated towards bulkier x86 solutions for a faster experience.

Of course, now that ARM devices are catching up, I’m already looking for what’s next. And as central as the browser is to mobile device usage, I’m starting to wonder if mobile apps could render the browser less relevant. Sure, the browser will always be there, be needed and be used. Bite sized bits of the web — packaged up in neat, little, easy to use software bundles — are taking off in a big way. As a result, I find myself using apps over a browser when I can. These software titles are optimized for the small screen, often look nicer than mobile-friendly websites and still provide current data thanks to web connectivity.

How about you? As the mobile browsing experience gets better, are you using a browser more than apps or are you “abandoning” the web for software these days?

Image courtesy of Pocketables

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  1. The web and apps are a compliment to each other. If I want to check twitter, rss, maps, Wikipedia, mail, dictionary, instant messenger, & Pandora then I rather use the apps for them. In the same time if you want to read or find information not found w/in these apps then I use the web.

    On your earlier point about Arm replacing x86. I agree because as of now I use my Celio Redfly, Treo800w, Nokia n810, and Ipod touch for my everyday situations. In the end it would depend of what the user needs to do and how many devices they are willing to carry. Another plus of multiple devices is that you don’t have to be dependent of the battery life of any of them.

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  2. For me…

    -Web browsing is for consuming content and generally looking things up.

    -Apps are for creating content, or at least consuming it in very specialized ways that can’t easily be done by a Web browser alone.

    That goes for computing in general, be it my huge full-tower desktop or my pocket-size hx4700.

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  3. My mobile web experience are mostly hampered when the developers decided they only needed iPhone or Android apps instead of mobile website lacking features that could’ve been added and could work even on mobile browser without javascript.

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