I couldn't help but laugh and cringe when my BlackBerry Connection Newsletter arrived in my Inbox yesterday. Inside is an article about BlackBerry's recent web browser makeover. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my Curve and am a diehard BlackBerry fanatic, but RIM really shouldn't be touting "You're Going to Love What Your Browser Can Do Now!" to the BlackBerry/smartphone using public. When it comes to mobile web browsers, I guess you can say I have become a little bit jaded towards BlackBerry's browser having used most of the mobile web browsers in existence thanks to the Smartphone Round Robin we conducted a couple of months back.
With the introduction of the iPhone into the smartphone world a new standard has been set for mobile web browsing - the Full Internet. None of this mobile-optimized (err..limited)/wap browsing garbage of the past. Granted, the iPhone's Safari mobile browser isn't perfect - it doesn't do well with plugins yet (i.e. Flash), but the fact I can pretty much see websites as they are meant to be seen is huge. For myself, full web browsing on my BlackBerry would mean I could go away for a weekend and not need to take a laptop with me. As it stands now, that's not the case. It doesn't matter how many improvements RIM makes to the existing BlackBerry browser... as long as it's the trimmed-down, low-budget Interweb we're talking about I don't think there is anything here to brag about.
Yes I can visit Yahoo, Google, AOL, Facebook and YouTube from my BlackBerry's browser as the Newsletter suggests, but I'm not *actually* visiting these sites. They load quick, don't use much bandwidth, but they're ugly mobile versions of the real sites. That's why I laughed when I read "...your browser is giving you the best visual experience possible." I know full web browsing isn't necessarily a good thing for everyone, at least not yet - those who don't have unlimited data would be screwed come their monthly bill as full webpages soak up lots of data and big web pages can take a while to load over an EDGE connection (though on my time with the iPhone's web browser I was impressed with just how fast sites loaded). There still is a need in the world for mobile-optimized websites. Regardless, wouldn't the option to have full web browsing vs. standard "wap" browsing be considered superior as to just being stuck with crappy mobile-optimized/minimized browsing?
I've been talking about the iPhone's Safari browser as being the new standard for mobile web browsing, which doesn't do much for us BlackBerry users. But there is a full web browsing alternative available now that's a heck of a lot better than the BlackBerry Browser - Opera Mini. If you haven't tried Opera Mini 4 yet, I'd recommend downloading it (it's free!) and giving it a go - just point your berry's browser to www.operamini.com. I don't think it's quite as fast nor offers as robust of a full web browsing experience as the iPhone's Safari browser, and it's not quite as tuned into the BlackBerry as it could be (BB shortcuts aren't treated very well), but it's still pretty darn good. When you visit Facebook.com on your BlackBerry using Opera Mini, you get the real Facebook site. I don't think many would argue with me in saying that Opera Mini blows away the default BlackBerry web browser.
The reason I cringed after I laughed when reading the Newsletter is because if RIM really thinks the improvements made to its web browser are that worth bragging about, then RIM might find itself in for a surprise! Mobile-optimized web browsing may have sufficed in the enterprise market, but RIM is trying to penetrate the consumer market. For consumers to pay for data plans (which is something I gather the carriers and RIM want to see happen more often than not), consumers are going to expect a better web browsing experience that the one RIM offers by default. Hopefully RIM is cooking up an entirely new web browser that will blow away everything currently available, but if not, at the very least they should be working in partnership with Opera to have all newly sold BlackBerrys ship with Opera Mini pre-installed. That might tide the masses over. Oh, and here's an idea...if RIM is really sold in keeping mobile-optimized browsing in its offerings, why not work with Opera to develop a "Speed Browsing" option - select the option within the web browser, and if an RSS feed is available for a page it loads that instead of the full web page. I'm sure it wouldn't be that hard to take a full web browser like Mini and enable the option to prune it down to be an optimized browser like the BlackBerry browser currently is.
While I'm on the rant of the BlackBerry's lack of full web browsing, let me throw in again (I've brought it up before) that RIM also needs to implement full email viewing. RIM is the undisputed KING of EMAIL, yet it's really sad that the BlackBerry Connection Newsletter (or CrackBerry.com Newsletter for that matter) looks a helluva lot better when viewed on an iPhone vs. on a BlackBerry. On the BlackBerry it just looks like a mess. Email Viewers like the ones available from BBSmart and Empower help to improve the email viewing experience, but still don't display emails (like newsletters) on the BlackBerry the way their designers have intended them to be displayed (i.e. the way they would look when viewed in Outlook or Gmail).
All I want is for RIM to give me a browser that I want to use...nay..that's an absolute pleasure to use, and email viewing that displays emails the way they were intended to be viewed. Hopefully that will happen in 2008! That's my Friday morning rant. Enough Said.
As always, I'm looking forward to hearing what you think on the matter!