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Why Cant RIM Overhaul Their Browser? WebKit is OpenSource…

failing_back_to_square_one The browser on my BlackBerry has been a disappointment in the last few years. It works decently but it chokes on even old technologies like JavaScript. RIM has been trying to slowly update the browser to support new standards like SQLite, Gears, CSS, AJAX, and more but it still lags light years behind newer mobile browsers based on WebKit.

There is a reason the iPhone, Android, Symbian S60, and Palm Pre all use WebKit as the basis for their web browser. It kicks the pants off the BlackBerry browser every time it is pitted against it. Opera and Skyfire are interesting alternatives but they do not integrate tightly with the OS and both are proprietary and are hard to develop specifically for them.

The crazy part is that RIM is already using another companies technology in their browser. Parts of their browser come from 4thpass which does not even exist anymore since it was bought out by Motorola. They also seem just fine with using Java which is another OpenSource standard/technology. So why not WebKit???

Personally I think this is because RIM is stuck in a cycle of throwing good money after bad. The browser was great back in 2000 compared to regular WAP browsers but it has barely inched along since then. It still chokes so badly on JavaScript that it is disabled by default on many OS builds. This is the same JavaScript standard that powers AJAX which RIM is pushing as a solution for browser based applications!

I think that RIM has quite a bit invested in the browser with backend optimization, security, & intranet access. On the other hand they are struggling so far behind the competition in this regard that they really need to shape up if they want to compete in the future. The web is slowly becoming an expected feature on smartphones and the pitiful updates that RIM has added in OS 5.0 are just not going to cut it! Maybe at least offer a alternative browser for browsing the web that can be integrated with the OS to do things as simple as open links? I just hate being embarrassed by how far behind RIM has fallen from the competition when it comes to web browsing. The only company it is still beating is Windows Mobile and that is just because Microsoft is stuck with IE.

So what do you think? Is the BlackBerry browser a lost cause? Or do you think it is salvageable?

36 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. The browser in itself is not salvageable.

    They can either:
    -Hope most of their users are content with wap sites and rely on 3rd party browsers for certain situations (which is how it’s been so far).
    -Start packaging a 3rd party browser that actually integrates to the OS (probably going to be expensive)
    -New browser period

    For some reason I don’t see them doing the 2nd one…

    Seems like the 3rd one is much harder for them than most because of all the security issues that other developers don’t have to worry about.

    Given that we already basically know what OS5 holds, I don’t see them rolling out an entirely new browser anytime even close to soon…

  2. Lost cause for sure. After a brief stint with an iPhone, upon picking up my beloved curve again i wanted to hang myself. The blackberry browser is downright depressing. Anyone who thinks it is anything better than god awful either is old and doesn’t know what the internet is now capable of, lives in a box, or is so far into denial that nothing can save them. Building a new browser from the ground up could take well over a year or more. Integrating with someone else’s tech could be much faster though security issues creep as does other support related problems. So we, blackberry users, are left with option such as bolt, opera mini, and soon skyfire in order to get mobile browsing done. Please RIM, I came back to you, keep me from straying to Android.

  3. The sad part is the navigation is pretty good (particularly in OS5). Bookmarks and menus work well. Just the non-wap rendering is just terrible…

  4. Well, I guess that I am one of the few exceptions. Do I think the browser is wonderful? Not at all. However it is a decent speed in my opinion (especially when you have javascript and html tables off).
    When I am mobile, I want to be able to bring up a website and get the information quickly. I don’t care that it doesn’t render the same way that it does on a computer (an avg page for me takes 3-5 seconds to load up…on thE iPhone, unless I was in wifi, it took close to a minute).
    Would I like to have a full blown browser? Sure. But I am not going to compromise speed for it.
    That’s what a 3rd party browser is for and if I REALLY need to view it like on a computer, ill just pull out the trust MBP.
    BTW: I am not old and I am over-average on knowing “what the internet holds”.

    • x2

      • X3

        Sorry, but I don’t expect a mobile phone with even a Storm size screen, let alone even a netbook with 10″ screen, will give me the browsing experience I have at home on cablemodem feeding a hotrod quad core mache driving dual 30″ displays. I expect websites to detect my device and scale accordingly, web servers have the horsepower, mobile phones do not. Kinda funny BerryReview can get this part SO right but a site the like of Crackberry or Engadget can’t.

        Does BB browser suck? Yup. But turn off javascript and it works just fine fir what it is. Would I like it to be better? Sure. But is webkit the answer? I suspect not.

        • X 4

          It works for what it is, and gets me through the times I don’t have access to a PC.

          Any improvements will be gratefully received though, but it’s nowhere near enough reason for me to consider an iPhone or Android smartphone in the future.

  5. Last i checked the Storm’s browser was based on webkit…

  6. I was at the BBDC in October, and the lead engineer on the Browser for the Bold basically said, it wasn’t feasible to port over webkit based on some C++ base. I use the BlackBerry Browser just fine, even on non-wap sites. I zoom to text I need to read. Honestly with ajax support and widgets coming to the BB, I wonder how much I’ll need an awesome browser.

    • Albert hits the nail on the head here. Webkit is C++ which is fine for all of the OTHER solutions listed, iphone, where the object-c was already done and symbian, android,ad pre where it is still IN c++. RIM would either need to open a GIGANTIC GAPING security hole into their low level OS, or port a gigantic project to Java, neither of which would be particularly good.

  7. Has it occurred to anyone that RIM may be stuck in a contract with however it is they get their browser from? If this is the case they would not be able to offer a better design until the contract expires

  8. I love my Curve.

    But when I see what the other phone’s browsers can do, I feel like I’m back in the 1990’s.. I am this close to switching out because of this browser from the stone ages.

  9. Honestly I don’t know what the big fuss is. I use a Blackberry Bold, is it’s browser better than the iPhone or G1? No but I’m honestly not surfing the web like that period on a mobile. And I also have the iPhone 3G and i barely surf the web on there either.

    Even with 3G speed, surfing the web on a mobile phone is time consuming, so I use it for quick searches, but not full blown just surfing, for that I can use my laptop or netbook. So if I’m just doing quick items, my Bold’s browser is fine, it isn’t the greatest, but then I don’t need it to be and I’m hardly giving it up cause the browser is better on another phone. My Bold triumphs all, emailing, the apps I use, being able to run a program in the background, these are reason to have a phone.

    And I’m far from old and pride myself on staying ahead of the tech trends. I’m just being realistic here!

  10. I think that’s the problem though. Even readers of sites like this are likely to be a bunch of BB users that have obviously accepted the browser, prioritize other things and don’t see what the fuss is.

    But if they’re trying to outreach to a consumer base, it’s not going to be nearly that simple…

  11. A friend of mine on the 8900 browser development team (the “Mango” project) told me that in fact there were two teams working on the browser for that device – one that took the then-current browser and updated it, and the other that started with Webkit. The Webkit browser port was complicated beyond belief, starting with the C++ to Java conversion, and couldn’t be converted in time to meet the ship deadline. Thus they went with Mango, the current browser.

    However, the Webkit porting team still exists, and is still working on porting Webkit to run under the … unusual constraints provided by RIM’s environment – most notably, speeding up the performance in Java. About even odds that the current browser may be replaced with Webkit, but it depends what gives them the performance and standards compliance first.

    • that would be cool if they actually included some new thing on the 5.0 when is officially released, I have not been too impressed with the content on 5.00 leaks

      • Sadly, I agree with you on this one. What frightens me more – other products are rolling out fresh, innovative platforms and RIM is going to probably find itself losing in the consumer market bigtime if it doesn’t do something to stay on par. They’ve got the security and the integration to keep them tops in the corporate world. But, they’ve pushed a lot of their chips into the consumer market and I’d hate to see them fail!

  12. The Blackberry browser is terrible. The fact that we cannot change the default browser further aggravates the issue. As much as I enjoy my Blackberry, as soon as Motorola releases a hardware clone of the Bold running Android I am dumping RIM.

  13. It sucks and should be trashed. So embarassing compared to the iphone or android. 20th century technology, literally.

  14. Yeah I agree with what most say. The bb browser is trash if you use it for fun or leisure. I had the g1 and I think its the best browsing experience on a phone today. And I dont think the article’s point is what can you get by with, but rather what should you be getting. If your fine with basc rendering and a minimal browsing experience then thats one thing, but that doesnt change the fact that its just not as capable as other phones running webkit. I have the storm and while Im pleased with other aspects of the phone, its very annoying to know that other phones that I think are inferior overall, actually have better web browsing capabilities. So please no more talk of what youre fine with or you dont need all the extra stuff, this discussion is about what the bb browser SHOULD be capable of.

  15. I’ve been a BB fan for years but the Web and OS is feeling long in the tooth and so 20th Century. I look at the Iphone/Android/Pre and I hope that BB has something new that we know nothing about in the pipeline. Nice phones and ancient software is not a winning combo.

  16. There is a simple answer to this issue. RIM never innovates. You may think that they do, but they really don’t. They just make new looking phones but honestly, how much has the OS changed? OS 4.6+ just looks like OS 4.5 and below with a flashy theme. OS 4.5, which we waited for like… 2-3 years for gave us HTML email. That’s it. The alarm app will never have multiple alarms, for crying out loud. We will never have an option to ring and vibrate at the same time without having to download a 3rd party program. Viewing pictures on my Pearl has no shortcut buttons to go to the next and previous images (no, pressing 4, 6, n, or p do NOT do anything). Oh, and can we at least have the option to run the BB Browser through TCP connection? It’s… just so much faster than a BIS-B connection. Thanks.

  17. The BlackBerry Browser is an awful terrible painful way to browse the web. The RIM folks must know this, and yet for years I have had a terrible browser. And ‘improvements’ come, and yet nothing is any better.

    As soon as Apple bring out the new iPhone this year I am going to get it.

    I still have a contract on my BlackBerry until next June, but I don’t care.

    BlackBerry -> you lose.

  18. Also, I find it completely ridiculous when you see RIM come out with what, 4 or 5 new handsets in a year? And they all have the same sucky browser.

    With their Push technology they could do so much more and make an absolute monster of a phone, but they are stuck clinging to old software that no longer fits the bill.

    So what – a new slightly different handset – this one has wifi! Woop woop, who cares. Fix My Browser!

  19. There is no question. BlackBerry browser is mostly useless. For small things like downloading an OTA application or viewing WAP enabled pages is ok but don’t ever think you can “browse the web” with it. Is not just Javascript lacking but formatting, and terribly lacking!

  20. BB Browser Is a BIG depression
    Sure It can render fine and fast
    with certain functions turned off
    Surely every site can optimize web xperience per browser agent
    But this does not apply to reality!
    Wake up smell and taste the berries!!
    When you are on the go and need to browse your paypal account you either cannot or have to do It with other browsers
    While on the go when you need onlinr banking
    (Btw most modern banking solutions utilize java)
    You simply cannot work well
    Forms and drop down boxes that utilize java and auto refresh based on selection
    are failing to work as intented due to poor BB browser
    On line telecom account pages that inform you about your balance
    Services and programs and let you change them or add services fail to work
    Due to … Again poor java implementation on BB Browser
    Web server providers (vps, PS etc) often utilize java In order their users to access
    specific pages with status sreens
    and service actions (restart, stop, watch stats, logs etc)
    Or even log on to ticket panel (java powere) In order to issue support tickets
    Once again we fail due to poor browser…
    I don’t care about seeing the web as seen @ my quad core lappy or desktop
    But I wanna do my simple, urgent, quicky tasks on the go with confidence
    With the current browser solution It’s a guaranteed frustration!

  21. Between IE for Windows Mobile, and the Blackberry browser, I’m to sure Blackberry has the upper hand. I’m beginning to move towards the belief that all software – including browsers – should be developed independently (a la firefox), and RIM’s role should be just to provide a solid OS platform.

  22. Let me just start by mentioning that I like the browser on my Bold. It’s quite quick and the results are quite good. It’s not perfect, but my previous phone was a Treo 680 – great phone with a terrible browser. Anything would be better!

    I’m programmer, so can assure you that (as others have mentioned), porting WebKit to Java, the BB platform will be unbelievably complex. Using WebKit on the Palm Pre or the iPhone is relatively trouble-free, however, and it also means that those platforms will get the benefit of open source development. As new updates to the core WebKit are released, they’ll get them first. If Rim somehow get a feasiuble port going, updates will lag behind those other platforms.

    This is the fundamental problem with Blackberry; Java. I like Java, but it has led Rim down a technological cul de sac where they just don’t get the volume of software developers or ports that other platforms can boast. Porting an app from one C++ platform to another is quite feasible. Porting it to Blackberry is a nightmare.

    That’s why these great handsets don’t have good gaming titles or quite the quality of apps that other emerging platforms have.

    Frankly, RIM could do worse than scrap the current system, build a BB OS shell on the top of Linux and just include a java virtual machine to run legacy apps. Just imagine – code compatibility for a legion of software developers, a native WebKit browser and OpenGL libraries for 3D graphics! Bliss.

  23. Amazing…all you people that say you’ll give up all that is great about BlackBerry because of the BROWSER? Really? Why did you bother getting a BlackBerry in the first place then??? I mean really, if you wanted a portable web browsing device, a BlackBerry never should have been your first choice! Have to believe people buy a BlackBerry for FAR more than web browsing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I DO wish the browser was completely overhauled into something much better. But there’s no chance I would give up all the other BlackBerry goodness just for some other smartphone OS that has a wonderful webkit web browser but aint so hot at a lot of other stuff.

  24. I wish someone would tell me just WHAT they can do on the Web with other phones that they can’t with the BlackBerry Browser – apart from Flash-based things.

    Having said that, I think that RIM is lagging behind in a lot of other things.

  25. What can’t I do? (I’ve used a BB daily for the last 7 years and an iPhone for the last 2 as well)

    Log into my bank account
    Log into any of my utility accounts
    View AJAX sites i.e. Google (If you’ve used it on an iPhone or G1, you understand)
    Basically, anything that I would do on the go with my iPhone

  26. for all blackberry users
    i have been using blackberry for almost 4 years and the bis of blackberry its too slow
    but most of you have never navigate with the browser
    its super fast very fast
    and their pages are in real httl format
    besides its navigation on streaming
    i haved it in mi bb 8310 curve
    i also have the new opera mini 4.2 in my blackberry
    but the bold browser its real fast compare to any other
    the browser its free download
    the adress to downloads its

  27. Agreed! RIM is starting to run into the same legacy issues that have bogged down Microsoft for so long. Unfortunately, I don’t see RIM scrapping their system and building a new Linux based OS (things like this usually don’t happen). This means the newer rivals like Apple, Android, and Palm’s WebOS will always be more innovative than RIM. I would expect that Google’s new Chrome OS will also be much more innovative than Windows 7 for the same reason.

  28. Well RIM might run into long-term innovation issues with their OS foundations in general if things don’t improve at a significant rate, but at least the browser issue is being taken care of with the recent acquisition of Torch Mobile 🙂

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