Deepfish technology preview

Back on March 28th, Microsoft Live Labs announced Deepfish—a zoom able, mobile web browser.  Today I finally received an activation Id to preview the technology.  So I installed it on my Verizon XV6700 running WM5.

Normally I loath browsing the web on my PDA/cell phone.  The screen is too small even in landscape mode.  Most web sites do not properly support rendering on small form factor displays.  Even some sites which try to support small displays mistakenly identify PocketIE as it’s full–featured desktop brethren, IE for Windows.  So sometimes even there is a WAP equivalent the normal site will be rendered instead.  On top of all that, the XV6700 seems to barely have enough horsepower to run WM5.  Sometimes it takes up to 2–5 seconds for the screen to refresh.  Compound that with the latency of an over–the–air Internet connection and it proves to be a very frustrating experience for browsing the web.

Here’s how rendering looks on browsers available today:

Pocket IE
Opera
Pocket IE
Opera

Above you can see how both Pocket IE and Opera’s mobile browser tries to render my home page.  Neither one does a great job really but at least Pocket IE renders more correctly.  Opera has always been notorious for its non–standard rendering quirks on the desktop.  It seems those nuisances have made their way into their mobile browser as well.

Deepfish makes it easier to browse by scaling the web site to fit on your mobile display and allowing you to zoom into portions of the page.  Scrolling and zooming a web page is very simple and easy.  On the XV6700 I can use the mini–joystick to scroll, a stylus, or in my case a finger since I have long since lost all styluses.  To zoom I simply press the mini–joystick in and the zoom rectangle appears.  Here again, I can use the same methods to move the zoom rectangle around: joystick or touch–screen.  If I press the joystick in or tap the rectangle it will zoom into that portion of the page.  Once zoomed in, a mini–map is presented to display your place on the page.  Very easy to use.

Deepfish
Deepfish
Deepfish
 
My blog on Deepfish
The zoom rectangle
Zoomed in
 

Since this is still a beta technology there are some minor nuisances to contend with. For instance, whenever you focus on a text field the browser pops up a regular-sized textbox on the top of the page to use for data entry. However, sometimes the browser forgets to hide the textbox after you’ve entered the data. Or your focus will get stuck on the textbox.

Also, I’ve noticed that scaled pages look really bad in landscape mode. This is because they are not re-scaling the original image. Instead, they seem to be scaling the already scaled image to the new display mode. This makes the page look distorted. I’ve mentioned this condition on their blog so they might change it in the next version.

And lastly, the browser doesn’t seem to render background images.  This might be by design though to speed up page rendering.  I hope they make this configurable though if it is by design.

Deepfish
Microsoft.com sans background images

Other than those minor complaints, the (beta) browser is pretty good.

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