Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Safari, sogoodi - but notformi

I downloaded the freshly announced Safari internet browser yesterday. Version 4.0 was deployed after the World Wide Developer Conference in California, Apple Computing's yearly platform for talking about software development. It also tends to be about hardware development, with announcing refreshed laptop lines and the now-expected yearly iPhone update.

Speaking of iPhones, I was not surprised that the slogan for this iteration is "The fastest and most powerful iPhone yet". It's duh-marketing gone mad, especially for a company that's so known for periodic refreshes of their equipment that all iPods are referred to by their generation number (4th gen iPod, 2nd gen iPod Touch, etc.) It would be shocking and immediately news-worthy should they have released something that "wasn't quite as fast or powerful" as what they're already offering.

There is a some good tech in this new iPhone 3G S. The cellular data connection supports the bandwidth upgrade that's being gradually introduced by AT&T infrastructure. There's an upgraded camera that supports taking bursts of video. The processor is assumed to be faster (Apple released no details), so all phone functions should work better. On the whole, most of what's new and shiny were released with the concurrent iPhone software update to version 3.0, which is available to all generations of iPhone and Touch. As a nod to this, Apple will continue to sell last year's iPhone alongside the new ones.

One point they hammered home in the presentation was the speed of the iPhone. This speed was partially due to the latest version of Apple's browser, Safari (mentioned above), which has a faster Java engine among its many improvements. Java is a programming language that's used on just about every website nowadays, so any significant improvement is going to be apparent in daily use.

Safari is offered as a free download for Windows computers and is claimed to be two or three times faster than my current browser of choice, Mozilla's Firefox ver. 3.0. "Sounds good to me!" I thought, and downloaded it to try it out.

It does seem faster for loading pages and a snappy web browser can make all the difference. Waiting around for your browser to do even the simplest tasks can get FANTASTICALLY old in mere moments. Before my parents updated their computer, the 4+ year old laptop would load and navigate so slowly, my mom would bring a book with her to the computer.

But even though the browser steams along, I'm not going to switch to it. In fact, I've already uninstalled it. On my computer, which I freely admit is an underpowered machine, there were noticeable moments of non-interactiveness while using Safari; moments when the browser just seemed to "hang" and resist any input. The mouse still moved (since that's part of the larger operating system) but the browser would not respond to clicks or scrolling and would interrupt video playback and other continuous operations.

I wish to emphasize that my current netbook is no processing powerhouse. Even in Firefox, streamed video content doesn't run completely smooth and it sometimes takes a little while for the processor to think through whatever I want it to do. But even in Firefox, I don't notice the behaviors I see in Safari. Apple's broswer does have some minimum requirements, but even this computer is well in excess of them. Maybe it has something to do with Apple's dislike of netbooks? In October, CEO Steve Jobs famously said "We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that".

Apple's suggestion was that the netbook functions were all achievable by the iPhone. That's largely true: a netbook is basically designed to experience content (webpages, video, audio), not to do the heavy lifting of creating that content (Photoshop, audio encoding, DVD writing). An iPhone has similar "consumer" ideals.

The iPhones will hopefully run Safari 4.0 with much more vigor than my netbook, which illustrates one of Apple's strengths: optimization. By the numbers, my netbook has quite a bit more computing power than an iPhone, so the iPhone must be doing "more with less". But the netbook is also made up of all different manufacturer's parts and runs an operating system that was created years before my entire computer class (netbooks) were developed. Nothing about this is optimized for specifically my computer. That's one of the strengths of Windows: adaptability.

True, it's basically an Apples to oranges comparison. My netbook has no capacity to receive phone calls. My netbook doesn't require me to pay $70/month to AT&T. My netbook does not fit into my pocket and have an easy-to-use touchscreen. My netbook can run more than one program at once.

It probably sounds like I'm an Apple-hater, but I'm truly not. If I could afford an iPhone, I'm sure I'd make great use of it. It's certainly light-years more advanced and capable than MY phone. Mac OS has its flaws, sure, but so does Windows. And Linux. If I hadn't already accumulated the knowledge of a computer science degree from working on Windows computers for 18 years, I'd probably hate their convoluted methods too.

The most important thing about computers is that you end up comfortable, productive, and safe with all that you use it for. For me, that currently means waiting for the next browser.

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