Tag Archives: Bolt Browser
The popular Android and Mobile Java proxy browser Bolt, is being discontinued. The cloud service that it runs on will be shut down on Dec 14th, 2011. The news came in the form of a cryptic message overlay that started appearing today in the browser. It reads
Dear Bolt User, the free BOLT mobile browsing service will be discontinued starting Dec-14, 2011. Unfortunately, the economic circumstances prevent us from running a free service going forward. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your loyalty and support. more
The "more" link returns a 404 "Not found" error. PC vistors to Boltbrowser.com see a similar message. Other pages on the boltbrowser.com domain like boltbrowser.com/forum and boltbrowser.com/download also return "Not found" errors. The Bolt app has been removed from the Android Market as well. The message suggests that Bolt may continue as a paid app but I've been unable to find any information about that and the sudden closure of the Bolt Forum and help pages suggests that a paid version is not imminent.
Proxy browsers like Bolt are an important part of the mobile Web infrastructure. They allow old and low end feature phones to browse virtually the entire web and cut data traffic by up to 90%, which speeds up page loads on slow networks and saves money for users on metered data plans. Bolt was one of the big three of proxy browsers, along with Opera Mini and the UC Browser. Bolt was unique in that in addition to reformating and compressing Web pages on the server, it also transcoded Flash and HTML5 video into a format that most phones could display.
Bolt is a product of Bitstream Ltd., whose main business is font tecnology. Bitsream has been posting losses for while and is in the process of merging with Monotype, another font foundry. As part of the merger, Bitstream's non-font assets, including Bolt, are being spun off into a new company called Marlborough Software Development Holdings Inc. whose first order of business seems to be liquidating the unprofitable browser business.
Proxy browsers are supported by selling search engine and default bookmark placements and licensing the technology to handset makers and operators. Transcoding Web content is expensive but transcoding video is an order of magnitute more so, which I suspect made Bolt unsustainable economically. Opera Mini and UC do not transcode video so hopefully they will survive. Opera says that Opera Mini is profitable. I don't know about UC, which I think is privately held.
Bitstream's Bolt Browser for Android is out of beta and available in the Android Market. I haven't been able to find a direct download link (needed for users with non-"Google Experience" devices which don't have the Android Market). Android 2.1 or latter is required. Although labeled 3.0, this is actually the first public release of Bolt for Android. The latest Bolt for Java and Blackberry is 2.5 hence the 3.0 version.
Features of BOLT 3.0 for Android include:
- Server side compression for speed and reduced data usage
- Flash and HTML5 video playback with compression
- Social Tab - currently dedicated for faster sharing on Facebook, allows for even faster sharing of websites, blogs, YouTube videos and status updates, without having to login to Facebook each time
- InstallableWeb Apps for popular services like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Wikipedia and more
- Easy to use, intuitive user interface, optimized for Android
I gave Bolt 3.0 a try on my old HTC Magic phone running Android 2.2. Attempting to upgrade over the Bolt Beta gave a "Invalid Certificate" error. After I un-installed the Beta installation went smoothly. The Magic has a slow processor and only 192 MB of RAM (30 MB free at start up). I ran into some issues, including lock ups and videos not playing, which I suspect had more to do with the phone's limited memory than with inherent defects in Bolt. However, Opera Mini and the UC Browser work without problems on this phone so it appears that Bolt demands significantly more system resources than competing proxy browsers.
On sites that Bolt did work with, most pages loaded quickly, scrolling was fluid and smooth, and rendering was generally accurate other than some minor overlapping of page elements. I was disapointed by the quality of images in Bolt. Although I had image quality set to the highest level in the browser's settings, most images were not very sharp. See the screen shots for some examples of overlapping or truncated text and low image quality (click a screenshot to zoom to full size).
I will retest Bolt 3.0 on my wife's HTC Evo and will update this post tomorrow to reflect Bolt's performance on a modern device.
Update: On an HTC EVO (1Ghz Snapdragon, 512 MB RAM (120 MB free)) I had no problems playing the YouTube and CNN videos that did not work on the Magic. However Bolt still locked up solid when trying to log into the Twitter desktop site and when saving settings in the Dabr Twitter client.
On both phones, Bolt also had problems with Twitter's mobile site at m.twitter.com, displaying a "Rate limit exceeded" error when attempting to log in. The Bolt Twitter Webapp worked but doesn't allow you to follow limits in tweets.
At this point Bolt for Android seems very much a release 1.0 product, full of promise but not something I would choose for regular use.
Bolt browser recently started returning results for local searches from mobile local search and advertising company xAD. According to xAD the partnership will give users more relevant results and added features like reviews, offers, maps and directions. Currently live in the US only, xAD results will soon start appearing for Bolt users in Germany, U.K. and France.
I gave xAD a try with a few local search queries. Results were generally pretty good. For most queries xAD returned results that were as good or better than Google's. For example, in a search for "Sushi 94102", xAD (image above, left) returned more nearby results than Google (image above, left). I like that xAD shows the distance to each establishment on the results page and displays all results on a map (not shown). xAD results, at least in Bolt, were also more attractively formatted than the equivalent ones from Google.
When you do click through, xAD emphases the establishment's description (image below, left), which is generaly writen by the business. Google relies on user reviews (image below, right) which are a click away on xAD.
One problem I had with xAD is that its search parser seems easily confused. When I tried a search for "sushi union square san francisco" xAD gave me results for Union Square hotels (image below, left). An xAD search for "iphone unlocking san francisco" returned to two locksmiths and a mobile phone shop 25 miles away named "Iphones". Google returned locally relevant results for both queries (image below, right). xAD provides a link to retry the query with Google at the top of every results page, that comes in handy when searches go awry.
xAD is, of course, primarily an ad network. Presumably the deal gives Bitstream some additional revenue, which is a good thing for the company but also for users. Proxy based browsers like Bolt, Opera Mini and UC Browser do a great job of bringing a rich mobile Internet experience to all users, esprecially thoese on non-smartphones or slow networks. Server side compression in proxy browsers also cuts data usage by up to 90% reducing network congestion and svaing users on metered data plan money. But there's a huge and costly server and network infrastructure behind proxy based browsers. Good revenue sources are esential to keeping Bolt online and free.
Can't see the video: Click here to view on YouTube
This week was a busy one for mobile browser vendors with three new releases. The most notable is the long awaited Opera Mini 6 for the iPhone and iPad which was announced and demoed at CTIA in March and is finally available. I wonder how much of the delay was due to Apple's paternalistic app aproval process?
New features in the iOS release include:
- Updated design with a fresh new look and feel
- Super smooth pinch-to-zoom and panning Support for iPhone 4 retina display, iPad, and iPad 2 devices
- Direct share on Facebook, Twitter, vKontakte and My Opera
- Open new page in background tab
- Improved international font support for Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other non-latin languages
You can download Opera Mini 6 for the iPhone and iPad from the iTunes App Store.
Opera also launched Opera Mobile 11 for MeeGo 1.2 N900 Developer Edition (DE). The browser has been available for MeeGo Tablets and to the N900 running Maemo for some time. The new version adds support for the N900 developer edition of MeeGo which itself was just released at the MeeGo conference this week. Interesting that there was a two month delay for iOS vs. instant gratification for MeeGo N900 DE. What a difference an open OS makes.
Note that MeeGo DE on the N900 is primarily intended for devlopers and is not recomended for regular users at this time. There are still some issues with making calls and other core phone features. Check here for the current status of MeeGo on the N900.
Finally, the Bolt Browser was updated to version 2.51. I suspect this is strictly a bug fix update as there has been no press release and no announcement of the new version on the official Bolt user forum. The in-app "What's New in Bolt" help page is unchanged from version 2.5. Current Bolt users will be prompted to update when they launch the browser. New users can download 2.51 for Boltbrowser.com.