Tag Archives: Full-Web Mobile Browsers
Originally published in 2009, this post is updated regularly with the latest workarounds for viewing the desktop versions of mobile sites in mobile browsers.
Last update 30-Jan-2012: Added Gmail and Google Reader workarounds. Updated Yahoo Mail, Facebook, MySpace and Orkut workarounds. Removed broken workarounds for CNN, MSN and Friendster. Removed Newsweek because it no longer has a mobile site so no workaround is needed.
One of the biggest frustrations of using the web with mobile browsers is web sites that force them to use dumbed down mobile versions. I have nothing against mobile sites, obviously. I build them and I write about them here at Wap Review. It's not redirecting mobile browsers to the mobile versions of sites that bothers me. The problem is with mobile sites that lack essential features or content found in the equivalent full web versions and don't offer users an easy way to view the full version. As I've been preaching for years, every mobile site needs to include a Full Version link.
Fortunately many mobile sites now include a link to the full version. For sites that don't it's possible to force the full-web versions of some sites in mobile browsers by using a special URL.
Here's a list of websites where getting to the full version with mobile browsers is harder than it should be along with a workaround. Note that the the ful version may not work well or at all in your mobile browser. But if there's a feature or content you like that's missing from the mobile site, it's worth trying the full version.
Orkut: Has a link to the full version at the bottom of most mobile pages. Or you can go directly to it by using the URL: www.orkut.com/Home.
MySpace: In the iPhone and Android browsers there's a Full Site link on the MySpace Settings page. It's missing in Opera Mini and many other mobile browsers. No problem, just use www.myspace.com/?ucm=true to get to the full version in any browser.
The Yahoo homepage: use yahoo.com/?m=1 to open the desktop version
Yahoo Mail is a special case. us.mc1137.mail.yahoo.com/mc/welcome?ymv=0 loads the full version of Yahoo Mail but only if you haven't upgraded to the "New" version of Yahoo Mail. Switching to the new mail seems to set a flag that forces the mobile version of mail in nost mobile browsers. You must switch back to Classic Yahoo mail in order to restore mobile access. There doesn't seem to be anyway to switch back using a mobile browser, you have to find a PC to do it.
- Go into Yahoo Mail with a PC browser. Click the "Mail Classic" link at the top of the page and switch to Classic Mail.
- Launch your mobile browser and go to us.mc1137.mail.yahoo.com/mc/welcome?ymv=0 and you should be in Mail Classic.
- The key thing is that you must switch your account to use Mail Classic. You need to use a PC browser to make that switch. There doesn't seem to be any way to use the "New" Yahoo Mail on your PC and the Classic version on your phone.
More full version direct links:
Google News: news.google.com/nwshp?hl=en&tab=wn
Google Reader: www.google.com/reader/view/
Wall Street Journal: online.wsj.com/home-page
Hall of Shame: There are a few sites that stubbornly refuse to let Opera Mini users view their full web version.
- Microsoft: Is the worst offender. Just about all Microsoft sites including Hotmail, MSN and Skydrive force mobile users to a limited mobile version with no known workaround.
- Picassaweb and iGoogle: These two sites are exceptions to Google's generally good job of providing links to the "Classic" non-mobile versions.
If you find workarounds for other sites that are blocking mobile users from their full-web versions please leave a comment and I'll add your discoveries to this post.
For problem sites try changing your browser's user agent
Web sites are able to tell that you are using a mobile browser by reading the HTTP User-Agent header that browsers send. Some mobile browsers let you change the User-Agent to spoof the site into thinking your are using a desktop browser. Here are the browsers that I know about that allow changing the User Agent and how to do it.
Android browser: On most Android phones you can enable a hidden UAString menu item by typing about:debug in the URL bar and pressing Enter. Nothing will seem to change but if you go to Settings and scroll all the way to the bottom you'll see the UASting option. It lets you choose between an Android, Desktop, iPhone or iPad User-Agent
Opera Mobile 11.50 on Symbian and Android: A User Agent option in the Advanced Settings menu lets you choose between mobile and desktop versions.
UC Browser: Java and Symbian 8.0 versions have User Agent option in the Settings (Java) or Settings > Preferences > Network (Symbian) menu.
There were a huge number of major announcements at the Mobile World Congresss (MWC) in Barcelona today. Somewhat lost in the barrage of press releases was that Bitstream has released Bolt 1.7. The main things that are new in this release are:
- The ability to post to Twitter from within Bolt. Posts are pre-populated with the current page's URL and are editable so you can add your own comments to the tweet.
- Widgets (images below) based on the draft W3C standard. These widgets run on the Bolt server and display in the browser rather than on the phone's idle screen. Currently there are nine widgets available
- Weather - which shows a four day forecast for any world city
Twitter Profile - displays recent tweets by a single Twitter user
- Twitter Search
- Bolt Forum - displays the last 10 posts on the Bolt user forum and lets you reply or create a new topics.
- A basic Calculator
- Calendar widget that displays a calendar for the current or any other month
- Wikipedia Search, Dictionary.com lookup and Bing search; each of which opens the respective site to display the results of the user's query.
- Weather - which shows a four day forecast for any world city
The widgets are installed from an on-device Gallery. I haven't been able to find any information on developing Widgets for Bolt or how developers can add them to the Gallery.
- New Spanish and Russian language versions
- New keypad shortcuts:
- zoom in (#2)
- zoom out (#8)
- Jump to page top (22)
- Jump to page bottom (88)
- New shortcut keys for BlackBerrys and other QWERTY devices.
- Bolt's server assisted streaming video which transcodes and displays Flash flv content from selected sites now supports YouTube videos embedded on any site plus CNN and ESPN videos.
- The Download Manager now allows multiple simultaneous downloads with pause and resume
- Improved handling of buttons on web forms
- Search for text in the page
I ran Version 1.7 through its paces on a Nokia N95. This release continues Bolt's pattern of steady incremental improvement which I've seen over the past year since the browser's first release. I'm particularly pleased with the new top of page and bottom of page shortcut keys in this release. I'd gotten so used to being able to quickly jump to the top and bottom of the page in Opera Mini 4.2 and missed that ability in Bolt (and in the Opera Mini 5 Beta which still lacks this essential feature).
Bolt is the only Java browser with more than two zoom levels, it has seven and the new zoom hotkeys make on the fly zooming easy.
I'm taking a wait and see approach to the widgets. None of the initial ones seem particularly useful but it will be interesting to see how Bolt's widget platform evolves. Hopefully Bolt will open widget development to third parities and provide a way to port web widgets from other platforms like Symbian and Opera.
Bolt is a reliable and fast browser that seems to to able to faithfully render even difficult sites that Opera Mini and UCWEB have problems with. It's still a little weak on features, lacking both tabbed browsing and a fit to width mode but is a fine choice for general browsing.
Users of previous versions of Bolt will be prompted to upgrade the first time they load a page. If you are new to Bolt, visit boltbrowser.com with phone or PC to download and install. Bolt is a generic Java application which runs on most phones. There is also a special BlackBerry version Bolt and a "Lite" variant for low end devices.
The N900 reinforces something that I've long believed would eventually happen, the merger of the mobile and desktop webs. This doesn't mean that users will simply switch from using mobile sites to desktop ones on their phones. Rather it marks a fundamental difference in the way that we look at the web and mobile devices. Going forward, web designers, developers and publishers will need to take into account that a rapidly growing percentage of their users will be visiting their "desktop" sites with phone browsers.
It's not just a matter of tweaking the CSS and layout of desktop pages to ensure that they render attractively and are usable on mobile devices. Having a significant percentage of mobile visitors means taking into account the different needs of mobile visitors and their device's extra capabilities. As Tomi Ahonen has been pointing out for years, mobile phones are actually more rather than less capable and powerful than PCs. Tomi has identified 10 "C"s (capabilities) of mobile phones, several of which are especially relevant to the web sites and web services. What Tomi calls Context (where, when and what) Charging (seamless payment), Community (social networking) and Creation (citizen journalism, micro blogging, photo and video sharing) are four that stand out. As mobile users flock to desktop sites, publishers and designers need to enable these special mobile capabilities to the highest degree possible. For example:
- The desktop sites of bus, train or rapid transit services must take into account the time of day and the user's location when providing route and schedule information.
- Local shopping and services search engines should emphasize what's near me and open for business now.
- eCommerce sites and payment processors need to exploit the phone as a payment device. It shouldn't be necessary to key in 10 different bits of credit card information in order to buy something using your phone.
- Social networking sites have to ensure that all their services, especially text, photo, video sharing, are available and usable when mobile.
- News gathering organizations have a huge opportunity to effectively use the mobile citizen journalists' ability to be on the scene of a breaking story with commentary, photos, videos and audio.
At the moment the N900 is a bit of a niche device. It represents the next generation of mobile browsing but has minuscule market share. For the foreseeable future the vast majority of web access will be with less powerful devices. This is true in the developed world and especially in the developing one where slow, expensive data and a preponderance of low-end and very old handsets mean a continuing need for lightweight web sites. I believe that traditional mobile web traffic will continue to grow for a long time thanks to a sort of trickle down effect that will occur as high end devices make mobile browsing acceptable and fashionable combined with the trend to include unlimited data with the cheap unlimited voice, text and data plans that US prepaid providers like Straight Talk and Boost Mobile are offering feature phone users.
If anything the rise of phones that can browse like PCs means more rather than less work for publishers and designers. Not only do they have to build, enhance and maintain traditional mobile sites to exploit growing mobile traffic but they have to work to ensure that their desktop sites meet the needs of advanced users. No matter how you look at it the web is going mobile.
Wednesday, Skyfire released the long awaited 1.5 version of the Skyfire browser for Symbian (S60) 3rd and 5th edition phones. 1.5 has been available on Windows Mobile 5.0 - 6.5 for some time. Download either version by visiting get.skyfire.com with your mobile browser or PC.
The bigest change in this release is that Skyfire, for the first time, supports Symbian 5th edition and its 640x360 px resolution. The 5th edition release features kinetic (flick) scrolling and autorotation. 3rd edition users get a revamped user interface, smoother scrolling and numerous performance and stability enhancements in 1.5.
I don't have a 5th edition Symbian phone so I couldn't test the touch version. If you want to see it in action, the Skyfire blog has a good demo video. I did update my 3rd edition Nokia N95-3 to Skyfire 1.5. My impressions of the new release on that device are;
- Video streaming seems to be improved. Using a 1.5 mbs WiFi connection with YouTube's desktop site, videos played smoothly and at full frame rate with none of dropouts or issues with audio/video synchronization that I had occasionally seen in the previous version.
- Skyfire 1.5 manages running suspended in the background much better than previous versions. I can now leave it running overnight without waking up to a dead battery. As before, Skyfire goes into an idle state after a few minutes of inactivity. When idle the connection drops, the screen grays and can't be scrolled. Waking previous versions of Skyfire up from idle was sometimes problematic. Often it would jump back to the start screen or refuse to reconnect. 1.5 is much better on both counts, a quick press of the "5" (refresh) key reliably wakes it up. The current page then reloads and repositions to approximately the same place on the page. It's a big improvement, although I'd prefer to be able to wake Skyfire and resume using the page exactly as I left it, rather than see a reloaded and potentially changed page.
- When scrolling horizontally, Skyfire now recognizes columns of text and lines their left edge up with the left edge of the screen. This a major usability improvement over 1.1 where is was very tricky to position the page so that text lined up properly.
- The new user interface looks different, the menu colors and font have changed. I found the new look attractive and menu items easier to read. I don't have a phone running the old version for direct comparison but I didn't notice any new UI functionality.
- Scrolling may be a little smoother but I didn't notice it. Skyfire is still very slow at scrolling through long pages. It loads pages incrementally and pauses for a second to load each new screenful. This isn't a problem when reading pages sequentially but it makes it impossible to quickly get from the top to the bottom of a page to reach a navigational menu, for example.
- Skyfire is my favorite video player on Symbian devices. It handles the latest versions of Flash and Silverlight and streams videos from virtually any site except Hulu, which blocks Skyfire over some DRM silliness. Because it's a browser as well, discovering new video content with Skyfire is just a matter of firing up your favorite search engine. And Skyfire's serviceable built in Twitter client makes it easy to view the many videos linked from tweets.
- I've ranted about Skyfire's poor handling of text before and the issues remain in the latest release. Skyfire's fonts tend to be rather unattractive and at times text is fuzzy looking or lines of text overlap vertically. But the biggest issue is the lack of text re-flow when zooming in and out. Columns of text only fit screen width at one zoom level. On my N95 the text is too small to read on many pages when zoomed to fit the screen (image below, left). You can zoom in make the font bigger but then you have to scroll horizontally back and forth on each line to read (image below, right) which is painful on all but the shortest passages.
In my review of the previous 1.1 release of Skyfire, I listed four areas where I felt Skyfire needed to improve to become a top-tier general Web browser on Symbian phones rather than a video player with an ancillary browser. I'm happy to say that 1.5 ticks off two of the four; Symbian 1.5 support and "jump" to text columns. At this rate I have high hopes that the next release will attend to the two remaining items on my wish list.
- Text needs re-flow so that the current column fits the view-port without horizontal scrolling at every zoom level. This is basic functionality that we take for granted in full-web mobile browsers. Bolt, Opera Mini and Mobile, the Android browser, S60 Webkit, they all do it.
- There needs to be an option to keep the back-light on while videos are playing. On my N95, after two minutes the back-light goes off and I have to hit a key to wake to up. This doesn’t happen with other video players which keep the back-light on as long as the clip lasts. I use LightCtrl, a free application that keeps the screen lit as a crude workaround. But this is something that should be built into SkyFire.
If you have a Symbian 3rd or 5th edition phone I highly recommend Skyfire. It will change the way you watch video and animations on your phone forever. But, at least until the next release, you probably want to use something else for browsing text-heavy sites.