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Thursday, March 17, 2011, 12:00 pm PT (03:00 pm ET)

Android vs iPhone web page loading speed contest flawed

Test results promoted by Blaze Software that purport to prove that Android is much faster at loading web pages than Apple's iOS 4.3 did so using a poorly performing custom iPhone app, rather than using Safari itself.

The results of the test, according to Bloomberg, said that an Android-based Nexus S phone performed 52 percent faster on average after loading more than 45,000 pages from 1,000 websites compared to iPhone 4.

The average speed difference was about a second longer page load on iPhone 4: 2.14 seconds compared to 3.25 seconds. The more complex the page, the greater the performance difference, Blaze reported. Guy Podjarny, the firm's chief technology officer, said "it’s not that Apple doesn’t care about speed, but Google is fanatical about it."

However, while Blaze maintained that its benchmarks used the newly released iOS 4.3, suggesting that it took into account the fast new Safari browser with Apple's new Nitro JavaScript engine, the way it performed the tests completely bypassed those improvements.

Rather than using Apple's Safari browser directly, Blaze tested page loading on iPhone 4 using the company's own proprietary app that did not take advantage of the new improvements in iOS 4.3.

As noted in a previous report by AppleInsider, apps that implement Apple's UIWebView to provide web browsing functions within an app (as Blaze did), in addition to full screen web apps, do not take advantage of the new web acceleration features Apple introduced in iOS 4.3, including Nitro and a variety of other improvements to the mobile Safari browser.

While Apple hasn't officially commented on the disparity between the newly revamped Safari and the features of the UIWebView framework, it appears that the difference relates to both to the fact that Apple wanted to rapidly roll out new WebKit features quickly to mainstream iOS users in Safari (and simply didn't have time to retrofit every other element of the system with the new code), and also to security considerations.

Apple's new Nitro JavaScript engine (originally called Squirrel Fish Extreme) competes against Google's Chrome V8 and Mozilla's FireFox TraceMonkey to speed JavaScript (the programming language behind the web) using various different approaches, each of which has different strengths and advantages.

Apple's Nitro uses a JIT (just-in-time) compiler as opposed to a traditional interpreter. This requires that Nitro obtain additional security privileges required to compile data into executable code, something Apple reserves for the iOS itself and its bundled apps. Third party iOS apps can't compile code as both a security feature and, apparently, a limitation that prevents middleware platforms (such as Adobe Flash) from competing for iOS developers' attention.

Running an automated test on page loading using the actual Safari browser on iPhone 4 would be far more difficult to perform, but would also fail to account for other, likely more important differences between iOS and devices running Android.

These include overall stability and usability of the platform, power management and battery life, hardware quality, and easy access to iTunes music and movie rentals, iBooks, and App Store, three features Apple has started promoting in series of new ads that end with the line, "if you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone.”