The mobile Web browser featured on Windows Phone 7 devices will be a "vast improvement" over the browser currently running on existing Windows Mobile 6.5 devices.
The older browser, IE Mobile 6, released in 2009, was itself a pretty vast improvement for long-suffering Windows Mobile users. That's because IEM6 was the first to offer a full HTML rendering engine, based on desktop IE6.
And that was also it's chief drawback: a technology core that was first introduced in 2001, although it included technology elements from IE7 and from the then-beta release of IE8.
When users finally get a Windows Phone 7 device sometime this Fall, the IE6 core finally will be laid to rest, replaced with an "evolved version" of IE7, according to Todd Brix, senior director, product management, for Microsoft's mobile communications business. Brix didn't go into technical details but the evolution presumably means adopting the core elements of IE7, released in late 2006, and some elements from IE8 which was released almost exactly one year ago at MIX09.
Some of the improvements are obvious in demonstrations this week at MIX10, Microsoft's Web-focused developer conference. These include: four-point multitouch fully enabled, zooming in and out by a pinching finger gesture on the screen, so-called "deep zoom" for extreme, high fidelity closeups, a remarkably clear typography, and very smooth, fast operation.
"We invested heavily in optimizing the browser for mobile," says Charlie Kindel, partner group program manager for the Windows Phone application platform and developer experience at Microsoft.
IE9 will run graphics and text rendering on a separate graphics processing unit, a substantial speed boost.
The Windows Phone 7 visual user interface also exploits a GPU on phone and it's possible that the phone's browser may use that.
Microft demonstrated IE9 running H.264 video from YouTube, natively within the browser by means of supporting HTML5, instead of using plugin like Flash or Microsoft Silverlight. It's not clear yet whether Windows Phone browser will be able to do that: Microsoft has said the initial release will support neither Adobe Flash or Silverlight.
But given Microsoft's emphasis on creating a modern, cutting edge user experience in Windows Phone, it seems odd that the browser associated it still seems to be lagging, albeit much less so than in the past. Microsoft doesn't see it that way. "It will be not just a very competitive browser but one of the better [mobile] browsing experiences available," he says.
Part of that may be to the unsynchronized engineering efforts of various units within Microsoft. This weakness is being corrected in many places within Microsoft, according to executives. Brix said the Windows Phone and desktop browser engineering groups are working much more closely than in the past and this will continue to improve. Users and developers can expect to see features and innovations emerge on the desktop product and then migrate faster into the mobile browser, he says.