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Super Prober: Sort Of Like Chrome for iPad, Gone Wrong

Two years of App Store and I still haven’t found a decent alternative to Mobile Safari. Something I could keep on my homescreen for more than 2 days. The reason is obvious: you are not Apple. Developing a browser is not like building a Twitter client: we’re talking about the primary tool to access the web here. And if Apple ships an almost state-of-the-art mobile browser by default, well then - sorry if I don’t trust you.

Mobile Safari is a simple application that lets you navigate the web, we call it “browser”. Developing a browser for a cellphone is a difficult task: you don’t have windows, you don’t have tabs, favicons don’t make sense on a small screen. Also, the elegant interface of the iPhone makes it really hard to implement features seen in desktop browser without looking awkward.  Have you seen Opera Mini? Exactly.

But the iPad is magical, right? It’s got a larger display, it’s a tablet, you can put your hands on it! Let’s develop a full-featured browser for the iPad! Not so fast, cowboy. For as much as the iPad is indeed bigger and more suitable to richer applications, take a second look at what Apple offers: Safari for the iPad is, again, simple. Sure, it has those beautiful thumbnail previews for open tabs. Sure, there’s a bookmark bar. Still, it doesn’t overwhelm you with dozens of features that would probably look cool in the App Store description page, but kill usability. Mercury Browser, I’m looking at you.

It turns out, though, someone decided to develop some kind of Chrome-like browser for the iPad and call it Super Prober. I went into the App Store and bought it. Here’s what happened.

I admit it, I was pretty excited for Super Prober. I read the whole App Store description and, despite the usual…”excited” release notes, I quickly pressed the Buy button. Seconds later the app was on my iPad homescreen. I tapped on it. The browser started up. Then it crashed.

See, I have a problem with apps crashing on first launch. When I purchase a 1.0 app I know that there might be some quirks here and there, but at least I expect it to run fine for the first 10 minutes. Not with Super Prober. Anyway, it launched correctly on second try.

The main point of Super Prober - Advanced Multi-Function Web Browser is that of bringing features you’ve never seen to the iPad. Tabs on top like Chrome, start page with top sites, snapshots, drawings on web pages, fast tab switching, scrolling bookmark bar and a lot of other cool stuff. Ideally, this would be awesome. If perfectly integrated with the browser experience and stable enough to allow you to actually browse, these features would make Super Prober one hell of a browser. They don’t. Put simply, the developers put too much stuff in the browser and didn’t think about the user experience at all. Put a little simplier, the app doesn’t work as advertised.

The start page idea is interesting and the opening animation is beautiful; too bad the app can’t generate custom thumbnails out of the website and, most of all, doesn’t remember the ones you entered. When it does work, it crashes. Oh, but you can change the background. Here’s another example of developers trying to implement unnecessary things just for the sake of adding a bullet point to the feature list. Also, you can’t decrease the number of top sites or modify the look of the default ones in any way.

Tabs on top should convince many people to try this app. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there’s a way to make tabs work on the iPad - but it’s not Super Prober’s. First off, Chrome’s tabs (because they are clearly inspired by Google’s browser) look weird on the iPad. The background of the tab bar is transparent and makes the whole thing look even weirder. Animations are nice, but the plus button (located at the rightmost side of the bar) is too small and unusable. More importantly, the application can’t seem to be able to instantly recognize user’s input on the tabs: you have to tap 2/3 times to select a tab. The real problem is in engineering, though: open 3 websites in tabs and the app’s memory goes to hell. You get a low memory warning, you have to start closing tabs, the app crashes and you lose your browsing session. If iOS doesn’t let you use that much memory, why implementing “fast tab switching”? Just don’t.

Oh yeah, but you can draw on web pages. Why would you? You tell me. The snapshot feature is great, and cheers to the devs for that. It works well. Other “minor” features include a search in page command, the possibility to display favicons (no!), accelerometer support to switch tabs (you heard me right), private mode and user agent selection. Really, I appreciate the effort. Too bad you’ll never be able to have a fluid and stable browsing session that will let you effortlessly use all this stuff.

In its current iteration, Super Prober is an interesting experiment gone wrong on many sides. I have no doubts the developers will try to make it better and add even more features, but that’s not my point. What I’m trying to say is, you’re not Apple. Stop pretending to be able to ship a better browser than Safari and release an application that works as advertised and doesn’t crash every 5 minutes. Quantity over quality, as usual, doesn’t work on iOS devices.

Super Prober is available at $4.99 in the App Store.

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