iPhone 4 Vs. Android: Which Is Faster For Browsing The Web?

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A new study finds that Android phones load webpages more than 50 percent faster than iPhones.

Running a series of field tests between the iPhone 4 and the Google Nexus S, Blaze Software found that the iPhone's median load time is 3.2 seconds, while the Nexus S's median load time is 2.1 seconds. Over the course of 45,000 tests, the Android beat the iPhone 84 percent of the time.

The results actually contradict a study released a month ago that found browser speeds for both iPad and iPhone beat those of Android smartphones.

For mobile sites, Android lost its edge--though both phones loaded at rates 39 percent faster than for standard sites, at a median rate of around 2 seconds. iPhone users may want to stick to mobile sites: the phone loaded at times 66 percent faster than on regular sites. Researchers note that simplified mobile sites tend to have fewer elements, and therefore are designed to load faster.

Still, when it comes to tablets, Android's speed advantage might be something for Apple to worry about. Researchers noted that while the devices "use the same OS and similar hardware phones do," "users expect the full experience on tablets, not the simplified mobile sites."

Most of the tests were run over a Wi-Fi connection, with some done on the phones' built in 3G. Wi-Fi was faster 82 percent of the time, but by a mere half a second. But these times owe something to the conditions of the testing. Researchers ran the study at night, in an area with good reception. Download speed at night is over five times faster than during the middle of the day.

The results surprised the authors. They explained:

We assumed that similar hardware specs and the same WebKit foundation would make iPhone and Android's browsers perform equally. We assumed that a faster JavaScript engine equals a faster browser. We assumed that 3G would be way slower than WiFi, even under good conditions.

All of these assumptions have been proven wrong when we actually measured those scenarios.

So what is Google doing right?

Guy Podjarny, CTO of Blaze attributed Google's success to the software used to organize downloads, guessing that it might use more efficient methods in getting different parts of the page, according to Bloomberg.

Apple and Google also have different priorities when it comes to smartphone design, he said. While Apple focuses on design, Google has a team dedicated solely to making its sites run faster. Pojardny suggested that Google, as a later entrant to the smartphone battle, allowed them to design for better speeds from the outset.

"It's not that Apple doesn't care about speed, but Google is fanatical about it," Podjarny told Bloomberg.

UPDATE: A key part of the study's methodology has been called into question by The Loop:

According to Blaze’s own documentation the “measurement itself was done using the custom apps which use the platform’s embedded browser. This means WebView (based on Chrome) for Android, and UIWebView (based on Safari) for iPhone.”

The problem with using UIWebView is that, even though it’s based on Safari, it didn’t receive any of the updates that Safari did in iOS 4.3. Using an embedded browser is not the same as using the official browser.

Apple’s Safari Web browser included the Nitro JavaScript engine that Apple said runs JavaScript up to twice as fast as its predecessor. Since UIWebView didn’t include any of those enhancements, it’s kind of disingenuous to say that Android beat Safari.

“Their testing is flawed because they didn’t actually test the Safari web browser on the iPhone,” Apple spokesperson, Natalie Kerris, told The Loop. “Instead they only tested their own proprietary app which uses an embedded web viewer that doesn’t take advantage of Safari’s web performance optimizations. Despite this fundamental testing flaw, they still only found an average of a second difference in loading web pages.”

How much does speed matter to you? Weigh in below.

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