I'm always partial to products that come out of small companies and independent developers. After all, Dell and Facebook started in dorm rooms, and giant companies like, Microsoft, HP and Apple launched as shoe-string operations It is, you might say, the Silicon Valley way, even if some of those outfits were born outside of California. So it's good to see a worthy competitor to Apple's Safari mobile browser come out of the software shop of Ang Quang Do, an independent developer based in London.
Ang (that's his family name) is the author of Cyberspace, a nifty little browser that runs on an iPhone or iPad. I've used the $2.99 app on my smartphone for the last few days and found that I barely miss Safari, and there are some notable improvements that make it worth consideration.
Like a lot of apps on Apple's App Store, the earliest iterations of Cyberspace wasn't altogether stable, according to some user comments that I've seen. But the newest version I've been using hasn't crashed once, is plenty fast, and all the features appear to work as advertised, though I have noticed an occasional stumble during searches.
Browsing and Searching Features
Cyberspace is a bit of hybrid, combining some features of Chrome and mobile Safari, along with innovations of its own. The default search engine is DuckDuckGo, a silly name for a decent tool. Google is in the mix as sort of a helper; when you enter a search term, Google provides suggestions.
Like Google's Chrome browser, Cyberspace combines the url bar and the search bar into one, saving a bit of real estate. It's called the "duckbar." A related feature, let's you switch virtual key boards with the tap of finger, bringing up keys you would need in either search or url mode. You can use the duckbar like a calculator -- Chrome has that function as well -- or even enter a simple question, like "how many calories in two eggs?" and get the answer (111) without clicking on a search result.
DuckDuckGo adds a "learn more" feature to search; if you highlight text on the page, you'll get an option to, well, learn more, and are given a page of related links.
Ang says one reason he uses DuckDuckGo instead of Google is because the former does not track any personal information. That's probably true, but I wouldn't use DuckDuck on a laptop or iPad, it isn't nearly as rich with options as Google. But since many of those options don't work very well on a tiny screen, DuckDuck is just fine for an iPhone.
Beyond search, Cyberspace has a number of useful features. Bookmarking a page is one click, and even better you can tap a little icon and put the link to that page in "the queue" ready to read later. Or if you use Instapaper, a site that holds onto Web pages for you, Cyberspace will let you access it with just a click. Neat.
Because smartphone screens are small, Web sites can feel very cluttered and hard to read. Simply tap the "text" button and you'll get a text only version of the site -- at least most of the time. Another tap, and you're back to the full version. There's also a scratchpad features that lets you paste urls and short notes and share them via email, SMS, or services including Facebook, Tumblr, Posterous and Evernote.
There is one area that Cyberspace does not seem to do as well as Safari -- importing bookmarks. iTunes will push your bookmarks to Safari very easily and you'll even keep a folder structure. Getting bookmarks onto Cyberspace is a little harder, you need to export and then import using file sharing. I couldn't get it to work properly and users commenting on the app complained that folder structures are lost when the bookmarks are imported.
I would expect that flaw to be fixed as Ang seems quite responsive to user issues and says he's planning a number of upgrades, including a full-screen version and tighter integration with social networking sites.
The bottom line: Cyberspace is worth a look, particularly if sharing via social networks is a priority for you.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at email@example.com.
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