Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Mobile Proxies: A New Era Dawns

Category: Chrome, Mobile

<p>This week, Chrome For Android M26 was announced. It has the literally-awesome ability to record video via `getUserMedia()`, but enough about making Skype irrelevant. What’s even more interesting is the new data compression feature. Which, to be clear, is experimental, has to be switched on, doesn’t apply to secure (SSL) sites, and it’s only running in the beta app.

With this feature, Google will be delivering streamlined responses, leading to substantial performance improvements and bandwidth savings. In the latest Mobile Web Thursday’s, Google’s Pete Le Page demonstrated The Verge weighs in at 1.2MB when proxied, down from the hefty 1.9MB it otherwise would have been, and also reports having seen a 65$ reduction elsewhere.

The speed benefit comes in a couple of ways. First, the proxy and the browser communicate via SPDY. Most websites still haven’t enabled SPDY, but Chrome has it built in and Google’s proxy will now act as a SPDY adaptor for any (non-SSL) website. Second, images are returned as WebP format. WebP claims to shave off around 30% and Google claims 60% of bandwidth is images…so that’s about an 18% reduction right there.

Mobile proxying is nothing new for Google. I don’t know the full history, but I recall seeing it as early as 2003 (anyone know?). It would be enabled after a search, and the proxy is still runnning. But this is a proxy for the new era of smartphone browsers, and comes just over a year after Amazon introduced its Silk browser with a similar proxying solution. Unlike the older Opera Mini solution, which provided comfort for resource-challenged feature phones, this new breed of browser is still able to work as a regular browser, but can route through a proxy as needed. What Amazon refers to as a “hybrid browser”.

I have also seen similar capabilities made available as reverse-proxies for site owners. CloudFlare, for example, can compress scripts and optimize images.

Overall, these proxying services will make it easier for developers to deliver a better experience for users. But as they become more popular and better-understood, they will also come with the privacy and security concerns that were ignited soon after Silk browser came out. It will be up to the ecosystem to find the right balance, and Google has so far done well to release this experimentally, and ensuring secure sites go direct to the browser.

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