Today, at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (ETech) in San Diego, Microsoft's Live Labs arm introduced Deepfish, a new browser for Windows Mobile devices.

Deepfish logo

Deepfish is a new type of mobile information browsing experience, aimed at preserving the rich layout and full form of documents on mobile devices while providing novel ways of effectively navigating that content on small screens. Deepfish's unique interface enables you to zoom in and out of page, quickly getting to the areas you are interested in without screen length after screen length of scrolling. A consequence of Deepfish's multi-resolution approach to browsing pages is that it loads a thumbnail of pages initially and then only what is needed for more detail when requested or in the background as you browse the initial the view, resulting in substantially quicker load times for most pages.

I remember seeing a leaked video of this sometime last year, but an official Technology Preview build is now available on the Live Labs site. I downloaded and tested it on my T-Mobile MDA and Sprint/Palm Treo 700wx earlier today. Here are some screenshots that I took of Deepfish rendering the NY Times front page, with a comparison shot of Pocket IE doing the same:


The first image shows Pocket IE's poor attempt at rendering a page that's not designed for mobile devices. Navigating through this page is a nightmare, even on a touch/stylus-enabled PocketPC device. On the other hand, as you can see in the second screenshot, Deepfish does a great job of compressing the entire page to fit the device's QVGA screen, with help from a server-side service. When you want to zoom into a section, you simply push the middle-button on the D-pad and a translucent box appears on the screen that you can freely move around with the D-pad or your finger/stylus. The last image shows the zoomed-in version of the page that is clearly legible and contains hyperlinks that you can click. The Flash demo video shows how it all works.

Being a Technology Preview, this build of Deepfish is a little rough around the edges. For example, the edges of the screen show distortion lines when the zoom window touches them. Zooming out doesn't always work properly on my Treo 700wx, but is fine on the MDA. Performance is a little slow on my MDA, although that's probably because of the slower OMAP850 processor and EDGE data connection; it works much better on the faster 700wx with Sprint's speedy EV-DO network.

With that said, I think Deepfish is off to a great start. I've tried a number of third-party Windows Mobile browsers, and I think this one has the potential to be the best one by a long shot once all the issues are resolved, and support for cookies/javascript is added in.

If you've got a WM 5+ device, Deepfish is worth taking a look at. This build will only be available to a limited number of testers, so if you're interested, I suggest signing up and getting your activation code soon.

Update: Srinath Vasireddy, a Live Labs Lead Program Manager, has left a comment here, informing me that the band of lines along the edges is not a bug. See the comments for more info on this. Thanks, Srinath.