Samsung Internet Browser: What is the Deal? Jungkee Song Interview
Peter-Paul Koch had access to Samsung’s web engineers several weeks before the rest of us. He wanted to understand Samsung’s vision and goals, so he spoke with Jungkee song of Samsung Internet.
Chrome for Android currently the most popular mobile browser. However, Chrome is on track to surpass this. Too few web developers are aware that Chrome for Android does not only include Google Chrome, but also several other browsers. We’ll be focusing on the Chromium-based Samsung browser after we have discussed the overall state of the affairs.
Immediate and complete disclosure: Samsung provided me with this article. It’s a story I wanted to write for over 18 months so it sort of balances.
Chromia Is The Plural of Chromium
Over the last few years almost all Android device manufacturers have updated their default browsers from Chrome to Chromium. They instead used an older Chromium version, tweaked it a bit, then added it to the devices as either “Internet” (or “Browser”)
Vendors are legally required to include Google Chrome as an option on all of their devices. Modern Android phones come with two Chromium browsers. However, web developers tend to test in Google Chrome only and forget about Samsung Chromium and HTC Chromium and LG Chromium. This is unacceptable to me.
In early 2015 I was interested in the topic. I attempted to inform other web developers about Chromia, which is Latinate plural for Chromium, but to no avail. I also tried to get solid data on who uses non-Google Chrome as an Android browser.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to find mobile browser market share data. No public source made distinctions between Google Chrome or vendor-specific Chromia until this year. However, non-Google Chromia’s use is tied to market share. Given that Samsung has 37% of the Android market, it was obvious that Samsung Chromium would be the most popular of all the non-Google browsers.
Samsung Internet, which is the official name for the Samsung Chromium web browser, has approximately 400 million users worldwide (source: interview below). Google Chrome for Android, on the other hand, has around 1 billion.
What percentage of Samsung Internet users actually own a Samsung smartphone? Google Chrome’s number covers all types of devices and it isn’t directly comparable to the Samsung number which only includes Samsung models. The research I conducted last year shows that approximately 65% of Samsung Internet users are using it. However, these numbers were based only on one day’s statistics from a Dutch advertising agency and should therefore be taken with caution. However, it is possible to assume that most Samsung users use Samsung Internet, and not Google Chrome which, by default, is hidden from the app menu.
A funny encounter that I recently had illustrates why I think so. When I spoke with a woman, who was not in the web development industry at all, she asked me which mobile browser she used. She replied, “Internet Explorer.” I responded, “Oh, so you have Windows Phone?” She said “No,” and pointed to the Samsung Internet icon that clearly stated “Internet Explorer.” However, she was surprised to learn it wasn’t Internet Explorer. Google Chrome had also been installed on her phone, even though my attempts at explaining the connection between the browsers were unsuccessful. Even some web developers aren’t able to grasp this bit.
It’s anecdote and not data. However, I believe this story illustrates the consumer point of view and why so many people will choose Samsung Internet. They aren’t aware they have choices and feel confused. It also shows Samsung that it should have a more descriptive name for its browser.
Return to statistics. Back to stats. This market share could be greater locally, as it is 18% in Germany.
It makes me wonder whether 18% or 7% of web developers actually test Samsung Internet, a browser that is different from Google Chrome. For close to a whole year, I have been debating what to do to change this situation, especially in the light of refusals by Asian companies to talk with web developers. Believe me. I tried seven times and was unsuccessful.
Things changed at the beginning of 2016. Samsung has now opened its arms and wants to become a citizen of the internet in good standing. This will allow it to become a significant player on the web. This desire is fundamentally supported by me because some major web companies have a smaller mobile market than Samsung.
Web developers have good news: Every time a browser vendor opens, the web is a bit more varied and we also get another browser vendor to make snarky remarks to. Is there anything not to love?
Samsung actually takes this openness very seriously. The company also created the @samsunginternet developer relations group in London — which includes Ada Rose Edwards, a Medium channel and others. Also, if you want to get in touch directly with Samsung browser engineers, you can email them at browser[AT]samsung[DOT]com — but please remember to be polite and patient, as you would like other people to behave towards you.
As I had access to Samsung’s web engineers several weeks before the rest of world and I wanted to understand Samsung’s vision and goals, I interview Jungkee Song from the Samsung Internet team.
Peter-Paul: Hello, Jungkee. Can you please briefly introduce yourself
Jungkee: Hello. Hello, I am a Samsung Internet software engineer. My work focuses on web standards and the Samsung Internet platform. Along with Jake Archibald and Alex Russell from Google, I am one of the coeditors for the service worker spec and a contributor to Chromium. Additionally, I try to get to know web developers more often to help them promote and discuss the progressive web apps technologies.
Peter Paul: What made Samsung choose to build its browser instead of Google Chrome?
Jungkee : As a first, Samsung wants to provide a great mobile web experience based on features like bio sensors, VR, and payments. This is what we would love to see on the internet. We created our browser to make it possible.
The web is not a platform that favors one browser. The web is fundamentally about the diversity and competitiveness of browsers. Samsung wants to play a role in extending the open web platform as a shared platform. This includes our participation with service workers and progressive web apps. We also plan on integrating web and VR into Samsung’s offerings.
Lastly, Samsung offers many devices including smartphones, tablets and smart TVs. All such devices should have access to the internet, and this requires that we create our own browser.
Peter Paul: Could you provide some examples of the changes Samsung has made to default Chromium?
Jungkee – The majority of these issues have to do Samsung-specific hardware. Samsung Internet offers a secret mode that utilizes the biometric sensor found in Galaxy phones. Third-party plugins are also available for content blocking. Our Gear VR integration is another example. It requires WebVR API to allow seamless interaction between your phone browser and Gear VR browser.
Peter Paul: Ever thought of using an engine that isn’t Chromium,
Jungkee: Yes. We looked at WebKit and Gecko when we first started. Each of these options has its pros and cons. However, we chose the Chromium project because it adopts new web features the fastest and is maintained by a large developer community.
We made this decision in early 2013. Our first Chromium browser was shipped in a Galaxy S4 model released in 2013.
Peter Paul: What’s the best way to decide what Chromium version to use?
Jungkee There is no simple answer to this question. Our goal is to maintain a balance between the adoption of new features and the stability of our software. We also try to meet our deadlines. We would love to release new features quickly, but our software must go through rigorous quality assurance, so we can’t always use the most recent version.
We do occasionally cherry-pick new features from older Chromium versions than those we use in our base branch. Samsung Internet 4.0, for example, is based upon Chromium 44 and supports services worker features as high as Chromium 48. We also backport all major security updates to our browser.
Peter Paul: Are you also involved in the core Chromium Project?
Jungkee: Certainly! We currently have two owners and about 20 contributors. We focus our efforts on the features we believe are essential to expand the web. We have, for example, contributed patches to the API service workers, notification API and payments.
Web payment, progressive web apps and web VR are the main standards we focus on. While we would love to be able to work on them, for now our focus is on core features that enhance the user experience.
Peter-Paul: On how many device types does Samsung Internet run?
Jungkee Samsung Internet4.0 runs on the following Samsung devices. Please note that they are all mid-range or high-end smartphones. This is due to the memory and speed required for Samsung Internet: Samsung Internet requires 768MB RAM, and a 1GHz dual-core CPU clock. The Samsung Internet versions that run on different devices have no difference.
Samsung Internet 4.0 runs also on Samsung Gear VR and Android tablets. However, automatic updates are not supported yet. Tizen 3.0 will be included with Samsung Internet. This is the operating system for Samsung TVs. Our browser could also be available for Gear Watch but there are no plans.
Peter Paul: How many users is it used to?
Jungkee According to our estimates, Samsung Internet is home to approximately 400 million monthly active users worldwide.
Peter Paul: Given that Samsung Internet has become an alwaysgreen browser, how frequently do you expect to update it in the future?
Jungkee : There are two kinds of software updates. The update via OS and firmware, which all devices vendors provide, and the update through the app marketplace, like Opera, Google and Mozilla. Although we aim to offer updates two times a year via the Play Store or Galaxy Apps, it is still a work in progress. We did deploy Samsung Internet 4.0 in February. So we are moving forward.
Peter Paul: Is there a chance for a beta channel to be established?
Jungkee – We do not have plans to create a beta channel, even though Samsung Internet 4.0 is available in closed beta.
Peter Paul: Will you eventually release the most recent version of Samsung Internet on all Samsung Android phones?
Jungkee Yes. We ship many devices so the upgrade can be done in several ways. For example, you could send in a new phone, or firmware upgrades (for instance, OS updates) or market updates.
Peter-Paul: Will we see Samsung Internet on non-Samsung devices?
Jungkee At this point, we have no plans. We are currently focusing on the Galaxy phones, tablets, Gear VR and Tizen, then on Gear Watch and Tizen. After that we might start thinking about a non-Samsung version.
Peter Paul: Does Samsung make and maintain other browsers that are compatible with low-end smartphones?
Jungkee While we shipped some Tizen-based devices with a WebKit browser, however, I mentioned that we will ship a Chromium browser for Tizen 3.0.
Peter Paul: Samsung Internet is not the only feature that comes with its devices. What is the reason for this?
Jungkee. Choice should be a positive thing. Users should have the option to select which web browser they want to use. Samsung Internet offers some unique advantages to Samsung users, making the web easier. However we do not believe we should restrict Samsung users’ access to browsers in an attempt to force them to use our browser. This is evident in our growing market share.
Peter-Paul: Thank you for your time.
Jungkee: You’re welcome. Remember, your readers can contact Samsung with any questions:
- Send an email to browser[AT]samsung[DOT]com.
- The newly formed developer relations team has created a Twitter account @samsunginternet and is publishing articles to our Medium Channel.
- Also, we monitor Stack Overflow to answer any questions related to Samsung Internet.
Stay tuned to our next move as we plan to create a forum and other channels for web developers to connect.
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