iOS browsers that allow font scaling and text reflow

After complaining that Safari for iOS needs a text size preference and text reflow I decided to take a look at what other options are available. Many people don’t realise it, but you don’t have to use Safari for browsing the Web from your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

I had a look around the App Store, searched the Web for a few reviews, and ended up testing two browsers that feel like worthy alternatives to Safari: iCab Mobile and Atomic Web Browser.

They both have plenty of features that Safari does not, including fullscreen browsing, text resizing, and ad blocking. Both also keep the same text size when you change your device’s orientation from portrait to landscape. Safari does not do this, as I noted in Controlling text size in Safari for iOS without disabling user zoom. It’s an interesting difference since all three browsers are based on the WebKit rendering engine. Apparently the auto-zoom that Safari does when switching to landscape is either specific to Safari or possible to work around for browser developers using WebKit.

But back to my main reason for trying other iOS Web browsers—text size. As I just mentioned, both iCab and Atomic give users options for increasing and decreasing font size in addition to the zoom behaviour that Safari has. Both browsers also reflow text after the font size has been changed. I’m not sure how the iCab and Atomic developers have implemented font sizing, but a reasonable guess is that they’re applying their own user agent CSS.

On some sites these browsers do a great job of increasing font size and reflowing the text, on others it doesn’t work all that well. How well it works depends on how the site you’re viewing is built—it seems to work best on sites with fluid or flexible layouts that don’t use pixels to specify column width. The same goes for font sizing in desktop browsers, of course, but the problems become more obvious on a small screen.

While neither browser does a perfect job of rescaling and reflowing text, the fact that they have these features shows that there is a need for font resizing and that it’s possible to do. With all the other great accessibility features Apple has built into iOS it seems strange that Safari doesn’t offer this, so maybe there is some technical reason for it.

Oh, if you’re wondering which of iCab Mobile and Atomic Web Browser I would recommend, I think they’re both pretty good. iCab Mobile does feel a little bit more polished, so I would probably go with that if I had to pick one of them.

Posted on January 5, 2011 in iOS, Browsers, Accessibility