There have been a couple of web browser wars in the 90’s and later. While various web browsers have risen and fallen, there was only one winner of all these wars — the user. Thanks to the wars, web browsers evolved rapidly and have a ton of functionality that many of us have come to taken for granted. Unfortunately, the web browser built into the Tesla Model S doesn’t meet our new expectations.
The web browser built into the Tesla Model S doesn’t meet expectations.
It does seem a bit picky to be complaining about a web browser built into a car on a 17″ screen with included 3G internet access. There isn’t another car in the world that has this. Of course this functionality came with the car and I paid almost $100K for the car so I did also pay for this web browser.
There isn’t another car in the world that has this.
Also, like my mother always told me: “If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it right.” The Web Browser in the Model S is mostly an afterthought and it shows. Rather than define a set of requirements, goals, expectations and then design a solution to meet those needs it seems they just made use of a few basic building blocks (linux, a free browser and 3G connectivity) to drop something in for some “wow” factor and because they could. The browser is best seen as a placeholder for better things to come someday (maybe).
The browser is best seen as a placeholder for better things to come someday
With the built-in browser you can browse to most web sites including the Teslarati site. You can browse both in the half-screen mode or in the full screen mode. In full screen mode its a huge screen. Regardless of the size, content looks great.
While reading you can touch the screen to click on links, buttons, etc. You can do the usual things like drag your finger to scroll left and right and pinch or reverse-pinch to zoom in or out on the content.
You can also click on any text input field and keyboard pops up like it does on any smartphone or tablet and you can enter information. The keyboard that pops up occupies the bottom 1/3 of the screen regardless of which size browser panel is open.
There is a single flat list of favorites which is not sorted — it is organized by the order you entered the items. You can delete individual items from the favorites list (but not all or a batch). A list ordered by the order you entered them with no ability to re-organize is just silly and is an example of the quicks you find deep within some of the Tesla apps.
For sites that need your location (weather, plugshare, etc) it can provide that with your permission. It also has some basic support for cookies (more on that later).
You (or better, your passenger) can do all this while parked or moving. Due to the angle of the 17″ screen its a bit awkward for your passenger to use it for extended periods. My daughter manages to check her homework sometimes on the drive in in the morning but its slow and hard to hit links while you’re moving.
You can do all this while parked or moving.
It really is amazing that Tesla has given us a web browser for free on the internet all the time that I can use in my car. But I also have that on my phone and the one of my phone is about 10x better even if the phone’s screen is 100x smaller.
Limitations and Issues
The browser has a number of limitations. It does not support some of the most common audio, video and document file types. This includes not being able to play YouTube videos while you’re waiting for a pick up, but also it means navigating a PDF attachment while on the go is difficult at best.
The browser also scores pretty low on web compatibility tests and extremely poorly on speed tests. While the recent 5.9 release is almost twice as fast as the prior 4.3 release that was tested, your iPhone 5 or current Android phone is about 3x faster on the same network.
Your iPhone 5 or current Android phone is about 3x faster
One of the questions I had before I took delivery of the Model S is if I could access my Google apps accounts with the browser to check email and do other things while waiting for people. I never found the answer in the forums, so here you go:
The short answer is that you can use Google Apps from the Model S Browser
The longer answer is that its probably not worth your time. If you’re following good security practices you have a crazy and long password on your account plus you have two-factor authentication enabled. That means logging in for the first time on Google Apps is painful. No problem you say, Google can remember me for 30 days, I can deal with that. Well, for some reason, on the Model S, Google only remembers your login for 12 hours even if you ask it to remember you everywhere you get a choice.
Google only remembers your login for 12 hours
It’s not reasonable to log in to Google every 12 hours, but lets assume you do. Once in you’ll find that in the “Desktop browser mode” (Google won’t let you force their apps into a mobile mode) the links/icons in Gmail etc are very hard to hit with a finger (and i’m not a big person). This means you may accidentally delete email, archive it, etc. And thats while you’re parked. Don’t even try it while you’re moving. Another item gets you when doing things that are time based like email and calendar — the browser always thinks its in the Pacific timezone. Perhaps that’s different overseas, but in the US the browser time is always off which does odd things to various sites.
Yet another odd behavior in Google Apps and perhaps others (I did much of my testing in Google Apps) is with text entry. When you’re typing text with the keyboard there’s no auto-capitalization. Also once you hit shift it behaves like a caps lock so everything after you hit that will be in caps. Nothing else you use these days does that. Also, many of us are used to the shortcut “space space” to add a “.” and a space. That would be nice to see. Another odd thing is if you’re typing an email to someone and you press “Enter” the keyboard disappears. You have to tap on the text field again to get the keyboard to come back up so you can keep entering text. Try typing a long email with that behavior.
Also there’s no copy/paste (think about that), you can’t drag to move the caret and a bunch of other usability things that people have gotten right on mobile browsers over the last 5 years.
In short, the browser looks great but is really basic.
Other people have come up with their own wish list items but these are the things I think are missing to make it really usable:
- Speed, speed, and speed.
- Cookies that are really persistent and work with Google apps.
- Timezone that can be set or is always correct in the browser.
- Proper caps behavior when entering text (double tap for caps lock, tap once for single letter, auto caps after punctuation etc).
- Proper keyboard behavior after “Enter” when doing things like typing emails.
- Double tap to zoom in on content
- Double space for “. “
- Tap and drag to move caret
- Tabbed browsing
- A way to sync my favorites with my desktop (any one of the majors – Safari/Chrome/Firefox)
- A way to sort or organize the favorites
- Consistent scrolling behavior (Google Apps)
Note that there’s a lot of stuff i’m not asking for. Apps or extensions like Chrome/Safari. Video from YouTube. I understand this isn’t a full blown desktop and with an included 3G connection there are going to be some limitations. I just think the bar is too low right now.
A few helpful sites
- teslarati.com – Great Tesla news site (full disclosure: I do guest blogging for them)
- qtes.la – A web site designed for the Tesla browser with news, stock, weather information.
- forcast.io – Weather. Qtes.la uses an API to do a piece of this but this is the full deal with zoom in by time of day etc.
- tesla.plugshare.com – Tesla specific plugshare page
- teslamotorsclub.com/forum.php – TMC forums for a long wait
- teslatap.com/guest – Guest/valet instructions to leave on the screen
- calc.hiddentao.com – Calculator that works great in half or full screen browser mode. If you can’t hit the buttons in full screen mode you need a breathalyzer test!
If you have killer ones that work great with the Model S browser feel free to drop us the link in the comments. Please keep it to things that are helpful in the Model S (i.e. a link to the Smithsonian is nice but not relevant/helpful vs. a calculator you can pull up to do some quick kWh math).
While i’m sure various bright engineers at Tesla can hack away at yet another web browsing interface and engine, there are probably better uses for their time. I think Tesla needs to leverage an existing modern browser that brings all the above functionality and more (apps anyone?) that is maintained by an active community. Given the close ties between Google and Tesla including Google’s investment and Tesla’s use of Google Maps already, it would make sense if Chrome replaced the browser that is there today and Chrome is one of the best browsers on the planet.
It would make sense if Chrome replaced the browser that is there today.
I’m sure, like Google Maps, there are licensing terms to work out and I have some hopes that when they improve maps in the upcoming 6.0 release they’ll also improve this browser, but right now those are just hopes.
If Tesla is serious about providing a Web Browser interface for the Model S then they need to move past the free/open source browser that they have installed today and install a modern browser so their users do not feel like losers in the browser wars.