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Are Browsers Dead?

Mobile phone users historically haven’t used the browsers on their handsets.
Does that say more about user habits or the devices themselves?

A few weeks ago, an Internet research company released a study saying Apple’s iPhone was used more than any other cell phone to access the Internet with a browser. That statistic, picked up by such publications as The Wall Street Journal, surprised quite a few people in the industry but it did serve to emphasize that phones are being used a lot more for things other than making voice calls.

The study came from Net Applications, which said the iPhone was responsible for 0.09% of all Web pages viewed during the month of November. It also said all Microsoft Windows Mobile devices combined accessed 0.06% of Web page views.

Net Applications didn’t go into its methodology, including whether or not the study only related to smartphones running operating systems from companies like Microsoft, Apple, Symbian, RIM or Palm.

NetFront Browsers

1: Page Pilot - NetFront Browser’s PagePilot rendering mode enables smooth pan and zoom navigation. It is activated by continuously pressing the scroll key.

2: Smart Swing Navi - NetFront Browser’s Smart Swing Navi feature uses image captured by camera-capable devices to enable scrolling and zooming by tilting the device vertically and horizontally.

3: Smart Slider Menu - The Smart Slider Menu is a short-cut bar that enables users to select functions easily and quickly.

4: Visual Bookmarks - The Bookmarks feature enables quick navigation and selection of bookmarks by providing thumbnail previews, page titles and URLs of bookmarked sites.

It also didn’t differentiate on how the phone was accessing the Internet, since the iPhone has both AT&T’s EDGE network and Wi-Fi radios. Since there have only been about 1.5 million iPhones sold and there are more than 253 million U.S. and 2.5 billion subscribers worldwide using cell phones, with the majority having browsers, the Net Applications conclusion has to be suspect.

M:Metrics, a research company that follows the mobile world specifically, says the iPhone is No. 5 when it comes to accessing the Internet. The top five, according to M:Metrics’ October data, are the Motorola V3 silver RAZR, Motorola Q, Motorola V3m silver RAZR, RIM BlackBerry 8100 Pearl and the 8 GB iPhone.

Ignoring the question of who is winning the phone browser war, the fact is that most cell phone owners don’t use their handsets to access the Internet. Julie Ask, research director with JupiterResearch, says in a recent report that only 16% of handset owners use a browser to access the Internet.

JupiterResearch’s study says the biggest reason people don’t turn on their phone browser is the high cost of data plans. The next biggest reason is that using a handset browser isn’t a good experience, followed by the desire for cooler applications and the availability of known online services.

Ask says browser alternatives like widgets, applets and mini-applications can make the user experience better. Instead of clicking numerous times to find a specific service on their phones, widgets can allow access from the home screen or one click away.

Microsoft generated a lot of interest in mobile widgets when it spun off a widget software company called ZenZui, which was renamed Zumobi. The company recently launched the Beta version of its platform, which includes 75 mobile widgets for access to, MTV, Associated Press, and The beta initially only works on Windows Mobile 5 and 6 phones, with BlackBerry and Java versions planned next Spring.

Zumobi isn’t alone in deploying mobile widgets. Others either with solutions or planning them are Openwave Systems, Flurry, Callwave, Nokia, Opera and Mobio Networks.

Does this mean mobile browsers are dead? Hardly.

Perhaps the world’s leading mobile browser is NetFront, developed by Access of Japan. NetFront is on about 450 million devices, with 100 million of those sold in the last 10 months, according to Albert Chu, Access’s vice president of marketing and alliances.

Access continues to update and improve NetFront, Chu says, and the company sees an opportunity in JupiterResearch’s findings. If 16% of mobile phones are used to access the Internet, Chu says that is a potential market of 84%. And, he says NetFront is finding its way onto a lot of consumer devices besides phones, including digital televisions, set-top boxes, game consoles and automotive telematics systems.’s new Kindle eReader uses the NetFront browser to download books through Sprint’s network.

The NetFront browser converts tables in a Web page into a vertical display, eliminating the need to scroll horizontally. The user can zoom in and out on Web pages from 25% to 100%. The software can open up to five windows, and the user can tab to any one of them.

Openwave solution
Openwave’s solution provides content adaptation that works with any standard browser.

The significance of iPhone’s browser use is that the browser experience is more interesting on phones with larger screens, says John Hanay, director of product management for Access. He says most handset OEMs had focused on small devices with small screens and now see the impact a phone with a larger screen can have on the user experience.

Other handset OEMs, like HTC with its new Touch device, are starting to mimic the iPhone’s larger size, Hanay notes, as well as to use designs that hide the keypad.

Widgets are becoming more popular on handsets because they are task-specific, giving cell phone users direct access to the information they want, says Chu. Access has started using widgets with the NetFront browser, including the ability of running 80% of the Apple widgets.

NetFront with the Web 2.0 widgets has been licensed by several handset manufacturers and will show up on phones early this year, Chu says. NetFront also will be able to act as a backend engine in a phone to download and cache information a user wants, and then display it off-line.

Openwave’s widgets are part of an end-to-end strategy that includes its content delivery technology, MediaCast, and its Adaptive Mobility personalization suite of products. Nokia also supports widgets on its S60 smartphone platform, making it possible for Web developers to easily create widgets for Symbian phones using the S60 operating system. Another end-to-end Internet-access solution from Openwave is called OpenWeb and Secure Content Management. Licensed recently to Vodafone Spain, the portfolio includes an open Internet browsing capability that delivers full Web pages to any data-enabled device, says Ed Moore, product strategist. OpenWeb includes a server element for what Moore calls “content adaptation” that works with any standard browser. The server adapts the content on any standard Website for delivery to the phone.

Moore says Openwave’s research also shows that usability is not the key element in using a mobile phone for Web access. People want access on their phones to the Internet sites they access on the PCs, he says. Once they can do that, phone access to the Web increases as much as 25%, based on what’s happening with Openwave’s OpenWeb carrier customers, Moore says.

The iPhone may have ignited interest in mobile browsing, not only in its users but also potential competitors. Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser, has announced plans to have a Mobile Firefox for smartphones, probably this year or early 2009.

“The user demand for a full browsing experience on mobile devices is clear,” Mozilla Engineering Vice President Mike Schroepfer wrote in a recent blog. “If you weren’t sure about this before, you should be after the launch of the iPhone.”

So, even if the iPhone is or isn’t the world’s favorite browsing phone, it has raised interest in the possibilities.

Source:  Are Browsers Dead?,
By Brad Smith, WirelessWeek - January 01, 2008
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