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Will Mobile Browsers Catch On?

Mobile Web

A new ABI research report claims that the mobile browser market is booming and will hit 1.5 billion mobile units by 2013. But the boom might not necessarily translate to a larger and more active mobile Web user base.

The study "The Mobile Browser Market" states that while smartphones currently have"very limited Web browsing capabilities," handset makers are hungry for browsers with new features, such as RSS feeds, and want Web sites better optimized for mobile display.

The big question, though, is whether mobile device users want all that too, and whether users would browse more if devices had better Web capabilities.

ABI Research predicts that the mobile open-Internet browser (OIB) segment will grow from this year's 76 million to nearly 700 million browsers by 2013.

“The focus today for mobile browser developers is to take advantage of the latest Web standards while also developing solutions tailored toward the unique experience of using a browser on a mobile phone,” stated Michael Wolf, ABI research director, in a statement.

One example of mobile browser development is the continuing evolution of Opera Mini, which has been downloaded more than 40 million times. Just last week a preview version tailored to Google's Android mobile device platform was made available to developers.

Yet despite advancements, ABI notes there's still a long way to go in closing the gap between mobile browsing and PC-based Internet browsing.

That's because today's mobile devices lack plug-ins such as Flash, and OBI vendors are in need of server-assisted architectures for Web acceleration needs, according to the report.

But those are just two of several reasons one entrepreneur says mobile browsing won't be catching fire with smartphone users anytime soon.

Russ Beattie, who shuttered his mobile browser service, Mowser, just one year after launch, simply doesn't believe in the "Mobile Web", calling it a "limited" and potentially "dying" marketplace.

"Two years ago I was convinced that the mobile Web would continue to evolve in the West to mimic what was happening in countries like Japan and Korea, but it hasn't happened, and now I'm sure it isn't going to," he wrote on his blog in making his business announcement earlier this month.

"Let's face it, you really aren't going to spend any real time or effort browsing the Web on your mobile phone unless you're using Opera Mini, or have a smartphone with a decent browser -- as any other option is a waste of time, effort and money," he wrote. "Users recognize this, and have made it very clear they won't be using the "Mobile Web" as a substitute for better browsers, rather they'll just stay away completely."

Beattie points to Web site traffic patterns and online Web use as supporting evidence for his contention.

"I think in fact the general market demand just never was there. In fact, if you look at the number of page views of even the most popular mobile-only Web sites out there, they don't compare to the traffic of popular blogs, let alone major portals or social networks," he wrote.

Yet Beattie is still clearly enthralled with mobility as a concept.

"The potential for developing services that take advantage of such a personal and ubiquitous platform is incredible, and I'd love to just start again right now and relaunch Mowser focused on new ideas," he stated.

ABI research is clearly in sync with Beattie's view on future mobile Web possibilities.

Wolf sees plenty of momentum for Web content on mobile phones. “The move toward Web-based applications means browser and Web services engines will become increasingly important for mobile, whether these are in a commercial browser implementation or a customized widget.”

That trend may be one catalyst that prompted the Associated Press to launch its Mobile News Network, a service delivering news to iPhone and other smartphone users.

Currently in testing, the service will provide a "national platform" for users to access local content from trusted news brand outlets, according to an AP statement.

It's the first product from AP’s Digital Cooperative, a program geared to finding new digital outlets for the news and information produced by AP members. It is expected to launch publicly by the summer with a broader participant base.

AP is working with mobile phone makers and carriers to develop "the best user interface" and plans to optimize the service "for the richest multimedia experience the new wireless devices will allow," the wire service said.