It’s the Web Browser, Stupid

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There’s a revolution going on on the Web. It seems like every day, more and more functions that were previously done by software running on a desktop or laptop can be done in a web browser. People writing reports and term-papers in Google Docs or watching video on YouTube are some of the best examples, but there are tons more.  

Until recently though, users of mobile devices have been left out. This is because the web browsers in smartphones and handhelds have always lagged years behind what was available on a PC.

Then Apple’s iPhone was released, and people finally had access to a mobile web browser that was nearly as good as what’s available on a PC. A browser that fulfills the promises of mobile Internet access that telecoms have been making for years. A browser that people actually use.

So many people are surfing the Web on their iPhone and iPod touch that Google is making versions of its services especially for these devices, something it does for no other mobile platform. Why? Because compared to Apple’s mobile web browser, the ones available on the other platforms are lame. Sad. Pathetic, even.

Make a Better Browser or Go Home

Apple has thrown down the gauntlet, and it’s up to Microsoft, Nokia, Palm, Opera, etc. to pick it up. Now that people have seen how good Web access on a smartphone and handheld can be, they are going to expect their next mobile device to have a browser that’s at least comparable.

Windows Mobile 6.1 is due out soon, and I sincerely hope for Microsoft’s sake that it comes with a significant upgrade to Internet Explorer Mobile. It will be a sad day when Apple can make a browser in 2007 that Microsoft can’t at least match in 2008.

When I met with him last week, Stephane Maes, Palm’s VP Smartphone Product Marketing, promised me that his company understands the need for a world-class browser. I’m hoping that means Palm OS II will have an excellent one, but it looks like this will be just one more thing that Palm’s users will have to wait until 2009 for. That’s too bad; Blazer should have been in its grave years ago.

The Mozilla-based browser that Nokia put in the N810 and N800 is the only one I’ve seen that’s better than the iPhone’s. Problem is, Nokia’s Internet Tablets are never going to be anywhere near as popular as this company’s smartphones, so it needs to start making a version of this application for S60.

Don’t even get me started on the BlackBerry web browser. It’s absolutely the worst available on any smartphone. If RIM ever hopes to catch on with consumers it seriously needs to make far more improvements that any of its rivals, as it’s about 5 years behind them.

With its strong ties to Google, I really expect the Android operating system coming later this year to have a world-class browser, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Still, we don’t have to depend on the device makers for good browsers; third-party developers make some decent options.

Take Opera Software, for example. It makes some of the better mobile browsers, but these definitely need work. Still, it’s well ahead of most of the competition.

Also, I have a great deal of hope for the mobile version of Firefox being put together by the the Mozilla Corporation. If you’re a Windows Mobile user who ever accesses the Web, this should be an application you’re eagerly waiting for. 

Apple Could Pull Even More Ahead

I don’t know exactly how much of an influence the iPhone’s outstanding web browser has had on sales, but I’m certain it has contributed to the huge success of this device: 4 million sold in a little over 6 months.

But even the iPhone’s browser needs work. Specifically, it needs support for playing Flash video and Flash-based web sites. Hopefully, Apple will provide this later this year, along with the much-anticipated iPhone 2.

If the iPhone‘s browser keeps moving ahead and its competitors don’t make some huge jumps to catch up, I’m certain Apple’s share of the smartphone market will keep growing and growing, while the future for its rivals looks anything but rosy.




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