Openwave offers ‘disruptive’ browser suite

Don't tell Marc Andreessen

It's hard to believe that Openwave, the folk who brought you WAP, could produce software that's in itself aesthetically dazzling and a seriously disruptive technology, but believe us you must.

After the WAP hype collapsed, the company hunkered down to produce a ground-up rewrite of a software suite for mobile phones. The investment appears to be paying off. Openwave says it already has seven customers for its Version 7 software, which debuted in Cannes in February. V7 consists of a browser, messaging client and file browser - geographical positioning software is on its way - and it's expected to reach the street by the end of the year.

V7 looks great and has ease of use as a major factor - as you'd expect with engineers such as Mike Reed (Apple QuickDraw GX) and Benoit Schillings (BeOS) involved - but the disruptive part is the amount offered in such a low memory footprint. Alpha-blended attachment previews are nice, but it's the memory efficiency that really makes this a proposition.

Despite the superior functionality offered by smartphone operating systems, Openwave reckons it can do the important things as well if not better in V7. The success of Vodafone's Live in Europe tell us a few things. People don't mind using WAP, as long as they don't know it's WAP. This walled garden service has met early success where the much vaunted 'Mobile Internet' of WAP failed. And carriers are not only keen to wrestle the branding from the handset manufacturers, but keen to risk pushing tens of millions of marketing Euros behind an unfashionable manufacturer and design (Sharp's clamshell) to prove the point.

Openwave offers a much richer email experience than the P800 from Sony Ericsson and Nokia's 3650. Getting the basics right matters. Nokia has signed on with RIM to license its enterprise email gateway, which is fine for businesses, but it's the 'power user' consumers - the sort who remember how good their Psions were - who are being sold a little short here.

Openwave isn't so much positioning itself against the smartphone OS vendors Symbian and that other company whose name escapes us, but the really small players. If the phone business is being commoditised - as Nokia recognises, with its 'commoditise with us' strategy - then no one will do it faster than China, which already has more cellphones than the world has PCs. So Openwave ought to be persuading the Chinese that human interfaces have a bit of a useful legacy, and this is how it's done over there.

Openwave yesterday said that it had shipped its 400 millionth WAP browser, but forgive and forget, we reckon. This will get very interesting. ®

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