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Opera and Mozilla step up mobile browser pressure

Competition heats up

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The first key milestone on the road to a genuinely appealing mobile web experience is an effective browser, and the competition to provide that vital tool is heating up. The Apple Safari open source platform has made the running so far, both in the iPhone and Nokia's homegrown browser, which is Safari-based.

Microsoft is still struggling to make Internet Explorer really at home on a mobile device and Google's promised offering has not yet materialised. Outside Safari, the strongest contender has been Opera, which has now signed up new allies Freescale and NEC to push its technology further into the mobile mainstream – just as internet players like Mozilla raise their own challenge, ahead of the inevitable attack from Google.

Opera, though it gained tiny market share on the PC, has fared far better against Microsoft in the mobile and embedded worlds, and recently has been doing a good job of partnering with key chipmakers to marry its browser with their handset architectures.

In May, it announced a software development kit (SDK), codeveloped with Texas Instruments, for the latter's DaVinci platform for streaming media devices; and now it has added Freescale.

Using the Opera browser, whose surrounding technologies are increasingly focused on web 2.0 techniques such as widgets, delivers a higher level of customisation than most alternatives. This is increasingly important to service providers of all kinds as they seek differentiation for their multimedia offerings.

Opera, Freescale, and NEC have unveiled a collaborative technology that combines the Opera browser and Opera 9 SDK for Devices, with Freescale's i.MX31 multimedia applications processor, and an Adobe Flash Lite 3 plug-in ported and integrated by NEC. The companies claim this will solve many of the current problems that smartphone users encounter when trying to access media-rich websites.

Meanwhile, open source organisation Mozilla is stepping up efforts to make its Firefox browser dominant on the mobile platform. Already supported by Intel for the UMPC (UltraMobile PC) platform, Mozilla now plans to release a mobile version of its software early next year, geared to cellphones.

Like Opera, it plans to move early to exploit the increases in memory and performance in high end phones, which will support better browsing and multimedia web services – and get into this space before Google and Microsoft.

Mozilla said: "Up until very recently device limitations required writing new mobile browsers from the ground up. Being able to leverage all the investments in the Mozilla platform across both desktops and devices is the right approach."

Mozilla has been building up powerful support behind mobile Firefox in advance of a mainstream launch. There are already Mozilla-based browsers on selected handsets, notably the Nokia Internet Tablet, and the browser is a key element of Ubuntu Mobile, part of the Intel Internet Project. Most recently, ARM and its allies put Firefox at the heart of their own bid to dominate the mobile Linux agenda (see separate item).

Mike Schroepfer, VP of engineering at Mozilla, said: "Each Firefox install is an individual choice by a person to download something that didn't ship by default on their computer. Why not offer that option for mobile devices?"

Copyright © 2007, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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