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Is Novarra Nokia's advertising play?

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Last week Nokia bought Novarra, but it's unlikely the Finns were interested in a new browser when the company's main business points towards a rather more revolutionary offering from Nokia.

Novarra does have a browser, but its main business is intercepting web mobile browsing sessions to collect demographic data, as well as optimising the content for the device being used. Simple tricks such as reducing the colour depth can make mobile browsing much faster, while the data gathered can be invaluable to the network operator, or anyone else interested in promoting the mobile web.

Vodafone has used Novarra in the UK for a few years now to gather user information, as well as adding its own navigation bar to downloaded pages. The launch was pretty rocky, with sites complaining that Novarra was mangling their content, but Vodafone responded to complaints and the service has been happily making life better for Vodafone surfers ever since with nary a complaint.

It's possible that Nokia plans to replace its existing browser, but far more likely that the company is interested in hosting its own optimisation service which could improve the browsing experience on every Nokia handset and create a direct connection from Nokia to its end customers.

It's worth noting that Novarra-competitor Drutt was bought by Ericsson, not Sony Ericsson. Drutt was seen as something that network operators would buy and deploy in the way that Vodafone has deployed Novarra. That would make Novarra a natural acquisition for Nokia Siemens (the network infrastructure vendor) rather than Nokia (the handset manufacturer and wannabe service provider), but it's Nokia which will be offering enhanced mobile browsing.

Yahoo is already doing just this. Click on the results from Yahoo's OneSearch and the returned page comes optimised for your mobile handset - a service provided by Novarra.

One can easily imagine Nokia offering an enhanced browsing experience, tweaked for its own handsets but probably available to all. This is in exchange for a little automatically gathered demographic information and the opportunity to insert the occasional advert at a later stage, of course. Even the iPhone might benefit from a little content optimisation, and Nokia would be pleased to provide it.

It's possible that it was the Novarra's Vision Browser that attracted Nokia, but far more likely that Nokia's vision involves interceding between mobile browsers and their content, for the good of all concerned. ®

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