Opera Browser To Be Standard in Nokia 6600
By Carlo Longino, Mon Oct 27 22:00:00 GMT 2003

Norwegian browser company Opera scored another win today when Nokia said it would include their "full Web" browser as standard software in their new 6600 Series 60 phone. But what do browsers like this mean for mobile content?

Opera's Series 60 browser is already available as a third-party download for the Nokia 3650 and 7650 and Sony Ericsson P800, and was also included with the Motorola A920. The Opera browser uses the company's proprietary "Small-Screen Rendering" technology to reformat standard HTML pages and display them on the smaller screens without the need for horizontal scrolling. Forget boring WAP pages; the Opera browser brings you the Web you're used to, pop-ups and JavaScript included.

Carriers will love this, since it can drive GPRS traffic through the roof. Opera spins the data from a trial with Portuguese carrier Optimus to come to the conclusion that people use more data when they can access any standard Web site, but that's a bit tenous.

There's no doubting that the browser performs well and makes pages look great on a Series 60 screen, but it pulls a hell of a lot more data than a WAP browser. I loaded up the front page of CNN.com, and it was about 50K, meaning that I could look at it once a day for 3 weeks and use up the 1-megabyte bucket of data I pay $7.99 a month for. After that, it's about 50 cents per pop -- which isn't insignificant. Granted, you can set Opera not to load images (you can even have it load them selectively, which is a nice touch), which on that page saves 40K, but then it looks like any other WAP page, doesn't it?

But the cost of GPRS or the rise in traffic isn't what's got me thinking. I'm really in two minds about full browsers, like Opera, on mobile devices. The browsing experience on such a small screen will never duplicate that of a PC. That's just a fact. The instrinsic mobility of a phone or connected PDA offers a number of benefits over a fixed PC. That's another fact, though one that's becoming blurred with the proliferation of Wi-Fi. So instead of taking those two facts into account and developing content and applications tailored for the mobile experience and mobile devices, do we just throw an HTML browser that can reformat pages for a small screen out there, and end with that?

Will having a full HTML browser stifle innovation and development of mobile content? After all, what's the incentive to develop specific content when you can just let a browser sort it out?

I realize this cuts both ways -- there are certainly benefits to having browsers like Opera on a mobile device. It's great to be able to access most any site and not have to worry about whether they've got a WAP or XHTML version, and being able to find it. And it will also allow developers who are strong on HTML, but perhaps less familiar with the mobile technologies to develop mobile content as well.

But should we be moving towards a one-size-fits-all Web, regardless of the user's context? Is this what putting a "full" browser in a phone pushes us towards?