The Mobile Web
According to reports, 40 percent of U.S. mobile customers surf the Internet using their mobile phones. My guess is that 100% of them spend at least some of that time cursing under their breath.
Mobile phones still have a long way to go before you can navigate the Internet with the same ease that you experience on your PC. Intel has capitalized on this user dissatisfaction to create the Mobile Internet Device (MID) category, which is designed to (1) deliver a "better Internet user experience" and (2) provide an end run around ARM’s hegemony in the mobile phone arena.
Today both the hardware and software required to deliver the full Mobile Web on cell phones is almost completely up to speed. The real breakthrough was Apple's iPhone, which runs Mac OS X and the Safari browser and has a 620 MHz ARM processor, 128 MB of RAM, and up to 16 GB of flash memory. The iPhone’s is a highly capable Internet device—the first MID.
Now that handset hardware is no longer a bottleneck, the real action is in the new mobile browsers. Chief among these are Opera Mobile, which runs on Windows; Internet Explorer Mobile, which also runs on Windows; Apple's Safari (Mac OS X); the Blackberry Browser (Blackberry OS); Google's Chrome Mobile (Linux); and the Nokia S60 Browser (Symbian OS).
Mobile browsers have suffered from an inability to run plug-ins, most notably Adobe Flash, a shortcoming that Intel has taken pains to highlight. But this month Adobe and ARM announced that they are working together to port Flash to ARM processors; and Qualcomm has announced similar support for Flash in their handset chipsets.
Given the small screen size and ergonomic shortcomings of handsets, you'll still prefer to Web surf on your PC. It's also unlikely that web-enabled smartphones will keep the MID category from taking off, since many people will still prefer a larger screen size, as long as they can still make calls.
But the Mobile Web for handsets—fully capable of handling rich Web 2.0 content—has finally arrived.
This article first appeared in the January, 2009 issue of Portable Design. Reprinted with permission.