Mobile OS Developers Look to Third-Party Browsers

Jeff Berg
SILICON VALLEY — With market analysts predicting that handheld devices will surpass computers as the primary means of connecting in the next few years, more and more mobile operating system developers are turning to third-party browsers.

Both PalmSource and Symbian, the two leading developers of handheld operating systems, have opted to have device manufacturers and third-party software companies decide which browser gets the most market share.

Mobile web browsers face a variety of problems that traditional browsers are lacking, including formatting normal sized 640 pixel-wide web pages for the smaller 150 to 300 pixel-wide screens used on handheld devices.

Opera, for example, the most popular third-party software for the Symbian operating system, introduced a feature called Small-Screen Rendering two years ago. Small-Screen Rendering, really the first feature for handheld devices that allowed users to not have to horizontally scroll across the screen to read full lines, works by changing the instructions sent to the browser before they’re rendered, instead of rendering the items and then moving them around.

The feature has caused the Opera browser to come pre-installed on most Nokia smartphones.

On Sept. 20, the company also reached its one millionth download of the Opera Mobile browser.

“Users love getting access to the full web as a complement to accessing their operators’ existing data services,” said Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera Software.” “In addition to the industry increasingly adopting Opera, one million people have on their own sought to download and install Opera from our website. That’s real success for our vision.”

Microsoft, one of the few operating system developers who also debuted its own browser, has met with criticism in the Windows Mobile community, with users flocking to Bitstream’s subscription service Thunderhawk, which allows web pages to be displayed in landscape mode in order to cut down on horizontal scrolling.

Opera also announced earlier this month that they intend to expand into the Windows Mobile market in the near future.

“We’ve heard the market’s call and we’re responding,” said Rolf Assev, executive vice president of business development for Opera. “Operators want to offer their subscribers the same Internet and brand experience on all the different handsets coming from the various manufacturers, necessitating a fully integrated cross-platform browser.”