"In a world today focused on native mobile apps, it would be easy to ignore the browser," said Gartner's David Smith, in a recent post. "But that would be very shortsighted," he added.
Apple built its iPod brand by developing an ecosystem that encouraged the external development of thousands of apps that run natively on the device, thus in many cases eliminating the need for users to access Web content through a browser (though the iPhone does include Apple's Safari browser).
And Microsoft itself has revealed plans to launch a similar, Apple-style app store for Windows Phone 7 applications.
But Smith said browsers still have a big role to play in the mobile market going forward. "Five years from now, I expect to see the majority of mobile 'apps' be Web apps, not native," wrote the analyst. "Not that native won't matter, but it won't be the obsession that it is today," said Smith.
As a result, Microsoft shouldn't scrimp when it comes to browser functionality for Windows Phone 7, Smith argued.
"How good is the browser? How much will it support leading edge capabilities in HTML 5? What version of IE will it be based on?" Smith asked in his blog post.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled Windows Phone 7 last week at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona. Ballmer demonstrated the OS's slick user interface and ability to offer real-time integration with social networks and Office software, but Microsoft has provided few tidbits about what's under the hood.
More details are expected to be revealed next month at Microsoft's MIX conference for designers and developers, in Las Vegas.