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Does The Mobile Browser Have A Future?

Many wireless industry insiders question the future of the mobile Web browser. While mobile browsers have been around since the first iteration of WAP in the late 1990s, there still aren't that many people surfing the Web on their cell phones. Personally, I don't think cell phones are the best medium for browsing. And for applications, I think the future of the mobile Web lies in clients, not browsers.
Many wireless industry insiders question the future of the mobile Web browser. While mobile browsers have been around since the first iteration of WAP in the late 1990s, there still aren't that many people surfing the Web on their cell phones. Personally, I don't think cell phones are the best medium for browsing. And for applications, I think the future of the mobile Web lies in clients, not browsers.And what about clients. By clients I mean plugged in applications with just one or possibly two clearly defined serial applications (like push e-mail or chat) rather than a variety of tasks, like a browser.

To date, the real success stories of the mobile Web -- BlackBerry push e-mail and text messaging -- are handled through clients, not browsers. And most forms of mobile IM are also done through clients (either SMS or through an installed mobile IM app).

Why do I think clients trump browsers in the mobile Web? The biggest reason is their serial functionality. I think Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney recently hit this nail on the head. By serial functionality, I mean mobile devices are good at one-on-one linear communication -- voice conversations, e-mail exchanges, text messaging, and even IM. They are not well suited to exploration, i.e. browsing or search. Or at least not in their current iteration. The iPhone may change this, but we'll have a better sense of that when it hits the market.

If applications like mobile search are going to take off, I think application developers would be well-advised to frame search in a client framework. What would this look like? I am not sure yet. I do think the mobile version of PSS might offer a sneak peak of such a system.

Now, don't go putting words in my mouth. This doesn't mean that I think the mobile browser is dead. Far from it. Mobile browsers will definitely have a place, but unlike the desktop Web, I don't think many mobile applications will be utilized through browsers. And I think mobile browsers themselves will evolve into more of a set of bookmarks than as mini-versions of their exploratory desktop cousins.

What do you think? Do mobile browsers have a future or will clients dominate?