Mobile browser

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Web Browser for S60 is an example of a mobile browser.

A mobile browser, also called a microbrowser, minibrowser, or wireless internet browser (WIB), is a web browser designed for use on a mobile device such as a mobile phone or PDA. Mobile browsers are optimized so as to display Web content most effectively for small screens on portable devices. Mobile browser software must be small and efficient to accommodate the low memory capacity and low-bandwidth of wireless handheld devices. Typically they were stripped-down web browsers, but as of 2006 some mobile browsers can handle more recent technologies like CSS 2.1, JavaScript, and Ajax.

Websites designed for access from these browsers are referred to as wireless portals[1] or collectively as the Mobile Web. They may automatically create "mobile" versions of each page, for example this one.

Underlying technology[edit]

The mobile browser usually connects via cellular network, or increasingly via Wireless LAN, using standard HTTP over TCP/IP and displays web pages written in HTML, XHTML Mobile Profile (WAP 2.0), or WML (which evolved from HDML). WML and HDML are stripped-down formats suitable for transmission across limited bandwidth, and wireless data connection called WAP. In Japan, DoCoMo defined the i-mode service based on i-mode HTML, which is an extension of Compact HTML (C-HTML), a simple subset of HTML.

WAP 2.0 specifies XHTML Mobile Profile plus WAP CSS, subsets of the W3C's standard XHTML and CSS with minor mobile extensions.

Newer microbrowsers are full-featured Web browsers capable of HTML, CSS, ECMAScript, as well as mobile technologies such as WML, i-mode HTML, or cHTML.

To accommodate small screens, they use Post-WIMP interfaces.


The first mobile browser for a PDA was PocketWeb [2][3] for the Apple Newton created at TecO in 1994, followed by the first commercial product NetHopper released in August 1996.[4]

The so-called microbrowser technologies such as WAP, NTTDocomo's i-mode platform and Openwave's HDML platform fueled the first wave of interest in wireless data services.

The first deployment of a microbrowser on a mobile phone was probably in 1997 when Unwired Planet (later to become Openwave) put their "UP.Browser" on AT&T handsets to give users access to HDML content.[5][6]

A British company, STNC Ltd., developed a microbrowser (HitchHiker) in 1997 that was intended to present the entire device UI. The demonstration platform for this microbrowser (Webwalker) had 1 MIPS total processing power. This was a single core platform, running the GSM stack on the same processor as the application stack. In 1999 STNC was acquired by Microsoft[7] and HitchHiker became Microsoft Mobile Explorer 2.0,[8] not related to the primitive Microsoft Mobile Explorer 1.0. HitchHiker is believed to be the first microbrowser with a unified rendering model, handling HTML and WAP along with ECMAScript, WMLScript, POP3 and IMAP mail in a single client. Although it was not used, it was possible to combine HTML and WAP in the same pages although this would render the pages invalid for any other device. Mobile Explorer 2.0 was available on the Benefon Q, Sony CMD-Z5, CMD-J5, CMD-MZ5, CMD-J6, CMD-Z7, CMD-J7 and CMD-J70. With the addition of a messaging kernel and a driver model, this was powerful enough to be the operating system for certain embedded devices. One such device was the Amstrad e-m@iler and e-m@iler 2. This code formed the basis for MME3.

Multiple companies offered browsers for the Palm OS platform. The first HTML browser for Palm OS 1.0 was HandWeb by Smartcode software, released in 1997. HandWeb included its own TCP/IP stack, and Smartcode was acquired by Palm in 1999. MicroBrowsers for the Palm OS platform multiplied after the release of Palm OS 2.0, which included a TCP/IP stack. A freeware (although later shareware) browser for the Palm OS was Palmscape, written in 1998 by Kazuho Oku in Japan, who went on to found Ilinx. Still in limited use as late as 2003. Qualcomm also developed the Eudora Web browser, and launched it with the Palm OS based QCP smartphone. ProxiWeb[9] was a proxy-based Web browsing solution, developed by Ian Goldberg and others[10] at the University of California Berkeley and later acquired by PumaTech.

Released in 2001, Mobile Explorer 3.0 added iMode compatibility (cHTML) plus numerous proprietary schemes.[11] By imaginatively combining these proprietary schemes with WAP protocols, MME3.0 implemented OTA database synchronisation, push email, push information clients (not unlike a 'Today Screen') and PIM functionality. The cancelled Sony Ericsson CMD-Z700 was to feature heavy integration with MME3.0. Although Mobile Explorer was ahead of its time in the mobile phone space, development was stopped in 2002.

Also in 2002, Palm, Inc. offered Web Pro on Tungsten PDAs based upon a Novarra browser. PalmSource offered a competing Web browser based on Access Netfront.

Opera Software pioneered with its Small Screen Rendering (SSR) and Medium Screen Rendering (MSR) technology. The Opera web browser is able to reformat regular web pages for optimal fit on small screens and medium-sized (PDA) screens. It was also the first widely available mobile browser to support Ajax and the first mobile browser to pass ACID2 test.[1]

Popular mobile browsers[edit]

Distinct from a mobile browser is a web-based emulator, which uses a "Virtual Handset" to display WAP pages on a computer screen, implemented either in Java or as an HTML transcoder.

The following are some of the more popular mobile browsers. Some mobile browsers are really miniaturized Web browsers, so some mobile browser companies also provide browsers for desktop and laptop computers.

Default browsers used by major mobile phone and PDA vendors[edit]

Browser Creator FOSS Current layout engine Software license Notes
Android browser Google Yes WebKit Apache 2.0 and GPLv2 -
BlackBerry Browser Research in Motion No Mango (ver 4.5, 4.6, 4.7, 5.0)
Webkit (ver 6.0+)
proprietary -
Blazer Palm No NetFront[12] proprietary installed on all newer Palm Treos and PDAs
Chrome Google No WebKit, Blink Freeware under Google Chrome Terms of Service Installed on Google devices shipping with Android 4.2+ (e.g. Nexus 4)
Dolphin Browser MoboTap No WebKit installed on all Bada
Firefox for mobile Mozilla Yes Gecko MPL Currently released for Android and Nokia Maemo devices
Internet Explorer Mobile Microsoft No Trident proprietary on Windows Phone and Windows Mobile only
Iris Browser Torch Mobile No WebKit proprietary Acquired by Research in Motion - No longer supports Windows Mobile or Linux
Kindle Basic Web No NetFront proprietary -
Myriad Browser Myriad Group No Magellan (ver. 6.X)
Fugu (ver 7.X)
WebKit (ver 9)[13]
proprietary Acquired from Openwave in 2008
NetFront ACCESS Co., Ltd. No NetFront proprietary -
Nokia Series 40 Browser Nokia No WebKit[14] proprietary -
Obigo Browser Obigo AB No WebKit (to be released) proprietary 100% owned by Teleca AB
Opera Mobile Opera Software No Presto, Blink proprietary Capable of reading HTML and reformat for small screens, installed on many phones
PlayStation Portable web browser Sony No NetFront proprietary
Polaris Browser Infraware Inc. No Lumi (Ver. 6.X)
WebKit (Ver. 7.X)
proprietary Nokia, Samsung, LG Electronics, KYOCERA and other Smartphone and cellular phone in USA, China, Korea, etc.
Series 60 web browser Nokia ? WebKit BSD licenses on Series 60 phones (predominantly Nokia)
Safari Apple Inc No WebKit proprietary on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Skyfire Mobile Browser Skyfire No WebKit proprietary Renders Flash 10, Ajax and Silverlight content. Currently supports iOS and Android.
uZard Web Logicplant Co., Ltd. No MoRDAC (Mobile oriented Remote Display and Control) proprietary on Samsung, LG Electronics and other smartphones and cellular phones in Korea
WebOS Browser


No WebKit proprietary -
Browser Creator FOSS Current layout engine Software license Notes

User-installable microbrowsers[edit]

Browser Creator Current layout engine Platforms Software license Notes
BOLT browser Bitstream Inc. WebKit Java ME, BlackBerry Proprietary Discontinued December 2011
Chrome Google WebKit, Blink Android, iOS Freeware under Google Chrome Terms of Service
UC Browser UC Mobile U3 (based on Webkit) S60, Java ME, Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Bada Proprietary Freeware Proxy-rendering in Java and Symbian. U3 engine in Android.
Classilla Cameron Kaiser Clecko a modififed Gecko Mac OS 8.6, Mac OS 9 MPL/GPL/LGPL Although desktop, uses a mobile user agent by default due to the older machines it services.
Deepfish Microsoft Windows Mobile Proprietary Proxy-rendering browser (Discontinued)
Dolphin Browser MoboTap WebKit Android, iOS
Firefox for mobile Mozilla Foundation Gecko Maemo, Android MPL
ibisBrowser ibis inc. Java enabled phones, Windows Mobile
Links Twibright Labs PlayStation Portable GPL Unofficial port, requires custom firmware
Minimo Mozilla Foundation Gecko Linux, Windows CE MPL/GPL/LGPL Discontinued
NetFront ACCESS Co., Ltd. NetFront, WebKit Linux, S60, BREW, Android, Windows Mobile, Others Proprietary
Opera Mini Opera Software Presto Java ME, Android, Windows Mobile, iOS, BlackBerry, S60, Others Proprietary Supports most features of stand-alone Opera, but can run on less capable phones by offloading memory-intensive rendering to proxy server (based on Opera Mobile running on a server)
Opera Mobile Opera Software Presto, Blink Android, Maemo, BREW, S60, Windows Mobile From version 14 it is based on Chromium.
Pixo Sun Microsystems
Skyfire Skyfire Labs, Inc. WebKit (ver 2.x+), Gecko (ver 1.x) Android, iOS Supports Flash and Ajax. As of 2010-12-31, it no longer supports Symbian OS or Windows Mobile
Sleipnir Fenrir Inc WebKit Android, iOS, Windows Mobile
Steel WebKit Android Discontinued
Teashark Java ME Proprietary Freeware
Tristit Java enabled phones, BlackBerry
Vision Mobile Browser Novarra Java ME, BREW Proprietary
WinWAP Winwap Technologies Windows Mobile Proprietary
Browser Creator Current layout engine Platforms Software license Notes

Mobile HTML transcoders[edit]

Mobile transcoders reformat and compress web content for mobile devices and must be used in conjunction with built-in or user-installed microbrowsers. The following are several leading mobile transcoding services.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Wireless portal Definition from PC Magazine Encyclopedia". 1994-12-01. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  2. ^ Gessler, S., Kotulla, A., "PDAs as mobile WWW browsers." Proc. of Mosaic and the Web Conference, Chicago, October 1994.
  3. ^ Markus Lauff, Hans-Werner Gellersen, "Multimedia client implementation on Personal Digital Assistants", Interactive Distributed Multimedia Systems and Telecommunication Services, 1997
  4. ^ "NetHopper 2.0 First true web browser for Newton". PenComputing Magazine. 2006. Retrieved October 13, 2009. 
  5. ^ "About Openwave". Openwave. 2009. Retrieved February 26, 2009. [dead link]
  6. ^ "The Weather Underground brings weather service to mobile phone user". The Weather Underground. 1997. Retrieved February 26, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Microsoft Acquires STNC, a Leader in Digital Cellular Software" (Press release). Microsoft. 21 July 1999. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  8. ^ "Microsoft Introduces Microsoft Mobile Explorer" (Press release). Microsoft. 8 December 1999. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  9. ^ Experience With Top Gun Wingman: A Proxy-Based Graphical Web Browser for the 3Com PalmPilot
  10. ^ About Top Gun Wingman
  11. ^ "Microsoft Mobile Explorer 3.0 Provides Tomorrow's WAP 2.0 Functionality Today" (Press release). Microsoft. 19 February 2001. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  12. ^ "palmOne Selects ACCESS NetFront Browser Engine to Power New Blazer 4.0 Mobile Browser, Expand Collaboration". ACCESS Co., Ltd. 2004-12-08. Retrieved 2010-06-13. 
  13. ^ "Myriad -Mobile browsers". Myriad Group. 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  14. ^ "Series 40 Platform". Forum Nokia. 2010-06-04. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 

External links[edit]