Websites designed so that they may be accessed from these browsers are referred to as wireless portals or collectively as the Mobile Web. They may automatically create "mobile" version of each page, for example the Wikipedia website.
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 mobile browsers 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 deployment of a mobile browser 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.
A British company, STNC Ltd., developed a mobile browser (HitchHiker) in 1997 that was intended to present the entire device UI. The demonstration platform for this mobile browser (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 and HitchHiker became Microsoft Mobile Explorer 2.0, not related to the primitive Microsoft Mobile Explorer 1.0. HitchHiker is believed to be the first mobile browser 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. Mobile browsers 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 was a proxy-based Web browsing solution, developed by Ian Goldberg and others 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. 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.
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.
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.
Popular mobile browsers
The following are some of the more popular mobile browsers. Some mobile browsers are really miniaturized web browsers, so some mobile device providers also provide browsers for desktop and laptop computers.
Default browsers for Mobile and Tablet
|Browser||Creator||FOSS||Current layout engine||Software license||Notes|
|Amazon Silk||Amazon.com||Some||Blink||proprietary and LGPL||Uses split architecture whereby all processing is performed on Amazon's servers|
|Android browser||Yes||WebKit||BSD and LGPL||Browser included with Android version 1.5 to version 4.1|
|BlackBerry Browser||BlackBerry Ltd||Some||Mango (ver 4.5, 4.6, 4.7, 5.0)
Webkit (ver 6.0+)
|proprietary and LGPL||-|
|Blazer||Palm||No||NetFront||proprietary||installed on all newer Palm Treos and PDAs|
|Chrome||Some||WebKit, Blink (versions 28+)||Freeware under Google Chrome Terms of Service, but uses components from the Chromium (web browser) project.||Installed as default on Google devices shipping with Android versions 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or higher|
|Dolphin Browser||MoboTap||No||WebKit||proprietary||installed on all Bada|
|Firefox for Mobile||Mozilla||Yes||Gecko, WebKit (iOS version only)||MPL||Currently released for Android and iOS, but default browser for Firefox OS devices (now discontinued)|
|Internet Explorer Mobile||Microsoft||No||Trident||proprietary||on Windows Phone and Windows Mobile only|
|Iris Browser||Torch Mobile||Some||WebKit||proprietary and LGPL||Acquired by Research in Motion - No longer supports Windows Mobile or Linux|
|Kindle web browser||Amazon.com||No||NetFront||proprietary||Labeled "experimental"|
|Microsoft Edge||Microsoft||No||EdgeHTML||proprietary||on Windows 10 Mobile|
|Myriad Browser||Myriad Group||Some||Magellan (ver. 6.x)
Fugu (ver 7.x)
WebKit (ver 9)
|proprietary and LGPL||Acquired from Openwave in 2008|
|NetFront||ACCESS Co., Ltd.||Yes||NetFront||proprietary||-|
|Nokia Series 40 Browser||Nokia||Some||WebKit||proprietary and LGPL||-|
|Opera Mini||Opera Software||No||Presto||proprietary||Capable of pre-processing web pages and formatting for small screens|
|Opera Mobile||Opera Software||No||Presto, Blink (versions 15+)||proprietary||Capable of reading HTML and can reformat for small screens|
|PlayStation Portable web browser||Sony||Yes||NetFront||proprietary||-|
|Polaris Browser||Infraware Inc.||Some||Lumi (Ver. 6.x)
WebKit (Ver. 7.x)
|proprietary and LGPL||Nokia, Samsung, Kyocera and other phones sold in the US, China, South Korea, etc.|
|S60 web browser||Nokia||Yes||WebKit||LGPL||on S60 phones (predominantly Nokia)|
|Safari||Apple Inc.||Some||WebKit (WebCore)||proprietary and LGPL||on iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad)|
|Skyfire Mobile Browser||Skyfire||Some||WebKit||proprietary and LGPL||Renders Flash 10, Ajax and Silverlight content. Currently supports iOS and Android.|
|WebOS Browser||Some||WebKit||proprietary and LGPL||The last WebOS, 3.0.5, was released on January 12, 2012|
|Browser||Creator||FOSS||Current layout engine||Software license||Notes|
User-installable mobile browsers
|Browser||Creator||Current layout engine||Platforms||Software license||Notes|
|360 Web Browser||Digital Poke||iOS|
|Aloha (web browser)||Aloha Mobile Ltd.||WebKit||iOS, Android||Privacy focused browser|
|BOLT browser||Bitstream Inc.||WebKit||Java ME, BlackBerry||Proprietary||Discontinued December 2011|
|Cake Browser||Cake Technologies, Inc.||WebKit||iOS, Android||Swipeable mobile browser created in 2018|
|Chrome||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 modified 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)|
|Micromax Browser||Micromax Informatics||Android|
|Dolphin Browser||MoboTap||WebKit||Android, iOS|
|Firefox for mobile||Mozilla Foundation||Gecko, WebKit (iOS)||Android, Firefox OS (discontinued), iOS||MPL||Includes HTML5 support, Firefox Sync, add-ons support and tabbed browsing.|
|Links||Twibright Labs||PlayStation Portable||GPL||Unofficial port, requires custom firmware|
|Mercury Browser||iLegendSoft, Inc.||Android, iOS||Freeware|
|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.|
|Pale Moon||Moonchild Productions||Android||Proprietary Freeware||Built on Firefox code|
|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|
|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
Mobile transcoders reformat and compress web content for mobile devices and must be used in conjunction with built-in or user-installed mobile browsers. The following are several leading mobile transcoding services.
- Openwave Web Adapter - used by Vodacom
- Vision Mobile Server
- Skweezer - used by Orange, Etisalat, JumpTap, Medio, Miva, and others
- Opera Mini
Defunct transcoders or sites with removed transcoding functionality
- Google Mobilizer (Google Web Transcoder) — Defunct since February 2016. Replaced with Google Web Light.
- Smartphone site — The last extant snapshot of the site is from 5 September 2012.
- Device-Browser combinations on Cloud
- Finch — The last snapshot of a functional Finch site is from 28 February 2009. This defunct service should not be confused with Finch (software). Finch the transcoder became Squeezr!Beta as early as 8 December 2009.
- Squeezr!Beta — The last functional Squeezr!Beta page is dated 13 February 2010. As of 28 August 2010, Squeezr!Beta had closed; the last page of Squeezr as authored by Adam Brenecki is dated 2 January 2012. Since 2013, squeezr.net redirected to squeezr.it, which is a different service, and not related to Adam Brenecki.
- Microsoft Bing — the option to enable or disable "Optimize web pages for your phone" in "Search settings" is not visible in Bing's mobile version as of March 2018. (The mobile version can be accessed with a phone or tablet, or when setting a web browser to identify itself with a mobile-based user agent string.)
- Mowser (mowser.com) — Alternately marketed with the mowser.mobi domain name, which is now a permanent deadlink. The last snapshot of a working page is dated 22 September 2017. As of 30 March 2018, the site has been shut down.
- Browser wars
- Device Description Repository
- Information appliance
- Mobile Web
- Mobile content
- Usage share of web browsers
- User agent
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- StatCounter 2017
- StatCounter 2015
- NetApplications 2014
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- mlvb.net[permanent dead link]
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- W3C Mobile Web Initiative — “The Mobile Web Initiative's goal is to make browsing the Web from mobile devices a reality”, explains Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the Web.
- Compact HTML for Small Information Appliances — W3C NOTE 9 February 1998
- Open Mobile Alliance
- Blackberry Browser Developer site