Nokia joins battle for mobile web, buys Novarra

Nokia acquires browser developer Novarra to enter fray for mobile Web dominance.

Nokia--the world's leading manufacturer of mobile phones--announced that it is acquiring Novarra--a privately-held Chicago-based mobile Web browser developer. The purchase moves Nokia into the increasingly contentious mobile browser battle.

In a statement about the acquisition, Nokia declares "Novarra's mobile browser and services platform will be used by Nokia to deliver enhanced Internet experiences on Nokia mobile devices." Novarra will enable Nokia to deliver an improved mobile Web experience to customers. However, the Novarra acquisition will probably have little effect on customers in the United States.

While Nokia is the largest maker of mobile phones in the world, it plays a more obscure role in the market in America. The most recent comScore survey places Nokia in fourth place for mobile phones in the United States, with just over nine percent market share.

Drilling down more specifically to smartphones, Nokia isn't even on the radar. RIM's BlackBerry is the leading smartphone platform in the U.S., followed by the iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Android. Even Palm's faltering WebOS platform manages a fifth place position with nearly six percent of the smartphone market.

"Connecting the next billion consumers to the Internet will happen primarily on mobile devices," said Niklas Savander, executive vice president of Services for Nokiain the Nokia statement, adding "and delivering an optimized internet experience on our devices is core to our mission. By driving innovation in all segments of our portfolio, we are building one of the largest consumer audiences for web services and content. Novarra's Internet services technology delivered on the world's most widely-used mobile platform, Nokia's Series 40, will help us achieve this."

To its credit, Nokia has been working aggressively to regain some swagger and find the edge it once had among mobile phones. Nokia is engaged in a back and forth legal struggle with Apple over patent infringement allegations--Nokia claims Apple is violating its patents, and Apple accuses Nokia of the same. Nokia also formed an alliance with Intel to combine their Linux-based mobile operating systems to create MeeGo.

Opera might have been a better acquisition for Nokia. I expect it would have cost significantly more, but it would have given Nokia an established mobile browser ready to compete on a broad range of smartphone platforms--including the iPhone if Apple approves Opera's app.

While the Novarra Web browser may not make much of a splash in the United States, the Novarra technology is indicative of the direction that mobile Web browsers are going to meet the needs of next-generation smartphones and mobile platforms like the iPad.

Wireless broadband bandwidth is crowded, and most data plans charge per megabyte or have a maximum download capacity per month. Web browsers like Novarra's, that can compress data for faster rendering and less bandwidth consumption, give smartphones an edge over competition.

Business professionals on the go need a mobile Web browser that is able to maximize the available wireless bandwidth and deliver a blazing fast Web surfing experience from a mobile platform. Browsers like Opera and Novarra provide the innovative technology necessary to meet those demands.

Novarra is not built on Webkit--the de facto standard rendering engine for smartphone platforms. However, Novarra has a Youtube video demonstrating that its Vision browser actually renders Web pages faster than competing mobile browsers designed on Webkit.

The Vision browser supports Adobe Flash, and includes other innovative features like password management, and the ability to manipulate Web pages to fit the screen of the device being used.

Novarra currently works with Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, LG, and other mobile phone manufacturers--providing Nokia with an established client portfolio for its new mobile Web browser.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies. He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW. You can follow him on his Facebook page, or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com.

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