Until recently, browsing the net on a cell phone screen was a restrictive rather than a liberating experience. Yes, one could access the internet on the move, but one’s options were more often than not limited to sites specially designed for smaller cell phone screens – WAP sites or mobile versions of conventional sites. For instances, if one wanted to access Gmail on the cell phone one went to http://m.gmail.com rather than the conventional URL as the former would load faster and would involve lesser scrolling Similarly those wishing to go to Yahoo! on their hand sets could go to Mobile Yahoo! (http://mobile.yahoo.com).
But for all their utility these ‘mobile’ versions of websites were often vanilla versions of the real things. They had fewer graphics limited interactivity and far fewer features than the original websites was possible on cell phones these would take ages to download and would sometimes even slow down the handset. WAP and mobile sites on the other hand were designed specifically for cell phones screens and there fore had no such issues.
However, all that is changing, thanks to a new generation of cell phone browsers that have been designed to display full fledged web pages on handset screens.
The most notable of these is Opera Mini, now into its fourth version. The browser can run on just about Java enabled cell phone and works by compressing conventional web sites into a small screen friendly format. While the sites rendered by previous versions still left the user with lots of scrolling to do, the latest version (version 4 beta) actually shrinks the entire websites into one small screen and allows you to pick the part you would like to see. It also features a moving cursor, making browsing on the cell phone very similar to that on the PC.
Another notable new browser is jBrowser from India’s Jataayu Software. While not as powerful as Opera Mini, it too is adept at displaying conventional HTML websites although it automatically searchers for mobile friendly versions of sites first. And of course, there is the mobile version of Safari on the Apple iPhone, which many observers believe provides the closest thing one can get to a desk top surfing experience on a handset.
Even cell phone manufacturers are becoming aware of the fact that users are no longer content with plain WAP sites. As cell phones become more powerful (larger screens, more storage space and processing power) and bandwidth improves, users are looking for a more wholesome web experience on their handsets. Consequently the likes of Nokia and Motorola have improved the quality of the browsers bundled with their phones, making them more attuned to displaying conventional sites rather than just mobile friendly ones. Even Microsoft has added more features to the mobile version of IE in Windows Mobile 6.