Will There be Another Browser War?

Wireless News: The Next Browser War
Now that I have seen a handful of articles written about the coming “browser war” that will take place on mobile devices, I feel compelled to comment. I am not convinced that we will ever see another browser war on par with Microsoft vs. Netscape — at best we will see several skirmishes as companies jockey for dominance on a handful of platforms.

Why I am so convinced that we will not see another browser war? Well, I have a few reasons:

To have a war, you need combatants. When we had our first (and I predict last) browser war, the technology world had two great combatants in Microsoft and Netscape. Who are the great combatants in the mobile browser world? Openwave and Opera are both good companies, but I am not sure that Openwave/Opera vs. Microsoft would have the same drama as Microsoft vs. Netscape. I am not saying that a great start-up or open source collaborative effort won’t emerge, but there are not a lot of people or organizations who are actively investing resources in browser development at the moment.

Don’t confuse ubiquity with opportunity. As many of these articles have pointed out, there are 400 million plus mobile phones sold worldwide. If any company could get a browser on each of those devices, it would be a sizable opportunity. But let’s think about this for a moment. Mobile phones do not have large screens, a good system for user input/interface, and do not have the ability to handle much in the way of non-text content (Java, Flash, PDF, etc.). What features would you market to make a mobile phone browser compelling?

On a related note, there is a real question about how open mobile phone and PDA operating systems will be. For there to be a real browser war, users will need to have the ability to easily swap browsers. Getting software on a mobile phone is not that easy (although that could change as more phones ship with JVMs) and there aren’t a lot of tools to help consumers with that aspect of the problem. So, unless phone operating environments become more open (mobile gaming has shown that it is possible for some applications), I don’t see individuals having a lot of choice about what mobile browser they use.

On the PDA side, I am not sure that we will have enough PDAs with embedded wireless connectivity (802.11, 2.5G, or 3G) and decent screens before 2005/2006 to make the issue of a good browsing experience a top concern. If I were building a mobile browser, I would look at PocketPC/Palm before I would focus a lot of energy on mobile telephony.