The mobile browser usually connects via a 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.
The first true mobile browser for a PDA was NetHopper for the Apple Newton, released in August 1996.
The so-called microbrowser technologies such as WAP, NTTDocomo's i-mode platform and Openwave's HDML platform have fueled the first wave of interest in wireless data services.
The first deployment of a microbrowser 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 microbrowser (HitchHiker) intended to present the entire device UI in 1997. 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 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 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.
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.
A freeware (although later shareware) browser for the PalmOS was Palmscape, written in 1998 by Kazuho Oku in Japan, who went on to found Ilinx. Still in limited use as late as 2003.
Also in 2002, Palm, Inc. offered Web Pro on Tungsten PDAs based upon a Novarra browser.
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.
Popular mobile browsers
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
Browser Creator FOSS Current layout engine Software license Notes
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
Kindle Basic Web Amazon.com No NetFront proprietary -
Android browser Google Yes WebKit Apache 2.0 and GPL v2 -
WebOS Browser Palm No Webkit proprietary -
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 proprietary installed on all newer Palm Treos and PDAs
Firefox for mobile Mozilla Yes Gecko MPL 1.1 or later, GNU GPL 2.0 or later, GNU LGPL 2.1 or later Currently released for Nokia Maemo and in development for Android
Internet Explorer Mobile Microsoft No - proprietary -
Iris Browser Torch Mobile Inc. ? WebKit proprietary Acquired by Research in Motion - No longer supports Windows Mobile or Linux
Myriad Browser (Previously Openwave Mobile Browser) Myriad Group No Fugu (Next version to use WebKit) proprietary Acquired from Openwave in 2008
NetFront ACCESS Co., Ltd. No NetFront proprietary -
Nokia Series 40 Browser Nokia No WebKit proprietary -
Obigo Browser Obigo AB No WebKit (to be released) proprietary 100% owned by Teleca AB
Opera Mobile Opera Software No Presto proprietary Capable of reading HTML and reformat for small screens, installed on many phones
PlayStation Portable web browser Sony No NetFront proprietary
Safari Apple Inc No WebKit proprietary on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Skyfire Mobile Browser Skyfire No Gecko proprietary Renders Flash 10, Ajax and Silverlight content. Currently supports Windows Mobile 5/6.x,Symbian S60 3rd & 5th Edition platforms (Touch/Non-Touch) 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
Browser Creator FOSS Current layout engine Software license Notes
BOLT browser beta from Bitstream Inc., WebKit based client/server browser for Java ME phones of all types including BlackBerry smartphones; renders full web pages
Deepfish Beta from Microsoft, proxy-rendering browser (retired).
Firefox for mobile by Mozilla Foundation.
JOCA by InteracT!V, another proxy-rendering free software.
Links2 on the PlayStation Portable (requires custom firmware)
Minimo by Mozilla Foundation (based on Gecko).
Vision Mobile Browser (web browser) by Novarra
Opera Mini by Opera Software - 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 by Opera Software - supports all modern web standards supported by desktop browsers, including XHTML, CSS2 and Ajax. Has advanced Small Screen Rendering that adapts regular pages to small screen (proprietary).
Pixo by Sun Microsystems (Pixo acquired by Sun July 2003)
Skyfire Skyfire just announced 1.0. Supports Flash and Ajax and allows a fully functional PC web-like experience.
Teashark - a free Java-based browser with a desktop-like layout
ThunderHawk by Bitstream Inc. (Marlborough, MA)
Tristit The free Tristit Mobile Browser works on all Java supported phones.
UC Browser by UC Mobile, proxy-rendering freeware.
WinWAP by Winwap Technologies
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 microbrowsers. The following are several leading mobile transcoding services.
Vision Mobile Server
Skweezer - used by Orange, Etisalat, JumpTap, Medio, Miva, and others