Smartphones drive demand for Web browsing

Mobile users want full Web access on their smartphones, driving growth in the mobile browser market.

Mobile Web usage is on the rise as more fully featured browsers come to market on smartphones.

Smartphones, which are designed to handle more sophisticated applications, are growing in popularity. In fact, Apple's iPhone was named the most popular phone during the third quarter of 2008, surpassing sales of Motorola's Razr, according to the NPD Group.

A report from ABI Research on Thursday predicts that the number of smartphones with highly capable mobile browsers will grow from 130 million today to more than 530 million by 2013.

There are many reasons consumers are using the mobile Web now more than ever. For one, carriers are offering flat-rate mobile data plans, which makes subscribing to these services more affordable. New 3G networks are also making accessing the mobile Web much faster.

"The increase in awareness of the Web on mobile devices--due to the iPhone and new RIM models--has helped contribute to this growth, as has the continued move towards flat-rate data plans by many mobile operators," Michael Wolf, ABI research director, said in a statement.

As wireless subscribers get more sophisticated about their Web surfing, they are looking for more freedom. They don't want the carrier-controlled, on-deck mobile Web experience available on earlier mobile phones. Instead, these users are looking to replicate the Web experience they have on their PC on their phones.

The iPhone was the first to offer a browser that came even close to matching the PC experience on a phone. Google's Android is also providing a full browsing experience to users. And now RIM is also releasing new browsers in its latest BlackBerry devices to enhance Web browsing. The new touch screen Storm, set to launch next week on Verizon Wireless' network, and the Bold are already using the enhanced browser.

Other companies such as Firefox, Skyfire and Opera have also been improving mobile browsers to give wireless users a more robust surfing experience. This week Opera released the beta version of its Opera Mini 4.2 browser, which improves support for YouTube and other mobile video services.

More sophisticated browsers means that more Web sites are actually getting traffic from mobile users. In fact, between 3 percent and 10 percent of traffic to a PC-based Web site comes from mobile devices, according to Bango, a company that offers a tool for tracking traffic from mobile users. Bango found in a recent survey that half of the 20 most trafficked PC-based Web sites did not work well on leading mobile phones.

This could be why sites, such as Google, are being optimized for mobile users. Earlier this week, Google said iPhone users accessing would soon see search results formatted specifically for them to make it easier to access local results and click on links.