On the day I launched Mowser at April's Mobile Monday in Berkeley, there were some Opera folks in the audience who came up after my presentation to say hello, and were kind enough to give me a preview of new version Opera mini beta that launched yesterday. I was pretty blown away by the ability of the browser to do page rendering and zooming so seamlessly. It looked so good, in fact, that just like any mobile veteran who's seen plenty of snazzy demos, I was holding back judgment until i could play with it myself on my own phone... Well, I got a chance to try it out yesterday, and man, is it great! Why anyone would want to use any other browser on their phone is beyond me - it's fast, super-functional, easy to use and really delivers a full-browser experience even on a small screen. Awesome stuff...
So wow, if their browser is so good, why in the world would anyone bother to use Mowser? Well, as I wrote in my original presentation, Opera mini *rules*, but unfortunately for us all, it's not ubiquitous. This is the same argument I've presented for the iPhone as well - it may have a great integrated browser, but so do many of the Nokia, Symbian and Microsoft smart phones. Publishers wanting to provide mobile access to their content simply can't rely on their readers having high-end phones or Opera mini installed.
This is the core idea of Mowser, to flip the "traditional" model of transcoding around. Instead of being a service focused on simply providing access for mobile readers - guessing at the best way to render a publisher's content - instead Mowser is a self-serve solution for web publishers who want to make sure their content can be viewed by any device that happens to access that site. Web publishers who adopt web standards such as handheld stylesheets can redirect their readers to Mowser which will adapt their site and make sure that no matter how a mobile user arrives there - via an SMS link, a feed reader, or just by tapping a URL into a new phone's integrated browser 10 minutes after they bought it - the site will be good-looking and usable.
Even more importantly, by integrating an advertising ID into their headers that Mowser's adapter looks for, the mobile site will also be (shockingly) monetizable. These advertisements are focused towards mobile users, rather than generic text ads, or worse, stripped away Flash ads or unreadable banners. (In case you haven't been keeping up, the amount of money spent on mobile content is pretty massive.)
All that said, I can see the future as well as anyone. As I repeat ad-nauseum to anyone I talk to verbally about this, the mobile market advances steadily in 16 month increments: Handsets get more powerful, networks get faster and most importantly, the "average" capability of the handset gets better and more widely distributed. So in a very short time, a majority of handsets will have a browser as capable as Opera's pre-installed on them (and hopefully, if Opera can make those deals, it will actually BE Opera's browser). This is why from the very beginning I tried to make Mowser as compatible with Opera mini as possible by supporting web standards. Any effort a publisher makes to optimize their site for Mowser and/or Opera will automagically benefit the other as well.
As time goes on Mowser will transition to become a "server-side companion" for mobile devices. For example, if you click on a 20MB PDF document now, what do you want to happen? Well sometimes, you want to download it, sometimes you want the server to make it viewable for you in pageable HTML, and other times it'd be nice to store that document in some sort of online locker for later retrieval, right? If you click on a mailto: link, what do you want to happen? Well, it'd probably be preferable if your mobile's local email client opened up - especially if you were on a Blackberry for example - but if not, it'd be nice to be routed to a mobile online email system such as Yahoo! Mail or Gmail, or hey, maybe even a simple form to just fill out and send and email using your normal email address in the reply. Right now none of this stuff happens reliably no matter if you're using Nokia's minimap browser, Pocket IE, iPhone, or Opera mini, and that to me is where Mowser could provide a lot of functionality in the future even to more advanced mobile browsers (though again, I'm keeping it simple for now and focusing just on content adaption.)
The common element here, and actually the "big bet", is that as the web becomes more common on mobile devices, it won't just survive the move, but thrive. Custom apps, widgets, RIAs, etc. will have their place, but the most important element will be The Web itself. It really will be the next mobile killer app. And though Apple is being somewhat annoying in how they're presenting the iPhone's web capabilities (theirs is neither the first, nor the best solution, despite what the guys in Cupertino may want you to believe), the fact is that they're spending millions of dollars in marketing to raise awareness and drive demand for mobile access to the web, and that's great for the whole market.
I'll make a side note here to comment on Vodafone recent move to integrating a transcoder into their web access stuff. Using Novarra's technology is a GREAT idea and will hopefully make browsing a much more usable experience for all of Voda's customers. I've met some of the people at Novarra (including the company's whip-smart CEO) and I think they've done some great work. That said, Vodafone and/or Novarra need to make sure they properly identify their User-Agent - simply adding their name on the end of the UA string would be fine, or even adding an additional X-Header like Opera mini does would be good too. Secondly, they need to respect the alternate mobile-content headers like Google's transcoder does. If a site has explicitly pointed at a mobile version, then the transcoder should redirect to it immediately. I personally think the lack of this stuff is just a bug, and will be rolled out pretty soon, if not already.
Anyways, go grab the new Opera mini beta now! Or if you just want to play, check out the online demo... it's pretty awesome.