Nokia said today that it has agreed to purchase Novarra — a Chicago company that attempts to deliver a faster browsing experience for feature phones — for an undisclosed amount. I covered Novarra two years ago in a story about the rush of companies attempting to deliver a build once/run anywhere web site or widget for mobile phones (yes, this was back in the widget days). I said at the time that:
On of the more interesting approaches is being taken by Chicago-based Novarra, an eight-year-old company that is working with carriers including Vodafone, U.S. Cellular and 3 Hong Kong to deliver the web to any phone, even low-end handsets. Novarra offers an appliance for carriers or a service that essentially offloads 80 percent of the data processing associated with downloading a web site to servers run by the carrier or Novarra. This cuts down on the amount of data traveling over the carrier network, and makes load times faster. Content providers such as Yahoo also use it to deliver lighter applications for mobile phones. Novarra powers Yahoo’s oneSearch via mobile.
I also shared Novarra’s stats that showed carriers using the technology reported a between $5 and $15 increase in average revenue per user, which is nothing to scoff at. There are still only 400 million smartphones among about 4.6 billion total mobile subscribers, which means anything that delivers a better browsing on feature phones is still of interest, despite the digerati’s fascination with Android and the iPhone.
Plus, Nokia has long had a huge presence in the developing world, which it may be losing to cheaper handset providers. Building another path to revenue in countries where phones are the primary source for access to the web just makes sense, especially since Nokia can’t seem to pull itself together to compete with the high-end smartphones.