It’s sort of a non-news bit of news, but today at Mobile World Congress, Research In Motion announced that its BlackBerry devices will enjoy a WebKit browser sometime this year. Why isn’t that very newsy? Well, if you’ve followed the RIM acquistion of Torch Mobile last year, then you pretty much already knew this. Torch Mobile used to make a WebKit-based browser for Windows Mobile devices, but no longer does. The company resources are devoted to bringing the browser to BlackBerry handsets instead. WebKit is already used as the basis of browsers for Apple’s iPhone, Google Android devices, and Palm’s webOS handsets, so RIM plans to bring a similar mobile web experience in-house.
Having used the WebKit browser on all three devices mentioned, my experience is that it generally does offer the best mobile experience to the masses. The lone outlier could be the Mozilla-based browsers on the Nokia N900 — the native microB and the new Firefox for Maemo — but I don’t consider the N900 a “device for the masses.” They’re both exceptional browsers, but the device itself is better suited for true mobile enthusiasts. Other solid alternatives on the market include the various Opera products, SkyFire and other server-side rendering clients. But the browser on a BlackBerry never really got me excited and I don’t see other companies trying to emulate RIM’s browser experience. It’s definitely the other way around as evidenced by this CrackBerry.com first look video of WebKit on a BlackBerry.
Although Research In Motion isn’t sharing details on the timing for their new browser, I think they have to deliver it this year and sooner is better than later. By some measurements, RIM is starting to lose market share to other platforms that are innovating and maturing faster. I’d be the first to say that RIM has made a very successful transition from an enterprise-centric brand to one that appeals to consumers as well. But as that transition completes, the company needs to continue forward momentum with features that keep it on par with competitors. Email might be the crown jewel for RIM’s BlackBerry devices — they’re among the best for mail management — but the mobile web is becoming at least as important, if not more so. A new WebKit browser is just what the doctor ordered for preventative market share care. How quickly the prescription is filled is up to RIM.
Image courtesy of Unwired View
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