In a world in which sales of mobile devices is on the way to eclipsing desktop devices, and the browser becomes the starting point for the majority of a user's experience, does Microsoft have a future?

A study of world mobile browser traffic (PDF) in July, 2008 by AdMob shows that Nokia's browser dominates the world. The Openwave browser (installed on many low-end phones) is second followed by Access Netfront (used primarily in Asia and on some Palm devices), Opera Mini is next, and Microsoft's Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) and Apple's Safari are further down the list. See more details in a story in Electronista.

Pocket Mobile ExplorerDespite having been around for years in Windows Mobile smartphones and Pocket PCs, Microsoft's PIE can only garner a 4% market share! It's only slightly ahead of Apple's Safari (at 2%), a browser that has only been available for a year, and then only in the US. Only now is the iPhone beginning to be sold in more countries (though Safari is also available on the iPod Touch, which has been more widely available). This is a tiny market share compared to the 34% held by Nokia, reflecting that firm's strength in Asia, where people are more likely to own a cellphone than a computer, and for whom the mobile internet is the only internet.

The capabilities of PIE are so limited that the internet experience on any Windows Mobile equipped phone is a great disappointment. Savvy technical users are replacing PIE with Opera Mini where possible, but some carriers (in particular in Canada) only allow the use of PIE in their mobile browsing data plans. Use of Opera can draw exorbitant additional charges. Despite this type of disadvantage, Opera's market share was at 7% in July, nearly double Microsoft PIE's share.

Microsoft has been making a mobile browser for years, yet PIE doesn't even support Javascript or Flash. As a result, many websites simply are not accessible to PIE. The average user using PIE will tend to avoid using the mobile internet at all - which leads to reduced revenues for handset manufacturers that build devices based on Windows Mobile. More and more often, they're starting to install Opera Mini (said to be the best mobile browser after Apple's Safari) by default, and to hide PIE. For that matter, builders like HTC are trying to hide as much of the dated and kludgy Windows Mobile as possible, preferring to build their own interface to nearly all commonly-used mobile tasks.

Has the apparent disaster of Windows Vista distracted Microsoft away from the whole mobile sector, to the point of making it nearly irrelevant? Nokia, Openwave, Access, Symbian, RIM and Apple account for 85% of the world browser market between them, compared to 4% for Microsoft. Unlike on the desktop, where Microsoft's Internet Explorer holds the majority against top contender Mozilla Firefox, in the mobile browser market Microsoft is nearly invisible.

In the years to come, will Microsoft cease to exist in the mobile sphere of influence?