UPDATE: Initially, I was told that the new platform would support Flash, meaning that sites, such as YouTube and videos on CNN and ESPN (NYSE: DIS) would be enabled. However, only Flash animations are being allowed at this time by Verizon (NYSE: VZ). This means that some Flash may appear on some sites, but you will not be able to watch videos, as previously thought.
Over the past three months, Verizon Wireless has quietly rolled out a new internet platform to most of its feature-phone users, allowing people to access even complex sites that other mobile browsers have historically had a hard time viewing. And, in a break from recent tradition, the technology supports Flash,
meaning that people will be able to view videos (if I have to remind you, that’s even something the iPhone can’t do today). I am checking to see if that even includes YouTube because there is conflicting information on whether it does at this point. But it also supports e-commerce, so people can login to Amazon.com (NSDQ: AMZN) or Expedia.com, for example, and make purchases. The move by Verizon is surprisingly open, given that the carrier — which is now the largest in the U.S. — was once considered to have the highest walls out there. Although this can’t be considered a full internet experience, it’s close, especially for lower-end phones that typically struggle with the web. Perhaps, this move by Verizon is an indication that the carrier is truly committed to its open development initiative and that it has more up its sleeves.
The platform is being supplied by Itasca, IL-based Novarra, whose other claim to fame is rendering sites for Yahoo’s oneSearch. Verizon is calling the experience “Optimized View.” On the back-end, all of the web traffic is being routed through Novarra’s servers, which adapts the content and optimizes it for a smaller screen. Verizon also benefits because the page won’t use up a lot of network bandwidth, something AT&T (NYSE: T) struggles with on the iPhone. Randy Cavaiani, Novarra’s vp of marketing said that without much promotion on Verizon’s part, it’s seen amazing uptake by consumers. “There is pent up demand for users out there for good quality mobile access. Once you provide this service, people start migrating their habits from PC to mobile.”
Verizon confirmed the roll-out of the platform, and it will be on display at Mobile World Congress this week, but it declined to talk about the specifics. The platform will soon support smartphones, although many already come with capable browsers today, like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or users can download more complex browsers from the likes of Opera, Skyfire and others. Verizon pays Novarra for the platform, but it has two options for how to monetize it. In addition to selling more data plans to consumers, it can also overlay ads in the browser.
Photo: Here’s an example of how a Web site can be viewed in full screen and then how users can zoom in to see a particular section.