The four new touchscreen handsets announced--the Pantech Reveal, Pantech Impact, Samsung Mythic and Samsung Flight-comes loaded with an Opera Software-powered browser designed to provide faster and easier Web surfing for the vast majority of mobile subscribers who don't own an iPhone.
The initiative marks a further blurring of the line between smartphones and feature phones, which have increasingly come to resemble their more sophisticated cousins with physical features like touchscreens and Qwerty keyboards.
Adding full HTML browsing would bring "dumb" feature phones another step closer to duplicating the capabilities of high-end phones and removing the barrier between the two classes of devices. A big question is whether AT&T can deliver on the promise of improving the mobile Web experience on regular phones even as it struggles to provide adequate service for the iPhone.
The carrier has conceded keeping up with spike in mobile data traffic from the iPhone has been "challenging," but has said its spending $17 to $18 billion this year to upgrade its network infrastructure. But if AT&T can broaden mobile Web audience with its new browser, that's good news for marketers who want to expand their reach on mobile devices without having to split campaigns between WAP- (wireless application protocol) and HTML-based sites.
The more frequently people turn to the mobile Web to check the news, get driving directions, or find a local movie theater or restaurant, the more opportunity there is for advertisers. Even with the existing limitations of the mobile Web, Nielsen reported recently that audience increased 34% in the last year to 57 million.
The increasing convergence of feature phones and smartphones could help accelerate growth of the mobile Web and the new lineup of att.net phones could wind up playing a part in that shift.