Yahoo offers iPhone-like Web for masses

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Yahoo announced a new mobile service on Tuesday that will deliver an iPhone-like experience for people who cannot or will not splash out for the iconic but pricey Apple device as times get hard.

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Yahoo Mobile will launch at the end of March in a form downloadable to any phone with a Web browser and from May in custom versions for hundreds of smartphones.

“There is a growing number of consumers out there who are not Apple iPhone users but want a rich starting experience,” Marco Boerries, the head of Yahoo’s mobile division, told Reuters in an interview.

Yahoo will also launch a version of Yahoo Mobile, designed to be a starting point for users to access the Internet, for the iPhone itself at the end of March. A test version for a limited number of public users is going live this week.

Yahoo Mobile offers a front page with colorful, boxy icons resembling the iPhone’s for launching popular applications such as a Web browser, mail, news, weather and social network sites like Facebook.

Users also have the option to easily add any software or Web sites they choose to download on their phones.

The company plans in coming months to promote Yahoo Mobile via a series of 70 major operator partnerships it has struck to reach 850 million mobile subscribers around the globe.

Fifty of those partnerships already offer Yahoo services and the company expects the rest to adopt Yahoo Mobile in coming months, Boerries said.

Yahoo has developed versions that work on hundreds of mid-range and high-end mobile phones from BlackBerry maker RIM, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, as well as phones running Microsoft Windows.

Boerries defines the universe of phones that can effectively run Yahoo Mobile as “every phone that’s shipped in the last two years that has a decent HTML-capable browser.” He added: “We don’t want to make lowest common denominator stuff.”

A more general version of the service downloadable from the Web will also work on older phones but will not be tailored to those phones’ specifications. Boerries demonstrated it on an old Sony Ericsson model.

Boerries said last year’s on-again off-again talks with would-be buyer Microsoft had not significantly distracted his team, and said he had kept his key staff together for years.

After some prior delays in introducing services such as Yahoo Go, Boerries professed relief that his fuller vision of putting the Web on phones had arrived on time: “It is really, for me, making it all come together.”

“This is like the uber-replacement of Yahoo Go.”