Mobile phones could soon use widgets, or small web apps, to supply useful information directly to the screen on their handset, if plans developed by Japanese firm Access come to fruition.

Access, the company behind the NetFront browser that is used in hundreds of phones on sale worldwide, has developed a widget system for the latest version of the browser and will demonstrate it next week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Much like those on Apple's Mac OS X or Windows Vista, the NetFront widgets can provide updated weather information, news headlines, YouTube favourites, local maps and photo feeds from websites.

The intention is that users will be able to download widgets for sites such as Google Maps, YouTube and Wikipedia so those sites become services available directly from the desktop. In the case of some sites, say an auction site where prices change all the time, the widget will be able to provide constantly updated information to the desktop so the user doesn't have to go through a browser to the website.

The widgets can be kept minimised at the bottom of the screen or placed on the desktop, where they appear as small boxes showing just a few highlights of the information they contain. Click on the boxes and they expand to full screen and their entire contents can be accessed.

In a demonstration the minimised weather widget showed a symbol for the sun - the current weather conditions at the time. When placed on the desktop it added the current conditions - 'clear' - and the temperature and when fully expanded a three-day forecast was provided.

The news widget displayed just five headlines on the desktop but expanded to show more news and the full text of each story while the video widget on the desktop had a screenshot from a single video and expanded to show details of the video and related content.

In addition to linking up with data stored on the network the widgets framework also supports communication with parts of the phone hardware, like the camera, GPS chip or email client.

Access has developed the widget framework for NetFront 3.5, the latest version of its browser. The software isn't in any products available to consumers but is on its way. Access said it has already released NetFront 3.5 to partners and products are coming. It has also had interest on the widgets from partners but wouldn't identify them.

On Monday Access will begin offering a preview of NetFront 3.5 intended for software developers. The software runs on Windows Mobile.

The NetFront browser has been fitted in 1,349 different products to date including cell phones, televisions, set-top boxes and PDAs. On Thursday Access said more than 544 million copies of the browser have been installed on such products.

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