The Second Coming of the Mobile Web

17 Comments

With new browser-happy phones like the iPhone and the Nokia S60 lineup, there are some who believe that the mobile web is ready for its proverbial second coming. Martin Sauter on his blog explains that while fixed Internet had nearly a decade to mature before going mainstream, mobile web was thrown into the deep end right from the get-go. The browsers, content and connections were pre-mature for mass market, he argues.

Anyway with 3G networks in place, new devices on the shelves and popular web sites like Facebook and MySpace offering mobile optimized versions, it seems like that the mobile web will finally have its day in the sun. I think the key difference would be that content providers have to treat the mobile web experience differently from their fixed Internet experience. For instance, the iPhone Digg is much different (and frankly better) than its beefier counterpart. What do you think?

17 Comments

Mansion House Florists

some people use the mobile version of the yell.com to view services like florists on the move. If a technology could be developed so that it automatically converts websites on the fly to wap format so that smaller companies dont have to host wap versions also of their webpages. It has to be easy to navigate though.

Dimitrios Matsoulis

Hi Om,

The human body and small screens are not best friends when it comes to the web. Also designing the same pages for PC and mobile usage would probably put off lots of people because of the extra work and considerations. I do not know, UMPCs sound like a good idea to me. Or if the Nokia N810 was a telephone at the same time I would definitely give it a try…

Shakir Razak

Hi Om,

I think most people got distracted by both the dot.bomb and Web 2.0;

While it will need user-centred access and contextualised interfaces; In the long-term the answer is already within the N95 -with its TV-out and Bluetoth keypad; but in the future, just as every phone now has a camera, they will also have projectors to give us direct immediate larger displays!!!

Yours kindly,

Shakir Razak

shashi bellamkonda

Om,

I agree that the mobile web experience differently from the fixed Internet experience. On the mobile browser you are looking for a quick way to get to the content. I use mobile versions of Facebook, Twitter all the time. Network solutions launched a mobile website creator for Small Business and novices who want to have a mobile web presence at Buildmymobi.com. The idea is that Restaurants, florists, real estate agents , service providers and other small business can have a level playing field on phone browsers along side the directory that the cell phone companies provide.

Alexander van Elsas

Hi Om, I think that technically a lot of the barriers are breaking down with bigger screens (even though they remain small), Wifi and HDSPA integrated for fast broadband access. But the user experience needs rethinking as well. Even the iPhone with it’s incredible touch screen is still based upon browsing the web as you would do so on a PC. Rebuilding the web for mobile isn’t a good option either as it leaves teh complexity at the user(do I go to http://www.flickr.com or m.flickr.com).
In my opinion we need a revolution in mobile phone UI thinking. A revolution that puts the user and his intentions central in user interface development. We need to understand what users do with their mobile phones. We shouldn’t be thinking in terms of releasing technical functionalities with nice graphical interfaces. We need to think in terms of the remote control of life, supporting the user in his interaction needs. If we let go of the current UI and browsing paradigms who knows what becomes possible. Let’s not rebuild the entire web to make it mobile, let’s not even come up with even better alternatives for the iPhone touch screen. Let’s first think about what the user wants to do with his phone, and then come up with an interface and a mobile web concept that supports his actions, regardless of the technology.
If interested I wrote about that earlier:
http://vanelsas.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/we-need-a-revolution-in-mobile-ui-thinking/

michaelportent

The long and short of it is just that people making websites are not concerned with web standards as much as they should be. They make a site that looks good in IE and feign ignorance that people are using IE-alternatives and phone browser more and more.

Seeing as we’re going to be hard-pressed to get any major websites to change for cell phone users’ sake, it’s gonna be the in the cell phone manufacturers’ court to make mobile browsers that interpret pages just like a computer’s browser would (i.e. iPhone’s Safari, etc.).

Curtis

Om,

The mobile web experience is indeed different ergonomically. This fact combined with confusing data pricing from the carriers have prevented mass adoption of the mobile web. MySpace and Facebook have influenced an emerging sea trend in mobile web usage, but market forces driven by mobile music, mobile video, unlocked cell phones, and open development access are truely having the greatest impact.

We’re beginning to see the emergence of many “pure mobile” media companies that have designed their products for consumption on the go. As such, the mobile web is beginning to get its’ own legs, which is now showing in the growth in data service usage that the carriers are reporting.

Note that this pattern is remarkably similiar to the growth and adoption pattern that the video game industry experienced in the early 90’s when the mobile gaming platforms (Nintendo Gameboy, Sega Gamegear, numerous others) were introduced. We (at Sega) quickly learned that we could not simply port a game title to work on the go, but that the game needed to fundamentally change to accomodate mobility. When we (Nintendo & Sega) made these ergonomic adjustments, the category exploded.

As such, I expect the mobile web to mirror mobile gaming in this regard.

CPinto

“You’re not browsing the mobile web to kill time, you’re doing it to get a specific piece of information.”

I’m sorry Erik, but that isn’t entirely true. I mean, yes, currently you mostly go online on your mobile to get a specific piece of information because data access is expensive. When mobile data gets cheaper people will go online to kill time (e.g. waiting for the bus/train/subway, waiting for someone else, etc.).

The JetBlue website, although useful, totally reminds me of WAP, back in 99/2000. It doesn’t even link the phone numbers so that you can quickly dial one of them (http://mobile.jetblue.com/contactus.aspx). I’d say it’s not the best example out there of what you’d want the mobile web to become.

RAFENO

On move, users are expecting relevant, contextual and straight forward content not at all very comprehensive like they are sitting upfront their laptops. So the issue is not the quality of the mobile browser. Content should be adapted to people needs on move.

So, mobile services and content providers have to cope with all bearers available (SMS, Wap Push, Click-to-Talk etc…) for being successful. If you wanna just give access to users through a ‘web-to-mobile’ copy interface, you’ll fail for sure. Look at key european and asian succesfull services and you will understand.

The main issue is that these services aren’t scalable to embrace the world-wide marke, they have to be adapted to each region (even to each country) and that’s why it will be still a bulk of niche markets.

Luis

I dont think its a screen size problem at all anymore and Erik’s point is part of the solution. It is really interesting when you talk to mobile developers in Asia and hear what they are concerned with on the user experience vrs our developers here, (i.e.) load times and packet sizes (your competitor can be faster delivering the same information). Its a whole host of issues that we have never had to think about since our experience was bourn out from a different platform.

I do not believe we are at that level yet and wont be for another year. Yes there is a huge opportunity for those who know how to tap into that new mobile experience and thinks how best to optimize and use the real estate on an iPhone for example without having to repurpose the current website created for a desktop.

Kalv

Interesting topic. I too think a new wave of applications are going to hit the mobile world and I think they will succeed more than the attempt from the GPRS/WAP era.

The one question I am asking to projects I am working on is “Would you do that on your mobile?” or would you “Just wait to get home and look through/do it then”. It is going to be key for services and products to adapt to a mobile user, so that it is quick, easy to navigate, lightweight and importantly visible.

The mobile has always had the character of being a device for communication, with thanks to adverts showing google on mobile phones and the iphone this perception is changing. Very Exciting.

Erik

Om, I totally agree. But what we’re really talking about is a parallel web designed for mobile devices (despite what the Apple commercials tell us).

And it’s not just visual design, it’s optimizing content for consumers on the go. You’re not browsing the mobile web to kill time, you’re doing it to get a specific piece of information.

http://mobile.jetblue.com/ is a perfect example.

Om Malik

Erik

while I agree with you on the screen sizes, I think what is needed is a clever rethinking of the mobile web. i.e. bringing web to mobiles in a format that is optimized for the mobile user experience. I think Google Apps on blackberry are a great example of what I have in mind. If you could get similar functionality through a browser, things could get really interesting.

Erik

The problem with the mobile web is the screens are too small. Even on the iPhone, which has a large (for a phone) screen, and the innovative multitouch interface, the web experience is pretty poor.

It’s like reading the newspaper through a toilet paper tube.

Rick

Om, I really think (here in the US anyway) that we’re still awaiting the first coming. IMO, 3G speeds are a start but Wimax or HSPA/UMA will bring in the “Second Coming”.

Kind of like Christmas, we celebrate the first coming of the Christ. Can’t wait until the Second Coming.

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