This Just In: The Mobile Web Isn't the PC Web


[qi:004] Disappointment in the user experience on the mobile web is ramping up nearly as quickly as traffic itself, according to an Equation Research study that will be released Monday. The survey — which was commissioned by Gomez, a developer of software for Internet publishers and as such, a company with a dog in this hunt — indicates the U.S. mobile web audience grew 34 percent from July 2008 to July 2009. But two-thirds of those users reported having trouble when trying to access web content on their phone, and more than 80 percent said they’d use the mobile Internet more if the experience was as fast and reliable as it is on PCs.

Given the unwillingness of many Internet publishers to invest in taking their content mobile, and a consumer population that often wants the mobile web experience to mirror that of the traditional Internet, such frustrations make sense. Yankee Group recently gave passing grades to only four of 27 mobile web sites it studied (GigaOM Pro, sub. required), and reported that the average score in its annual survey was actually down two points from last year. Part of the problem lies in the design of mobile web sites, but another reason is that wireless networks can’t beat the speeds and consistency that wireline networks offer.

Meanwhile, it isn’t just consumers who are frustrated with the mobile web; operators are facing challenges from it, too. Airvana this week released data indicating that one smartphone typically generates eight times the network signaling load of a USB modem-equipped laptop — turning the idea that mobile laptop users are driving most of the network congestion on its head. Laptops may consume more data and bandwidth, but smartphones are apparently spending more time talking to the network, highlighting the difficulty network operators face when delivering the Internet to wireless smartphone users.

User experience concerns often get lost in the all the hype over the iPhone and its impressive Safari browser. But while smartphones continue to gain traction, Apple and Research In Motion combined to account for just 3 percent of the overall global handset market last year, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Brian Modoff. Mobile browsers like Opera’s Mini do a credible job of making Internet content easier to consume on the low- and mid-range handsets used by most consumers, but Equation Research’s study once again confirms that publishers — and nearly every other segment in wireless — have a long way to go when it comes to bridging the gap between phones and the web.


Dominic Endicott

As Chairman of MobileAware, I also have a dog in this hunt, since we focus on mobile web enablement. We have consistently seen that “ergonomically” designed mobile experiences (i.e. attuned to what matters to the user and focused on solving specific tasks on the mobile phone) drive adoption rates in the 20-40% ranges and substantial increases in user satisfaction. All the data suggests that consumers are screaming for satisfaction on the mobile and they are not getting it. Solving this problem is complex due to device diversity and to the necessity to RETHINK the logic of what matters when you are on the mobile Internet (typically 10% of the full web is relevant and the rest should be way in the background while that 10% should be reorganized for ultra-low input requirements and minimum latency).


Ahh, reality colliding with hype. You really ought to stop including the i-am-an-overhyped-feature-Phone, in the smartphone category, it gives the smartphone a bad name. Safari browser, impressive? Colin, met the Skyfire browser, not available on the iPhone, and don’t use it on AT&T. All those iPhone featurephone users are clogging that network.


how about those optimize-webpage-on- the-fly-for-mobile-delivery efforts like skyfire et al?


What Brian Modoff fails to detail is traffic by handset. Certainly WAP is wonderful for every device, but building sites for “popular” handsets and smartphones may provide a better return on investment. I certainly believe this and am operating in that mode. There will be sites such as search that need to be accessible and there will be sites, such as catalogs that simply never will provide a positive experience.

At Mobile Monday in Chicago this past January, Sears discussed the roll out of Sears 2 Go, and most of the sales where on the iPhone (80%), so it made sense to optimize a profile and create a specialized app. If a customer is in that market, would I recommend creating a WAP site? No! I’d recommend going for the 80% who will make a purchase. If the client were a municipality, I would suggest mobile WAP, that is tested across most browsers.

There is a long way to go, but focusing on the markets that are nearly there — smartphones — makes sense, even if most of the earth is relegated to second class citizens.

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