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.