I read this article (apparently I was late to the blogosphere party on this one) Mobile Web: So Close Yet So Far – New York Times in the Sunday NYT and I wasn’t really sure why this was news. As far as I can tell, the basic thrust of the article is that the mobile web experience for customers is pretty awful due to high prices and poor user experience.
The “low hanging fruit” is making mobile versions of popular web applications for the top smartphone platforms. I think the way to get traction in the United States on mobile phones today is to build specialized versions of popular web applications for the big 3 platforms – Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and the iPhone. Gmail, Google Maps, Yahoo to Go, and Facebook have all done this successfully. While the absolute number of users on these platforms is low, the folks who are on them are early adopters and are generally open to using new things. I could be convinced this is not the case, but it’s what I think.
In the United States, the mobile web is likely to continue to be about specialized applications and optimized sites rather than general web browsing. Unless someone builds the ultimate transcoder that can take any page from web to mobile seamlessly, I just don’t see a strong case for mobile browsing. If you can get a page to load over a decent-speed network, having it load in a non-navigable fashion is a really disappointing experience. If you’re going to wait for a page to load over a modest-speed network, it had better render properly and be navigable.
I am really surprised that so many articles such as this one focus on the technical and business impediments like data plans and slow networks. These things are very real, but I think the big issue for mass market adoption is really user experience and user interface. If mobile web experiences were cheaper and faster, I suppose people would be more willing to tolerate the poor state of affairs if you don’t have a QWERTY keyboard on your device. But if the interface paradigm were better, perhaps people would think differently about the price and speed issues endemic in the domestic mobile web.