Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mobile Web: So Close Yet So Far

Smart phones not ready for prime time ...

"On the surface, the mobile Web is a happening place. There’s the iPhone in all its glory. More than 30 companies have signed up for the Open Handset Alliance from Google, which aims to bring the wide-open development environment of the Internet to mobile devices. Nokia, which owns nearly 40 percent of the world market for cellphones, is snapping up Web technology companies and has made an eye-popping $8.1 billion bid for Navteq, a digital mapping service. There are also the requisite start-ups chasing the market.

It all looks good, but the wireless communications business smacks of a soap opera, with disaster lurking like your next dropped call.

In 2000, the wireless application protocol was supposed to bring the Internet to the cellphone. Our hero turned out to be a flash in the pan. That was attributed to a lack of high-speed cellular data networks, so a frenzied and costly effort to build third-generation, or 3G, networks ensued. But at a recent conference, 3G was called “a failure” by Caroline Gabriel, an analyst at Rethink Research. She said data would make up only 12 percent of average revenue per user in 2007, far below the expected 50 percent. (The 12 percent figure does not include text messaging, but you don’t need a 3G network to send a text message.)

Similarly, surveys by Yankee Group, a Boston research firm, show that only 13 percent of cellphone users in North America use their phones to surf the Web more than once a month, while 70 percent of computer users view Web sites every day.

“The user experience has been a disaster,” says Tony Davis, managing partner of Brightspark, a Toronto venture capital firm that has invested in two mobile Web companies.

While many phones have some form of Web access, most are hard to use — just finding a place to type in a Web address can be a challenge. And once you find it, most Web content doesn’t look very good on cellphone screens."    (Continued via New York Times)    [Usability Resources]

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