The mobile web will stay with us for a while

The mobile web will stay with us for a while

This is a guest post by mobile marketeer Peter Evers

Mobile Web N70After Russell Beattie’s post about the end of Mowser, a mobile transcoder, last Monday, a lot of bloggers reacted fiercely on his controversial viewpoints about the end of the mobile web. As a mobile marketing professional I feel kind of obliged to write about my view on the future of the mobile web.

Let’s start with a short recap about what happened this week. On Monday Russell Beattie, founder of Mowser, an application that transcodes normal websites to mobile websites, announced that Mowser has stopped. In this very personal article Russell came up with different reasons for the end of Mowser, such as lack of funding and personal debts but mostly Russell’s lack of confidence in the future of the mobile web. Russell states:

…I don’t actually believe in the ‘Mobile Web’ anymore, and therefore am less inclined to spend time and effort in a market I think is limited at best, and dying at worst. I’m talking specifically about sites that are geared 100% towards mobile phones and have little to no PC web presence. Two years ago I was convinced that the mobile web would continue to evolve in the West to mimic what was happening in countries like Japan and Korea, but it hasn’t happened, and now I’m sure it isn’t going to. In other words, I think anyone currently developing sites using XHTML-MP markup, no Javascript, geared towards cellular connections and two inch screens are simply wasting their time, and I’m tired of wasting my time…

With this kind of powerful expressions, the commotion he caused in the blogosphere doesn’t come as a surprise. Almost every mobile blog I’m subscribed to wrote about it. Especially the articles at MobHappy, MobileMarketingWatch and were worth reading, But what is Russell actually saying? If you read his text carefully you might have understood that the thing he isn’t confident about is browsing mobile-only websites on two-inch screens.

I can say that I don’t believe in mobile-only websites with no or little PC presence too. If a website is only visible on a phone and not or hardly available on a PC, people probably will not know about its presence. The reasons are that I don’t think mobile search is widely used and I guess that mobile-only sites will not start their own mobile advertising campaigns to gain visitors. Besides, if the site is found, people will not bookmark it or subscribe to it, simply because people don’t bookmark or subscribe to sites on their phone. So how will a mobile-only website ever gain readers? The only way is that people simply remember their URL and spontaneously visit the site once in a while.

Though I have to make one exception. If a mobile-only website supports a mobile application that is installed on the phone, it might have its right to exist. But still, the application will be central and the mobile website will be play a secundary role.

The situation changes when the screen gets bigger and the technology gets more advanced. Smartphone and iPhone users will probably bookmark more and even subscribe to their favorite sites. These phones can even give you the ‘real thing’, but that’s where my doubts come in. Whenever I acces the real internet on a smartphone or iPhone it simply takes too long. The connection speed is just not fast enough. And although I’m not a mobile technician, I think it will take a couple of years before cellular data connections are comparable to the PC internet connection we’re used to nowadays. A mobile website as an extension for a regular website is a proper solution for this problem. It gives you the same information without much hassle and a minimal waiting time. The only thing that’s different is the minimal experience, but your experience will be much worse when you’ll have to wait twenty seconds after every click on a regular website accessed from a phone. That’s why I decided to install Alex King’s WordPress Mobile Plug-in on my personal blog. It looks a lot less flashy on a phone, but is fully accessible, readable and loads faster than the full version.

In the aftermath of Russell’s article I also read an interesting article by Alexander van Elsas, titled “Forget about mobile web browsing, think interaction!” which kind of explains the whole point made by Alexander. Alexander writes:

…I have never really believed in a mobile web. But I also believe that current mobile thinking is often dominated by two things, technical capabilities and bringing web services to the mobile. But these things aren’t of any value to me. (…) When it comes to using a mobile phone I have different needs. Needs that aren’t exactly the same as I have on the web, sitting behind a computer. The mobile phone is by all means my remote control of life. It is primarily an interaction device. I call and SMS with it. I also take pictures, upload them, and sometimes I use it for e-mail. The only time I use it for web browsing is when I need to pass some time…

I agree that the mobile phone is primarily an interaction device and that the mobile web should allow even more interaction than the regular web already does. The mobile web should efficiently interact with the typical interaction functionalities that our phone offers us. But to become widely used by people such as our mothers (isn’t she always the one we keep in mind whenever we develop something?), I think it’s important that there’s a certain transition period. In this period it’s better to copy the old and well-known than start with a whole new thing.

It also happened when TV became popular. The earliest television content was made out of plays, straight from the theatre. The earliest websites were static like newspapers and the earliest mobile internet sites are like regular websites. In all these cases the specific features of the new medium came in after a transition period. I think people need this period to become familiar with a new medium. They need to understand the new logic first to integrate the new medium in their daily life. Advertisers mostly react on statistics, and great statistics will only come with wide usage. So this transition period is also necessary to convince advertisers of the power of the new medium. As we are innovators, new media professionals like to skip this period because we already know how the new medium can fulfill its potential. But I think we can’t.

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