Screen shot 2009 12 27 at 18.56.58 300x222 Its nearly 2010, why is the mobile web still so frustrating?2009 was the year that mobile data finally started to matter for mainstream consumers. So, why did it take me 30 minutes to buy one cinema ticket using my phone’s browser yesterday?

Yes, despite resisting the hype thus far, I finally submitted and decided to book a ticket to catch Avatar in IMAX 3D. The problem was that I was away from home visiting family. Whipping out my laptop would be frowned upon as anti-social but spending five minutes fiddling with my phone to sort out the ticket would be okay.

If I had known that the process would take half an hour I might not have bothered.

An epic tale of frustration and pain

I started where most people probably would, Google. Typing in “Avatar 3D IMAX Manchester” I was instantly fed times for my local IMAX cinema’s screenings of the film. A good start, but unfortunately Google doesn’t give a direct link to buy a ticket for a screening. Instead, all you can do from here is click a link that shows all your chosen cinema’s showtimes complete with a phone number to call.

Yes, in 2009 – a phone number. Aren’t we supposed to be able to do everything quickly and easily via the mobile web? Why hasn’t Google done a deal with major cinema chains to be able to buy tickets via Google Checkout directly with one click? If that’s too much then surely a link to the cinema’s online ticket booking service wouldn’t be too much?

Instead it was back to searching. This time I searched for my chosen cinema directly. No problem there – I’m straight through to Odeon Manchester’s page. Brilliant!

The problem this time? Odeon doesn’t have a mobile-optimised site, in fact it has a Flash-powered site; not exactly mobile-friendly. Despite my HTC Hero (kind of) supporting Flash I opted to switch over the the HTML-only version of the ticket ordering process.

Odeon hasn’t optimised this for the mobile phones either, so I then spent a further fifteen minutes scrolling the screen left and right as I completed the seven-step process to buying a single £8.50 cinema ticket for a film I’m not even sure I’m going to like.

It doesn’t have to be this way

One of the great things about the mobile web is its ability to convert a spontaneous idea into a sale. I thought “Maybe I will see Avatar after all” and I should have been able to convert that into a booking within a couple of minutes. If I wasn’t a stubborn tech blogger curious to see just how long the process would take I’d have given up.

The iPhone app Fandango is reportedly great for booking cinema tickets but it only works in the USA. Elsewhere you’re stuck with simply viewing screening times. There are a handful of movie times apps in the UK iPhone app store and only one in the Android Market… and that’s only for Australian cinemas.

To concentrate on apps would be the wrong approach though; with a wide variety of phones at vast range of pricepoints all featuring a browser major cinema chains should be building mobile capable versions of their websites.

The prize so far goes to Cineworld, the only major UK chain to have easy and quick ticket booking on a mobile-optimised website. It’s simple, logical, quick and easy. You still have card details to fill in but it all takes place on one screen and within a couple of minutes you can pick a cinema, pick a film at a suitable time and book a ticket.

Other chains should take a leaf out of Cineworld’s book. Hopefully 2010 will see some real progress in turning our impulsive ideas into sales via a quick and easy mobile web.