Mobile Web Dead?

Former Yahoo! Mobile evangelist turned startup entrepreneur Russell Beattie announced today that he’s calling it quits for his company Mowser because the market for mobile browsing is taking a fast turn for the worse. “The mobile traffic just isn’t there,” Beattie says, “It’s not there now, and it won’t be.”

[From Is the Mobile Web Dead? Some Mobile Entrepreneurs Say Yes – ReadWriteWeb]

Carriers have destructive power, mobile devices are restrictive, diversity of devices force considerable porting cost on developers, and lastly, users want a richer experience. Is mobile web dead? That question suggests that it was once alive.

The mobile browser on my iPhone is about as good as they come but on EDGE it’s slooooowwwwww. Even on wifi I rarely use it because I just don’t get enough of a bang out of mobile web apps and typing on the virtual keyboard is laborious.

Stop the insanity! The mass market does not use the mobile web as a regular mode of interacting with the bigger web! If they did we would be seeing traffic numbers growing and application developers moving to the mobile web.

M:Metrics reports that an impressive number of iPhone users have used mobile web features, but what is the sample size polled and did they distinguish between “have used” and “use regularly”? I’ve used my iPhone for all of the reasons M:Metrics reports but only occasionally, usually for looking up phone numbers and addresses (Google maps is rather handy). Obviously my experience is not unique, Gabe Rivera is reporting that mobile Techmeme is less than 1% of his traffic.


23 thoughts on Mobile Web Dead?

  1. I use my mobile browsers, on BlackBerry and Nokia N95, a LOT. On my N95, I have image loading disabled to speed things up (the Symbian browser is much slower than it should be). What next, then?

  2. While I know I am not the typical web user, I use the mobile web quite a bit and on a Blackberry for that matter. Do I do full blown web usage on it? no.

    But I use mobile apps such as Google Maps, GMail as well as few others (recently been checking out the Paid Content app). And I use the web browser for things such as FriendFeed widget, Twitter and search.

    While would love 3G connectivity, the convenience of anywhere/anytime access is something that is a benefit I believe outweighs speed. Just my thoughts…

  3. Jackie and Lou, I think I know you both well enough to suggest that you are prototypical early adopters willing to tolerate less than optimal experiences that mainstream users would reject.

  4. Sure, Jeff. But surely we’re not the only ones who want a good browsing solution for when we’re away from the PC. I mean, I’d be surprised if we were…

  5. but that’s my point, for the vast majority of the market a mobile web browser is not a good experience. It’s tolerable at best.

    Opera Mini is a nice mobile browser but it’s only as good as the device it’s on and that is where many of my complaints about the mobile web begin.

  6. Yeah, but surely that means there’s an opportunity for a lean, fast, aesthetically pleasing mobile browser. Unless I’m missing something, which I may be.

    Also, Google and other web giants are betting big on mobile search. Are they wrong, too?

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  8. mobile search is a good example of the “transactional web” and I think it works okay, in fact I use it frequently for phone numbers and addresses. But that’s a pretty narrow use case for “the mobile web” to be predicated on.

    I’m skeptical of any potential opportunity until the carriers lock on the market is loosened and devices dramatically improve.

  9. I think that people are less likely to use mobile sites that they don’t normally use. While the mobile web is growing and will continue to, your average user isn’t going to stray far from established usage patterns. My own experience with the mobile web ended similarly (, but I kept my day job so I was able to walk away.

  10. Jeff,

    I will disagree with you.

    Here is how I use mobile web today and have been for the last few years.

    1. Internet radio from while the phone is plugged into my in-car audio system.
    2. Google maps mobile.
    3. Reading various mobile-friendly websites.
    4. Mobile search.
    5. Mobile movie reviews and showtimes.
    6. Mobile CRM.
    7. XML Feeds.

    Remember AvantGo? I’d been using that service on Palm platform since the days of Palm III.

    I teach people how to use Windows Mobile devices, but once they realize the power of what they have, they learn very quickly.

    It’s really a case of insufficient user education. We don’t really have a carrier lock-in on the Windows Mobile platform.

  11. I don’t think you should have to “educate” users in order to have a hit on your hands. Indeed, it needs to be so easy that little or no guidance is necessary. (As popular as blogs are, I still think the existing tools make blogging more difficult than it need be. I think uptake would be even greater if it wasn’t such a hassle.)

    Jeff, I agree with you about carrier lock-in. In fact, my wish for 2008 is for it to be the year of carrier implosion: mobile and airlines. Fingers crossed.

  12. “The mass market does not use the mobile web as a regular mode of interacting with the bigger web!”

    That’s the key part. Everyone is rushing to replicate the web on phones, which I don’t believe is the right answer in the majority of cases. The mobile web experience should be unique and tailored to mobile.

  13. Is the mobile web dead? No, it just really hasn’t been born yet.

    I see the mobile device as just another Internet appliance which extends the desktop experience in some cases (for example, I tweet and read RSS from my mobile) AND provides new experiences in other cases (for example, I can take pictures and push to Flickr and I can use my GPS to navigate). My mobile device is essential to my online presence and daily routine. As an early adopter, I have embraced an instance of “my mobile web”.

    But, this only works for me because I am a power user, can write mobile apps to do what I need, and I can also route around the barriers that exist today. For most others, the mobile web experience can pretty much suck.

    You hit the nail on the head with this quote, “Carriers have destructive power, mobile devices are restrictive, diversity of devices force considerable porting cost on developers, and lastly, users want a richer experience”.

    But the fact of the matter is that someday the mobile device will be an essential tool in everyone’s arsenal. Knowledge is power and knowledge on the go is power on the go which is double goodness for a society on the move! We just need to eliminate or improve the areas you have identified. When that happens and the mobile device is just a small yet powerful Internet appliance in your pocket, the web on tiny devices will be born.

  14. I was thinking about this today so more. I don’t want a phone that has a PC experience, I want a super portable PC that has communication capabilities.

  15. Isn’t this very US centric? I haven’t spent enough time in the Pacific rim but reading anecdotal evidence from there suggests that the mobile web is far from dead. I agree that the US has attained “laggard” status but this due to the carrier monopoly in the US but we will eventually catch up. The Pacific Rim has always led in technology adoption, what is telling you that this is no longer the case?

  16. This is a fair point Dan, but I would be careful about differentiating between the “mobile web” and “mobile services”. My experience in Asia and Europe has left me with the observation that these carriers have been much more aggressive about developing mobile services independent of a browser and that they have also enabled a 3rd party ecosystem of developers who build to the networks, something U.S. carriers are still reluctant to do broadly.

    DoCoMo’s i-Mode is a great example and they have 46 million users.

  17. I doubt that any variation on the current form factor of mobile devices will ever support “browsing” for mainstream users (regardless of bandwidth). Viewing headlines, scores, maps, searches, blogs, etc… that’s OK. One has to be pretty hardcore to follow links around like one does on a full-screen browser.

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  19. IMHO, non-browser web apps are the answer to this problem. Yes, browsing on my Berry 8800 is ugly and slow on EDGE. I tolerate it when I’m feeling patient, but in truth I cancel out of page loads as often as not. I installed a mobile template on my own WordPress blog just to make reading it on-the-go tolerable.

    OTOH, Facebook’s custom app for my Berry works great, as does Google Maps. If my bank/credit card provider offered custom apps so that I could check my balances, make payments, etc., I’d use them regularly.

  20. custom app development is a serious time sink because of device proliferation and unique requirements that each device have, even when running a common OS.

  21. Well folks All I can say is that I do everything on my Nokia 6300 including emails sending and receiving only thru Opera Mini browser. The t-mobile server’s web’n’walk is a disaster in my phone. Everything relies on my free download of Opera Mini to browse the internet. Reading newspapers around the world etc. John Dedman

  22. My Nokia 6300 is now back at the t-mobile factory for repairs for the next three weeks. I would like to know if any of these browsers work like web’n’walk Orange World etc. I’ve tried them all and end up back with Opera Mini 3. Please send a reply if you know anything about all this shambles. Regards and Best Wishes John Dedman London England

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