I have been wondering why the promise of Mobile Internet has not been fulfilled yet, while at the same time new startups are popping up to get into this (very lucrative) market. Don’t get me wrong, the number of mobile Internet users is growing steadily, but I am more looking at it from a mass adoption point of view. There are loads of people trying it out, but far less use it on a regular basis in their (mobile) lives. There has already been published a lot about this topic. Michael Arrington just wrote a nice article on mobile social networking on TechCrunch. I think there are several major inhibitors for a massive breakthrough:
- There aren’t that many really useful services that really enforce mobile Internet into the lives of mobile users. Yes there are many “cool” services around, but let’s face it. Most of these services are used by techies (nothing wrong with that btw), or obtain a lot of media attention because of the technologies used. I don’t think there are many mobile Internet services that appeal to the mass yet. Yeah, location based services are cool, but I am not so sure if it is the user that finds it useful , or the startup that provides the service. It seems to wear off after the initial excitement. And I can’t help to notice that children in the age of my oldest daughter (yes, they all have a mobile phone) have an intuitive grasp where their friends hang out. SMS is much more functional to them for now, but who knows. Physical dating still rules over virtual dating.
- Mobile devices don’t deliver technically yet what is needed. I use a Nokia N95. I am perfectly happy with it, but if I ask my wife or any of my friends to go to the Internet with it, they probably won’t accomplish it without at least some help. Come to think of it, this is as much a UI issue. I do think that the Apple iPhone is a real step forward here.
- The mobile Internet interface is not nearly as flexible, intuitive and usable as the Internet browser and a mouse is on a PC. There is the problem of small screens that cannot display enough content and provide the same user experience that a user is already accustomed to using a PC screen (19 inch or higher nowadays). Inputting information remains a hassle unless you have a keyboard. The downloading or uploading of content is still slow and difficult to do, although I can’t complain too much about speed when near a Wifi or HSDPA signal
- The cost is high for a large adoption in the market. You need high end (expensive) handsets like the Nokia N95 or Apple iPhone and transferring data is still pretty expensive. See this nice article earlier this year by Guy Anker on the subject.
- And last but not least. I think there might be a psychological barrier for users to download all kinds of new applications onto their mobile phone. It is the most personal device for any user and they won’t put any software on it unless the source is trusted by the user
Users really need a compelling reason to start integrating mobile Internet usage into their regular patterns. Unless the industry starts addressing all the issues above it Will still be a long and slow growth path.
My personal opinion is that the real mass adaptation will start from the Internet, not on the mobile phone. Start with adding simple mobile services to the most successful Internet services. Help the user with the first steps onto the mobile Internet by services like up/downloading of messages/pictures to the Internet and phone and forwarding them to their friends. I can’t wait to get my hands on simple mobile sharing services to enrich the SMS experience with audio, video and pictures. Then, gradually increase the functionalities to contain browsing, search, location based services and social networking capabilities.
What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic here? Have some of these barriers been resolved already, have I missed any? Are there examples where mass adoption is already taking place (outside of Japan!)?