I read a blog post by Russell Beattie this morning in which he announced the end of Mowser, a mobile web browser Russel has developed. He talks in a very personal way about his experiences witht he mobile web. According to Russell, the mobile web has never existed:
The argument up to now has been simply that there are roughly 3 billion phones out there, and that when these phones get on the Internet, their vast numbers will outweigh PCs and tilt the market towards mobile as the primary web device. The problem is that these billions of users *haven’t* gotten on the Internet, and they won’t until the experience is better and access to the web is barrier-free – and that means better devices and “full browsers”. Let’s face it, you really aren’t going to spend any real time or effort browsing the web on your mobile phone unless you’re using Opera Mini, or have a smart phone with a decent browser – as any other option is a waste of time, effort and money. Users recognize this, and have made it very clear they won’t be using the “Mobile Web” as a substitute for better browsers, rather they’ll just stay away completely.
And to top that off he says:
Let me say that again clearly, the mobile traffic just isn’t there. It’s not there now, and it won’t be.
In his opinion services need a web presence in order to become succesful on mobile. You need better devices and full browsers. Read the article, Russell has taken the time to write a personal story, it’s good reading.
Russell isn’t the first one that had to stop efforts to become successful in the mobile web. I wrote a post a while back, called “The Mobile Web Experience needs fundamental rethinking”. The trigger of that post was an article by a mobile expert Michael Mace, who declared mobile web applications dead.
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. I currently use a Nokia N95 as my mobile phone. It has tremendous technical capabilities, Wifi, GPRS, UMTS, HSDPA (unlike the iPhone). So it has the speed to surf comfortably and it also allows full web browsing. But I don’t use it for web browsing that often. the reason for that is simple. 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, waiting for a meeting, doctors appointment, at the airport, whatever. The experience always sucks. Sites load to slow, full site browsing is cumbersome, inputting information is a hell of an experience. And lets not discuss the cost of browsing. Mobile operators run the most successful walled garden services worldwide. They make a great living out of it and because of the walls being so high it costs us users a fortune to fire up that HSDPA connection and start surfing.
Now you could argue that the iPhone has changed all of that. I have a few doubts about that. the iPhone has done a great job in setting new standards for usability. Studies show that iPhone users are web browsing more often than other mobile users. While that is true the iPhone’s major improvement is the touch screen and some really cool UI inventions. But the iPhone isn’t fundamentally changing the mobile web experience. It’s a cool device with a great UI. It has been designed to provide us with a web experience that might become close to the experience we have sitting behind a laptop.
But I don’t want that experience. If I do, I’ll fire up my laptop. I want to be able to get the maximum out of my mobile as an interaction device. That the thing that needs fundamental rethinking. People don’t want to sur f the web, they want to interact. Just count the number of calls and SMS’s from mobile phones. There is no web surfing traffic that could ever match that in terms of revenues, minutes of use, or nr of messages.
In a previous article I summed up my wishes:
But I do need every innovative service that allows me to interact with my family and friends. It contains my most important address book. It allows me to send and receive messages, I can call and talk to people, and in the future I can see other people on it too. I can capture images and video with it and I might want to share those immediately with my family and friends. I want to know what the people I follow closely are doing and I want to be able to reach one or many of them without any effort on my side. I want to see all messages addressed to me or messages the people I follow find important enough to share, no matter if it is SMS, e-mail, a Tweet, IM, whatever. Sure, I listen to music on it, I surf the web every once in a while, and I even sometimes watch some video or TV on it. But not nearly as often as I interact with others on it! Once we get the interaction right, we might start thinking about other services like identification or buying and selling of stuff. But interaction comes first, always.
In my opinion we need a revolution in mobile phone UI thinking. A revolution that puts the user and his intentions central in user interface development. We need to understand what users do with their mobile phones. We shouldn’t be thinking in terms of releasing technical functionalities with nice graphical interfaces. We need to think in terms of the remote control of life, supporting the user in his interaction needs. If we let go of the current UI and browsing paradigms who knows what becomes possible. Let’s not rebuild the entire web to make it mobile, let’s not even come up with even better alternatives for the iPhone touch screen. Let’s first think about what the user wants to do with his phone, and then come up with an interface and a mobile web concept that supports his actions, regardless of the technology.
One suggestion to start this rethinking. Please, please, get rid of the inbox, outbox principe on a mobile phone. It sucks. Ever tried to use Twitter by turning on it’s SMS interface. You know what I mean! Instead convert the entire paradigm into a life stream, similar to the way Twitter and Jaiku work. It fits human behavior much better. We don’t always want to look into or respond to every message we receive. Showing these messages as a constant stream allows me to look at it whenever I want to. It doesn’t call for my attention whenever a message arrives, but I get to decide when I wish to give the message my attention. It allows me to pick up things that are important, and it also provides me easy ways to respond to on ore more people. And it lets me ramble my thoughts to whoever is willing to listen to them. And the best thing about it. I don;t have to surf the web to find things. If I want to, I’ll just ask it to the folks I’m connected to.
Forget about the mobile web. Rethink fro a user perspective and someone is bound to build us the best interaction device in the world!