Do We Need a Mobile Web?

Every now and then I talk to people in the mobile industry who seem to be enchanted by the ‘full web browsing experience’ or ‘full Flash support’ offered by some of the new smartphones that have appeared on the market. The argument usually goes something like this: As soon as we can have a full web browser and Flash support on most mobile phones, all these specialized mobile technology companies (including ThirdPresence) will become irrelevant.

It is a valid point they are making, but I’m not convinced they are right. Here are a few reasons why:

1. People still tend to prefer mobile versions of sites or mobile applications, even if they have a full browser on their phone

Even if some of the newer phones allow you to navigate around full web pages, zoom and pan in every direction etc. the effort required is often too much. This applies especially to situations where the user is on the move or otherwise concentrating on something else at the same time. Many studies have shown that if there is a mobile version of the web site available, users will be much more likely to engage with that. Just take a look at the Apple iPhone users: they have possibly the best mobile web browser on the planet right there in their phone, but still they are installing applications like crazy and using the iPhone-optimized versions of their favourite web sites whenever they can find one.

2. Some publishers and advertisers specifically want to reach mobile phone users

Due to the nature of their business, some publishers and advertisers are only interested in finding the right mobile users for their product or service. If you are selling ringtones, isn’t it obvious you only want to reach mobile phone users? Also, from a usability point of view, most people would agree that the typical desktop ecommerce site buying process is almost impossible to deliver in a usable way on a mobile phone. On the other hand, a well designed click-to-call action can work very well on a mobile site or in an application.

3. There is no consensus on what is “the full web”

In a rapidly evolving technology environment, it is increasingly difficult to define what, exactly, is the full web browsing experience. It is even more difficult to define what specific standards or technologies are required on the mobile phone to provide that experience. The phone manufacturers are shooting at a moving target.

Delivering video to the phone happens to be a very good example that highlights some of the issues. Implementing Flash video support on a phone is not trivial, since decoding is very CPU intensive and requires hardware support on most phones. Flash video can also be encoded in a number of different formats, including VP6 and H.264, so the manufacturer would have to provide hardware support for all the different codecs. This would increase the cost of the phone considerably, so it is not a viable option.

What about HTML5? The Apple iPhone already supports HTML5 and some believe that HTML5 will be the standard solution for video on the desktop, as opposed to the proprietary Flash that is the de facto standard today. Unfortunately the HTML5 specification has no mandatory codec requirements so the phone makers are back to square one.

In conclusion, I don’t believe that the mobile technology specialists are going to disappear anytime soon (although I admit its my job to be biased) .

On the contrary, as new devices, operating systems and hardware innovations appear on the mobile phone market there will be even more work to do for companies such as ours.

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