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I read this piece on The Register this week, which isn’t the first I’ve read recently about the death of the mobile web. It’s sad passing will be mourned by 1000s, but many will probably not notice.

The sad thing is that this needs to happen. Not because it’s inherently a bad idea but because at least one part of the equation hasn’t added up. I still believe that access to web-based service can and should happen through any device that can do it but the history of the mobile web to date has necessitated it’s death.

Way back in 1997 I remember reading about WAP and how it would bring the Internet to mobile phones; a couple of years later there were adverts on TV from telecom companies telling you the web was on your phone. The reality was there were hardly any sites to use (in the traditional chicken and egg scenario) and the speed of the network and devices was doggedly slow. Want to check on eBay? Wait 3 minutes and it’ll cost you £1…sounds like the future is here!

The reality is that unless the user experience is compelling, usable and affordable very few will ever use it. The iPhone is a step in the right direction but the whole answer. Now we have a device that is compelling to use and that people are prepared to pay for so are monthly bills aren’t (entirely) subsidising our handsets.  This allows the operators to offer flat-rate web usage, which makes the service usable and for roughly what we’d expect to pay for a monthly contract.

With the iPhone we can also browse any website rather than mobile-only sites.  Good in that you can get to anything you’d normally use but, in my opinion it’s also a bad thing.

We still have the cross-handset, cross-browser issues to contend with in providing mobile sites (check Cameron Moll’s book)  but in my opinion there are different needs of someone accessing through a different device.  It’s understanding the service you’re offering on the web and what of it people might need on the move.

I think the history of the mobile web so far has to die in order to start the next chapter and hopefully we can learn from it.

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24th April, 2008