The Future of Web Access on a SmartPhone

12 Feb 2008|Leigh Marinner

In my blog a couple weeks ago, I said that The New York Times reported that “Google disclosed that it received more traffic from iPhones this Christmas than from any other mobile device, despite owning only 2 percent of the smartphone market and less than 1 percent of the overall mobile-phone market.”

Similarly, surveys by Yankee Group, show that only 13 percent of cellphone users in North America use their phones to surf the Web more than once a month, while 70 percent of computer users view Web sites every day.

On most mobile phones, the user experience is a disaster. While many phones have some form of Web access, most are hard to use–just finding a place to type in a Web address can be a challenge. And once you find it, most Web content doesn’t look very good on cellphone screens. The iPhone offers a much more compelling user experience.

There is a lot of speculation that at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona opening yesterday, there will be multiple announcements of competitors trying to take on the iPhone. Some will be built on the Android platform from Google, or other open platforms like Zumobi. But the easiest way to produce a breakthrough user experience is with a closed system, as Apple has done with iPod/iTunes and the iPhone, where AT&T gave Apple complete control over the user interface on the iPhone. Although this move was counter to everything else the US mobile operators have done in their attempts to protect their revenue stream, it proved to be a smart move given the momentum of the iPhone and the new users AT&T has picked up. The popularity of hacks to the iPhone allowing it to be used on other mobile networks attests to user desire to have the benefits of the iPhone.

Part of the reason there is broader access to web content on cell phones in Europe and Asia is that their mobile carriers have been willing to share the revenue more equally with 3rd party providers and have not demanded they totally control the user access to the web, the way most US mobile operators have. In China, the world’s largest mobile market, more than a third of mobile phone owners, use their handsets to listen to music, more than in Britain or the United States.

Maybe one day the US operators will realize that putting the consumer experience first can actually win them customers. Otherwise they’ll be bypassed by the likes of Google and Android.

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