September 26th, 2007

Five Reasons Why The Mobile Web Sucks

by

I’ve had it with all the hype about mobile being the next big thing — more to the point, I’ve had it with the mobile web. Here are five reasons why the web on the go still has a long way to go.

1. Wireless carrier networks are SLOW

I’m using a Blackberry 8830 on Verizon’s EV-DO broadband network. It’s faster than any other mobile network I’ve ever used. It’s helluva lot faster than an iPhone on AT&T’s Edge network. But it’s still slow. I find myself getting impatient waiting for sites to load, like it was 1997 all over again.

Last weekend, I was trying to figure out how late Costco is open on Sunday. It would have been faster, literally, to call my wife at home and ask her to look it up on a real broadband connection. That’ a sad state.

2. Public WiFi access is a SCAM

I traveled to New York last week and encountered no less than THREE WiFi networks, all wanting me to pay $7-10 to access for the day, or commit to $30/month — but how can I commit to a monthly fee if every hotspot is on a different network? National Airport in DC had Sprint. Starbucks had T-Mobile. And then LaGuardia’s Delta Shuttle Terminal had Boingo Wireless (I never heard of them either) — I tried to “roam” with the T-Mobile account I set up at Starbucks, but no luck.

I was in New York again this week at the OMMA conference — I tried to connect apparently outside the conference WiFi and stumbled onto Hilton’s WiFi — $5 for ONE HOUR! WiFi on Amtrak? Yeah, right. I’m writing this from Starbucks in DC following a lunch meeting, where I took it on the chin again from T-Mobile because my Blackberry somehow got unconfigured and I can’t get it to connect as a modem.

Everyone is running around all excited about iPhone and iPod touch WiFi capabilities, and here comes a Blackberry with WiFi. All I can say is better get your credit card out, because you’re going to pay, and pay, and pay again.

Municipalities are getting bogged down in their efforts to provide free WiFi access. You have to wonder whether this is just another government/industry joint venture debacle, or if there are vested interests who don’t want to see it happen.

3. Sites aren’t formated for small screens

You would think that in 2007 most sites would be technologically capable of sensing when they are being loaded by a mobile browser and deliver a site optimized for that use. Alas, no. When I loaded Costco.com, I had to scroll through an endless list of links to product categories to get to the page content.

But wait, you will say, what about the revolutionary iPhone, which loads the actual website and lets you zoom in and out with a touch of a finger? What about that, huh?

Yeah, well, remember when everyone had a 800×600 screen resolution, and we used to design websites to fit that width? Why was that? Oh, right, because scrolling is annoying. Looking at a normal web page on iPhone’s 3 inch screen is like surfing the web through a keyhole.

So, great, you can jam the entire NYtimes.com onto the screen — got a magnifying glass? Immediately having to zoom means it wasn’t optimized to begin with.

iphone-nytimescom.jpg

When I load a site on a tiny screen I want to see the information I’m most likely to be searching for, nicely and intuitively formated.

When I visit Costco on a mobile device, what are the chance I’m going to shop? Almost nil. I want store locations, phone numbers, and hours of operation, and I don’t want to stumble through four slow-loading screens to get that info.

4. Mobile device screens are too small

There is a natural tension between the need for a larger screen to engage with the web and the need for a smaller device to slip into your pocket. The iPhone and Blackberry probably come about as close as you’re going to get to striking the right balance, depending on whether you want a physical keyboard.

But even the glorified iPhone’s screen is still tiny. There are many things I simply won’t bother to do on a small screen, and will instead wait until I have access to a large screen — like shop, bank, blog, etc.

Much of what I’ve read about the future of mobile assumes we will do everything on a mobile device that we do on our desktops or laptops, but even if my complaints #1-3 are fully addressed, technology can’t fix the limitations of human eyesight and hand size — at least not for a while.

I think the mobile web will continue for some time to be about getting done what can’t wait until later — like email or looking up store hours or checking headlines or seeking idle entertainment to pass the time.

5. Advertising gets in the way

When pages load with blazing broadband speed, I don’t care if ads load along with them. With a nice wide screen, I don’t even care if ads take up a large portion of the screen real estate.

But on a small screen, all bets are off. Ads that slow down page loading or fill up the screen are going to be most unwelcome, unless they are extremely relevant and useful, i.e. a coupon for what I want to buy in the type of store I’m searching for.

There aren’t many ads yet on the mobile web — other than banners made for the full-screen web that annoyingly load. So this is more about anticipating the suckiness to come.

I have no doubt that the mobile web will eventually mature — just like Web 2.0 will eventually grow up. But for now, it’s still a fussy child.

Comments (62 Responses so far)

  1. Right on, Scott!

    Consider the mobile web like th late 1990s WWW.

    A lot of potential, but an equal amount of hype.

  2. I’m proud to say that Birmingham has more than 250 free WiFi hotspots, including 5 acres at Vulcan Park AND the airport. I hate waiting in other airports, because I have been spoiled at home. (http://www.ipsaonline.org/wifi/list.php)

    I agree – the mobile web is painfully slow, but it is a chicken and egg process.

  3. Great article, Scott! Agreed that Public Wi-Fi is a pain. However, I beg to differ when it comes to your take on the iPhone.

    I’ve used the iPhone and the Blackberry and as far as my usage goes, the iPhone is the best device to access the web. Also, IMHO there’s no way you can get a bigger screen than the iPhone without looking like Flavor Fav!

    What’s beautiful about the iPhone is the ability to resize text, which allows for easier readability. And that is not available on any other device.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. One of the other big issues in Planet Mobile is an incredible obstinacy about embracing standards, from content capture through to on-phone rendering.

    This means the friction for any form of mobile multimedia is very high, also that the much vaunted 2 bn mobile users is actually a “tower of babel” of mutually unintelligible protocols so no ne channel has a very high pull through

    Anyway, we blogged it all on here last week :)

  5. [...] For 4 more reasons Scott says the Mobile Web has a way to go, click here.  [...]

  6. I share your concerns on mobile Scott but I am optimistic. But I am pretty sure about one thing. Unless they come out with something really innovative with regards to the small screen issue, mobile is doomed.

  7. I agree, while mobile devices are getting better but the need for sites adapted to small screens remains.

    Search engines such as Yahoo are claiming that their transcoding solution makes it easier to view traditionnal websites from a mobile phone, but this is plain wrong for most sites. Website owners need to be educated and develop sites adapted for their mobile users, because mobile is a HUGE revenue potential.

  8. What if mobile web was not published content like on a desktop but more conversationnal… and maybe actually talking?

    What do you think?

  9. [...] Scott Karp had a post today that covers the topic on a wider range of failings which included a bit on the fact that sites aren’t formatted for the small screen. I make note of this because rather humorously Marshall Kirkpatrick on Twitter said: marshallk said at 9/26/2007 4:23:44 PMWould read scott karp’s complaints re the mobile web, but his site doesnt render on my phone! [...]

  10. I will now be subscribing to your blog. Fantastic post, Scott.

  11. Using the mobile browser to surf the net is like using a spoon to dig a trench. When it comes to mobile devices, think web services.

  12. I guess it’s a good thing folks had a more progressive attitude 20 years ago or we’d still be stuck with acoustic couplers. Or, shudder to mention them, even books!

    From what I’ve heard, there are zillions of delighted mobile web users in bits of Asia. And I can’t be alone in getting a thrill out of mobile apps in the UK.

    So if it’s primarily a problem you have with mobile browsing in the United States, perhaps you should qualify your childish whine?

    For the sake of the rest of us, I hope you have less influence than Folio assess.

  13. [...] year or so, for reasons I never quite understood — is, well… a little ticked at some of the criticisms that Scott Karp levels at the mobile Web in a post at Publishing 2.0. So ticked that he sprinkles [...]

  14. Great post. Agree with all except screen size. Thats a trade off (weight) and Blackberry is just fine IMO. Despite all these issues its better than lugging a laptop

  15. [...] Scott Karp details a list of reasons why the mobile web sucks. For the most part I am inclined to agree with him… however, my iPhone experience over the last couple of weeks has brought me back from the edge of completely abandoning the mobile web. Following Scott’s list, here’s why it’s not so bad now for me: [...]

  16. [...] Cinco razones por las que la Internet por móvil apesta [inglés]publishing2.com/2007/09/26/five-reasons-why-the-mobile-web-s… por pitocus hace pocos segundos [...]

  17. you are whining. it is not necessary b/c we all knew this (those with a clue). if you are an owner of a blakberry and iphone you are a double looser. go get a wimax set-up and complain about that too…genius. Check out Russell’s take: http://www.russellbeattie.com/blog/five-reasons-why-web-20-people-need-to-shut-the-fuck-up-about-the-mobile-web
    Unreasonable expectations will cause you many problems. Good luck with getting a real screen in your pocket, I’m sure those criminals will keep tricking you unitl you learn it ain’t possible.

  18. Add to this:

    1) Web pages getting more complex. Ajax?

    2) Not enough battery life on most mobile phones yet. The constant need to find an electric outlet!

  19. [...] Five Reasons Why The Mobile Web Sucks. The mobile web may be the future but the present? Not so much, writes Scott Karp. [...]

  20. I don’t get all this negativity. I was using email on the Newton in 1995 over the FM band. That was slow. I just moved from T-Mobile using a BB to the iPhone. Had to use Opera on the BB for some some of the sites I needed. But it kept crashing. Moved to the iPhone, and it’s like night and day. Edge is much faster than GPRS or maybe it’s the BB don’t know. But as far as I’m concerned using the BB OS is akin to to a chisel and stone compared to the iPhone. I have to use web 2.0 sites all day long. Before it was drudgery now it’s a joy. It’s all in how you look at it I guess.

  21. Scott, I don’t know who you are, and I usually don’t like to be mean to people I don’t know, but you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Your post demonstrates both your cluelessness about the mobile web in general and a complete lack of global perspective.

    There are a lot of problems with the mobile web, but you don’t list any of them. I’m happy to enlighten you if you are interested.

  22. Scott, I understand your frustration with mobile browsing. But believe me, things are changing fast. I know lot of web services who have started providing alternate websites which server web pages optimized for mobile phones. I have shared the same pain as you have and thats the reason why I started compiling this list of websites which are optimized for mobile phones (http://digitallysmart.blogspot.com/2007/09/mobile-phones-optimized-web-pages.html).

    I agree that mobile networks are slow. But there are ways to circumvent those. For example, have you tried Opera Mini beta. It the best mobile phone browser ever. Not only does it have great usability, but also does something intelligently. What Opera does is that it does not download the actual web site. It instead downloads the web page to their proxy servers and then optimizes and reduces the size of the page by approximately 70%. So ultimately the downloading and rendering speed of the pages on a mobile phone is highly increased.

    I personally believe that future belongs to mobile computing. But yes it is takes time.

  23. [...] is particularly incensed with Karp’s deliberate sensational headlining: Actually, I’m not going to give five new reasons, I just [...]

  24. In Japan nobody seems to have a problem with connection speeds or accessing the web on their phones.

    We will most likely see two parallel webs, one for regular computer screens, and one optimised for mobile devices. Many sites already have that, especially in Europe and Japan. But as usual, the US lags when it comes to mobile tech…

  25. Scott, the point about optimizing for small screens is a good one: with optimized pages, the mobile web can look a lot better.

    I have found that mobile Safari actually works really well for unoptimized pages, and I haven’t found it to be as difficult as you suggest. I realize you must have tried it yourself, since you compare it to “surfing the web through a keyhole.” Great metaphor. It must have been annoying for you. My experience is quite different, though. I surf the web on my iPhone all the time, and I feel like it adds as much to the experience as it takes away. I love to be able to double-tap and enlarge photos or paragraphs to fill the whole screen, then double-tap back out and move around. I love the way it steps me through forms. It helps me focus on one thing at a time, which I enjoy, and it’s super quick to navigate.

    So, here’s why I think this matters: optimizing pages will help the mobile web, but before the iPhone made unoptimized pages look good and work well on a mobile device, I as a web developer had no desire to even mess with optimizing. But see, the iPhone has validated mobile devices as web browsing tools, and now I feel drawn to optimize my sites to make them look even better. Small changes to CSS make a big difference on the iPhone.

    I think, thanks to the iPhone, we can be ready to see the mobile web “suck” a whole lot less. Time will tell if I’m right, but I think it’s a trend worth watching.

  26. I agree with just about all of the above and am completely against the blog post from Russel
    Russell Beattie’s Weblog

    http://www.russellbeattie.com/blog/five-reasons-why-web-20-people-need-to-shut-the-fuck-up-about-the-mobile-web

    First of all he has no right to call the writer of this post a moron. Quite frankly who the fuck is Russell Beattle? And in fact who the fuck cares? Like he says “…because I can’t shut up”. Maybe he should really try. Either that or he should try and submit some intelligent comment to this debate. I will comment later on the five points discussed in this blog later. I would respond on Beatles blog but he has switch off comments. A real sign of a self righteous ass hole if you ask me.

    Have a nice day

    Jason
    Paris, France

  27. I’ve got to echo ceedee’s call. It’s a US thing.
    I’m on the 3G network in the UK, I’m able to stream Orb on my phone, access my desktop, browse the web, download podcasts and all on an N73. Never really had a problem with speed…

    It’s nice that for once you americans are behind us in something.

  28. [...] is that I believe 802.11 solves the Wi-fi problem, and that Scott Karp (the blogger who’s post started it all) did really sort of say… Here are five reasons why the web on the go still has [...]

  29. Heh… isn’t that a US-specific problem? You’re still so behind on mobile it’s amazing… ;)

  30. Hi Scott, I wrote a very similar article a while back. Excellent points, I had similar issues and added a few different ones:
    – The interface is just not intuitive
    – There might be a psychological barrier for people to download new apps to their mobile phone (it’s their private space)
    – Lack of truly good services

    If you’re interesterd here is the article:
    http://vanelsas.wordpress.com/2007/09/12/mobile-internet-will-become-the-next-hit-but-not-yet/

  31. 6. The horrible wordpress plugin that makes simple posts like this take 300k on a mobile browser. ZDnet hosts the only blogs that load fast in mobile browsers.

  32. [...] c’est l’avenir” est le dernier gargarisme à la mode. Mais aujourd’hui c’est nul écrit Scott Karp sur l’excellent Publishing 2.0. J’ai bien aimé ce coup de gueule rafraîchissant parce [...]

  33. [...] Scott Karb says so, and gets Russell into rant mode: “Really, if someone wants to write a blog post with an inflammatory title like, “mobile web sucks”, then they really should have a fucking clue what they’re talking about first. I can talk quite intelligently about the things that suck about Web 2.0 sites, and modern web publishing, I expect the same sort of intelligence when criticizing the stuff I do for a living. That’s fair, no?” [...]

  34. Tabloid headline for a tabloid post. Things like this discredit the writer.

    Slow? Come over to Europe. WiFi? Well we didn´t get blazing broadband long ago, didn´t we?
    And above all, Mobile web is NOT what you see in the desktop screen but in your phone. It is a completely different thing. Or is it IPTV the same as conventional TV but on your computer?

    Honestly, the post is so shortsighted that I think you actually wrote it on purpose to generate comments and links…

  35. [...] at Publishing 2.0, Scott Karp listed 5 reasons why the mobile web sucks. I have a few [...]

  36. Mobile web has a long way to go. Well, we all know that already. Nothing new here.

  37. Poor thing is taking a beating at :

    http://www.russellbeattie.com/blog/five-reasons-why-web-20-people-need-to-shut-the-fuck-up-about-the-mobile-web

    Seriously, Russel Beatie nails it pretty well. Your arguments are weak, at best.

  38. Just wondering if you would consider optimising your site for display on a mobile phone screen. There are excellent tutorials floating around that show the appropriate CSS structures.

  39. [...] Five reasons why the mobile web sucks [...]

  40. [...] sounds like Scott Karp should be attending the SMX Local and Mobile next week as two of the five areas he gripes about will be covered in detail there. While his carrier and wifi complaints are somewhat relevant, the rest is unfortunately plain [...]

  41. The mobile web doesnt have to suck, the problem is that you can’t do it on a phone yet.
    http://www.umpcportal.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=937

    PC-based devices are on their way. I use an Everun as a mobile web device (I do a LOT of mobile web and therefore its worth me taking a seperate device) but thats nothing compared to the size that we could see in 2008.

    Check out this demonstrator:
    http://www.umpcportal.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=670

    and this size comparison:
    http://www.umpcportal.com/gallery/v/var/Image7.jpg.html

    Once someone has written some decent software, decent mobile web will be with us and we won’t have to bother about optimised web pages any more.

    Steve
    UMPCPortal

  42. It’s all about understanding what services suit the computer in your pocket. It is a new media – not an old media squeezed on to a new one.
    Can I recommend Alan Moore and Tomi Ahonen’s Mobile as 7th Mass Media paper. You can get a copy by emailing alan and asking. alanm (AT) smlxtralarge (DOT) com

  43. Scott,
    If you really want to experience bad wireless mobile service, come up to Canada where there’s no such thing as real all-you-call eat data plans. When the iPhone eventually gets to Canada, do not be surprised to see many people go ballistic when they get their bills.

  44. [...] Bernie and others have written eloquent pieces that address the concerns, whines and gripes of non-mobilites, long-time netizens, and newbies. I’ve fit into all three categories for [...]

  45. You need some kind of zoom lense to see anything on a mobile phone…it’s rediculous.

  46. [...] Karp from the Publishing 2.0 blog lists five arguments explaining why mobile is not yet very [...]

  47. [...] Five Reasons Why The Mobile Web Sucks – Publishing 2.0 via Martin Stabe. (tags: web mobile wap iphone publishing) [...]

  48. [...] most striking aspect of the reactions to my “Mobile Web Sucks” post — which was much more about my own frustrations as a USER than [...]

  49. Agree with small screens. But speed is not an issu here in Europe where we have 3G networks all over [or nearly all over, growing fast anyway].

  50. [...] Five Reasons Why The Mobile Web Sucks. Scott Karp, con ganas de discutir. Efectivamente, acceder a Internet desde un dispositivo móvil [...]

  51. [...] couple months ago I wrote that the mobile web sucks, based on my own user experience that didn’t seem to match the hype. Some people agreed, but [...]

  52. [...] I’ll observe, are less than 140 characters) strike me as similar to the reactions I got to my mobile web sucks post — the problem isn’t the technology, it’s that I’m a not a good user. [...]

  53. Clearly a US centric post. The mobile market in the US sucks, but in the old world the mobile web is a reality. It works and it’s reliable.

  54. [...] first time Scott has managed to stir up the blogosphere with a negative post.  His earlier “5 reasons why the mobile web sucks” struck a similar nerve.  Incidentally, having heard the startling statistic that iPhone [...]

  55. Try OperaMini. Seriously. It solved all these problems!

    It’s a proxy that compresses pages before sending them on slow crappy wireless network.

    It’s a client that reformats pages to fit on small screen. It has zoom AND it wraps text to your screen width. No need for horizontal scrolling when reading.

    BTW: iPhone isn’t that bad. You can set up VPN+proxy that will remove ads and compress pages a bit (not as well as OperaMini though). Zoom is pretty useful and mobile Safari enlarges text, so actually you don’t have to zoom that much.

  56. I never had a good experience with Boingo Wireless

  57. Boingo Service is very flaky. I believe a GPRS service from BB is probably better if you are doing only Email.

  58. [...] Five Reasons Why The Mobile Web Sucks Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0 | 9/26/07 [...]

  59. [...] Five Reasons Why The Mobile Web Sucks Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0 | 9/26/07 [...]

  60. I think situation is getting better and better. I predict, that in future, more people will access internet from their mobile phones and owners of the sites will create mobile werindly versions before full internet versions.

    Thants what we do at our company.

  61. [...] I just bought a Crackberry, which got me thinking about the mobile Web again. Although I agree that the mobile Web sucks, I think it is possible to create a successful mobile site, as long as you follow some simple [...]

  62. People who like the idea of passenger trains have been waiting for decades for the federal government to get on board. Now, some think Congress might be ready to get funding on track for Amtrak. amtrak promotion code Julie Grant reports:

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