November 25th, 2007
A 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 a lot of people defended, passionately, the mobile web. Today the New York Times published some interesting data:
But at a recent conference, 3G was called “a failure” by Caroline Gabriel, an analyst at Rethink Research. She said data would make up only 12 percent of average revenue per user in 2007, far below the expected 50 percent. (The 12 percent figure does not include text messaging, but you don’t need a 3G network to send a text message.)
Similarly, surveys by Yankee Group, a Boston research firm, 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.
There are also some corroborating qualitative comments:
“The user experience has been a disaster,” says Tony Davis, managing partner of Brightspark, a Toronto venture capital firm that has invested in two mobile Web companies.
But the interesting part is actually towards the end, with examples of how the mobile web may “open over the next five years, solving many current problems” — which I believe will happen. The PC-based web sucked in the 90s, but then broadband came along, transformed the experience, and drove massive innovation.
Here’s an example:
Nathan Eagle an M.I.T. research, is working on mobile phone programming in Kenya, where he’s teaching computer science students how to build mobile Web applications that don’t use a browser. Instead, they rely on voice commands and speech-to-text translation to surf the Web
“People talk about the mobile Web, and it’s just assumed that it’ll be a replica of the desktop experience,” Mr. Eagle said. “But they’re fundamentally different devices.” He says he thinks that the basic Web experience for most of the world’s three billion cellphones will never involve trying to thumb-type Web addresses or squint at e-mail messages. Instead, he says, it will be voice-driven. “People want to use their phone as a phone,” he says.
On one end of the spectrum, you have the technology enthusiasts who defend the current state of technology and blame the users for the not being good users. On the other end, you have innovators like Nathan Eagle, who are driven by a deep dissatisfaction with the current state of technology and a belief that it could be so much better.
You won’t find people like Nathan Eagle telling you that you just need a better mobile web browser or a better device and some better hacks. No, people like Nathan are busy taking a sledgehammer to the current underperforming technology and completely reinventing it.
That’s how innovation happens — seeing the deep flaws in how things currently work — and how things can be so much better.
Innovation starts with, wow, this really sucks. But what if…