November 25th, 2007

Technology Innovation Is Driven By Deep Dissatisfaction


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…

  • This is quite impressive, I am pleased to read this post, keep posts like this coming, you totally rock!

  • This voice-activated mobile might encounters some problems but I'm pretty sure that they always have the solution of the problem.


  • mage ringlerun

    oh leo.. i'm so sorry.. i must have missed the memo that said "i hearby decree that everyone's opinion is valid!" ... good to see that you are considering my opinion valid (yes, i am being sarcastic!)... anyway... i do have time to grow up... but it sounds like you have already grown up and are rigid in your way of thinking and are sooo much yesterday's man!

  • Tom

    IT's all completely different in Europe. In Europe 3G is way further in regards to coverage and usage in the amount of users who have a 3G-capable phone or modem that hooks up to your laptop and connects to the 3G network. Mobile phones are starting and will develop more into "good web readers". The iPhone is a start. {hence, one of the reasons the iPhone has not sold as good in Europe as it has in the US is it's lack of 3G compatibility.}

  • First, mage ringlerun, grow up. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. It's why they write comments. What they have to say is no less valid than what you have to say. arrrr..ggggg!!!


    "She said data would make up only 12 percent of average revenue per user in 2007, far below the expected 50 percent."

    I dunno. I've really begun to wonder what all of these stats mean -- in a world where most of the devices really suck.

    I wonder what the stats would be if everyone had an iPhone/SideKick/HTC Tilt 8925. In fact, it'd be interesting to see what the web usage was for that segment of the market. I'm sure it'd be higher than 12%.

    And therein would hang a tale.

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