The Tipping Point For The Mobile Web

I wanted to go back and revisit one of the links I posted yesterday, Russell Beattie’s “Crossing the Rubicon of the Mobile Web”. Russell’s overall point is that we’ve reached the point of general acceptance of the web on mobile devices: “Ever notice that no one says stuff like, ‘No one will want to use the web on their mobile phone,’ any more? I have, and I can tell you it’s very refreshing!” But he adds that people are also beginning to understand the difference between the web on a mobile phone, and “useful mobile interfaces to the web (i.e. the ‘mobile web’)”.

That’s a big tipping point.

So how did we get here? The iPhone gets a lot of credit for mainstreaming the idea of mobile web access. That’s not to say it was the first device to make the mobile web happy, or the best, but its power as a media attention-grabber is undeniable. But along with the general attention the iPhone brought, it also helped mainstream the idea of mobile-specific interfaces for sites. Granted, it’s spawning a lot of “made for iPhone” rather than “made for mobile” sites, but the underlying idea — that the mobile experience can be improved with better site design and interfaces — is the same.

The first step towards making the mobile web really happen was mobilization: making mobile access to the web possible. We’ve hit that point with decent networks and data speeds, and a number of decent browsers available. The next step is understanding that there needs to be a next step, and understanding that things will be much better for users when they’re not just having the entire web shoved at their mobile phone. As Russell’s new Mowser colleague, the ever-sharp Mike Rowehl puts it, “Now that the question of what is technically possible has fallen away, the new issue becomes what is most useful and pleasing to the end user.”

That’s the leap that has to happen — and is starting to happen. Yes, it’s still early days as not every handset is equipped with a browser on the level of Safari on the iPhone, and tariffs remain an obstacle (especially for prepaid users). But things are starting to change, making this an exciting time for the mobile web. What’s the best way forward, then? To keep on pushing, for content and service providers to keep pushing out new and great mobile services. People are paying more attention now than ever before, and they’re more open to mobile web content than they’ve ever been. The challenge is to spread the understanding that the mobile web isn’t about shoveling the entire web to mobile devices, but about building the best mobile experience.

Yes, part of that is by offering users the choice to access whatever content they want. But the real value in mobile is delivering the right content, the right experience, to the right user at the right time. One way to do that is to throw everything you’ve got at them and see what sticks — but it’s pretty clear that’s not the best way.

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