The Mobile Web Is Dead. Long Live The Mobile Web.

Russell Beattie announced yesterday that he was giving up on Mowser, his transcoder startup, saying he didn’t believe in the mobile web any more:

In other words, I think anyone currently developing sites using XHTML-MP markup, no Javascript, geared towards cellular connections and two inch screens are simply wasting their time, and I’m tired of wasting my time.

He goes on to say that browsing on a mobile sucks without a decent, capable browser — which isn’t news, certainly not to Russ — and that without one, users aren’t interested. Bad news for Mowser, but, fair enough. I’d agree to a large extent: when the mobile browsing experience is awful, users aren’t going to bother. Again, I don’t think that’s news.

But that’s a far cry from “The Mobile Web is Dead” stuff that Russ’ post generated in the tech blogosphere. The other half of Mowser, Mike Rowehl, chimes in with his reaction to the reaction, and as usual, he pretty much hits the nail on the head: yes, the mobile web has problems, and Mowser had its own obstacles. The failure of the latter doesn’t automatically indicate the failure of the former.

Does the death of one startup equal the death of an entire market? Rarely. Mowser was a victim of many things, the crapness of the mobile web environment was one. The simplistic WAP-rooted mobile web might be dead — that is, if it was ever really all that alive. But more and more users have more and more capable mobile devices, and they want to access the web and online content and services with them.

This isn’t a shot at Mowser, which I think was a solid transcoder, but delivering web sites transcoded for lowest-common-denominator handsets and browsers isn’t likely to generate the best user experience for now and forever. If you’re using a really crappy mobile browser on a crappy device, the experience is still going to be generally crappy, in spite of how great a job the transcoder does. Even Russ says “Mowser was always meant to be a short term bet against Moore’s law”, with the transcoding just intended as an entry point.

So perhaps what we should take away is that the low end of the mobile market, where it’s just a dumbed-down version of some other content, rendered in a crappy browser with a terrible UI, is dead. But in my eyes, the rest of the “mobile web” — delivering content and services that delight mobile users, is only getting started.

Any thoughts?

As a footnote, Mike is looking to sell Mowser’s assets, while Russ is looking for a job, so get in touch if you know of anything.

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