With mobile phone penetration significantly higher than PC ownership, why has mobile internet yet still to take off?

While many predict that mobile internet is set to explode, could its simplicity also be its biggest failing?

Last week I was privileged to speak at Bigmouthmedia’s travel conference in London, which looked at various developments in the online marketing industry.

One of my fellow speakers was Bill MacLachlan from Yahoo!, who delivered an interesting presentation on the mobile internet market.

Mobile marketing, in varying different forms, has certainly been around for sometime but has yet to become a mainstream medium. Indeed, Informa estimates that only £457m was spent globally on mobile marketing last year, a fraction of what is spent on online advertising.

This is not unexpected considering only 5.7m people in the UK accessed the internet from a mobile device in January this year (source: comScore) compared to 30m who accessed the web from a PC.

Bill presented some impressive growth figures in mobile usage for the next three years, fuelled by attempts by the likes of Vodafone, Orand and Apple to increase awareness of the mobile internet.

However, the key thing that struck me was the need to go back to basics when building mobile sites. Now I appreciate this is no major revelation, but could seriously impact the success of the mobile internet market.

I had flashbacks to the internet in the 90s - basic HTML coding, limited use of images, no dynamic content, all to compensate for slow connection speeds, pay-per-minute usage fees and basic navigation controls.

Yahoo! also reported how many users don’t leave the mobile service provider’s portal - again another reminder of the 90’s where internet users would rarely leave their ISP site such as the AOL closed-wall portal.

Does this mean that mobile internet is effectively 8 years behind the web as we know it today?

Certainly the content that can be delivered is basic. I am sure if we scour the industry we can still find some die-hard HTML coders to build these sites. I am sure designers can be prized away from Flash to build some basic 16 colour designs.

But will users accept this?

With social networking, online video, high quality photographs all becoming the norm, will users really be happy take a leap back to the dark ages of pre-broadband internet?

Probably not, but I think mobile has a place and that is relevance.

Mobile internet can play a key role in local search, such as find my nearest cashpoint. It would also be useful to access live train timetables, check-in to your flight, order a takeaway.

But I doubt we will be accessing today’s full rich internet content on a limited 6 inch screen anytime soon. Just like mobile TV, it could be a while longer before users adopt the functionality that is already lurking inside their handset.

However, to close on a positive, I feel passionately that we should continue to evolve mobile ad-formats and formally agree on a tracking methodology so we are ready for the users when they arrive en masse. Yahoo!, and others, are perfectly placed to do this.

Matthew Finch –

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