After years of too much hype, it’s safe to say that the mobile internet is here. Sure, a lot of the activity is taking place in closed gardens (App Store, cough). But thanks to the wide availability of internet-enabled handsets, the rise of smartphones and 3G networks, more and more people are accessing websites through their mobiles.

Unfortunately, access and demand haven’t yet produced the ideal mobile web experience. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Gomez, Inc., in the past year two out of three mobile users have run into problems while trying to access websites on their mobiles.

Part of the problem is design. Over half of the users Gomez surveyed reported that websites they tried to access had content “too large or small for the size of their mobile phone’s screen“. That’s not entirely surprising. While more companies are building mobile versions of their websites, it’s certainly not common practice yet.

But design isn’t the biggest problem for mobile users. Speed is. Of the users who had a complaint about their mobile internet experience, nearly 75% complained about slow load times. According to Matt Poepsel of Gomez, “While mobile users may accept sites that are ‘light’ on richness and
small in form factor, they are evidently not willing to sacrifice
performance
“.

This is a real challenge for businesses who want to reach the growing number of consumers who want access to information while on the go for a number of reasons. First, it’s not always easy to design a mobile version of your website. Deciding what functionality is okay to cut out can be challenging, especially if your website contains a lot of it. Second, it’s not just about your website. Even with 3G, the mobile internet is slow compared to the wired connections many people have become accustomed to at home and work. Throw in uncontrollable factors such as reception and network quality and it’s impossible for businesses to guarantee great experiences, even if they do just about everything right.

This is one of the reasons why apps will likely continue to thrive. While reception and network quality still matter for apps that pull content and data from the internet, the fact that the interface and core functionality is built in to native software that runs on the phone removes some of the overhead that can impede performance with mobile websites.

That’s something that businesses need to consider when deciding whether to build mobile websites or develop native apps for popular mobiles such as the iPhone.

Photo credit: Yandle via Flickr.