TECH TALK: The Best of 2005: Mobility

4. Russell Beattie on the Mobile Web

In April, Russell Beattie had a couple posts [1 2] on the sad state of the mobile web and what can be done about it.

What’s wrong with [the mobile sites]? Well, first is the content: Most of it is truncated down to just snippets of information. Why? I click on my mobile web browser, I wait 30 real-world seconds for it to connect and grab information. Finally it’s there and what do I see? One paragraph of a story which tells me only the bare-minimum of information, or worse, a page of links for me to choose from so I can wait *another* 30 real-world seconds to get to some info. Great. I wouldn’t have pulled out my phone to read a mobile website unless I had 20 or 30 minutes on my hands (I’m getting an oil change or I’m on the bus, etc.). I’m bored. I’m trapped. Entertain me, don’t frustrate me!

There there’s the opposite of this where there’s just too much data. Just taking your website’s RSS feeds and slapping a “mobile” template on the page doesn’t count. First, the formatting may not be right for mobiles. Most of the mobiles I’ve seen aren’t super-picky about XML formatting (they learned their lesson from WML which would balk at lots of common mistakes) but the effort still needs to be there to close your tags, etc. Beyond that, the pages just may be too long.

But there’s more! The formatting of just about every website I saw is horrible. XHTML-MP phones can support all the basic formatting you need for a decent web page: alignment, font size, colors, tables, and standard images like gifs, jpegs and pngs and they support a basic version of style sheets called WAP-CSS. Every phone and browser renders differently, trust me, but hey, focus on the top 20% of the popular web browsers out there (which you would assume count for 80% of the web access) and you’ll be doing pretty good. There’s so much more that can be done for the mobile web.

Web and mobile are going to be different worlds for the forseeable future, so we might as well embrace this fact. So what I’d do is make an alternative area for your mobile content right away, but do it with an eye towards maintainability and findability. Creating a new mobile template for db-oriented data is actually a good idea, but just one version and watch your content lengths, image sizes and external links. If your mobile site links to another site, it better be accessible via a mobile phone as well.

5. Ahtisaari on our Mobile Future

Marko Ahtisaari of Nokia wrote about the seven challenges to our shared mobile future. The challenges:

2. Sometimess Off vs. Always On
3. Hackability
4. Social Primitives
5. Openness
6. Simplicity
7. Justice

This is what he wrote in the introduction:

Next year there will be more than 2 billion mobile phone users in the world. Over the last fifteen years the mobile industry has seen amazing growth. Much of this growth has been in the developed economies but increasingly the value is created in emerging markets.Just as it is difficult to perceive the speed of an airplane from within – blogging over Las Vegas – it is hard to fathom the scale of adoption of mobile technologies. We are numb to it.

How will we explain to our children that before, when you wanted to call someone, you needed to stand against a wall? Mobile phones today have become ubiquitous, embedded into the fabric of everyday life. They have become a mobile essential. If someone owns a mobile phone today it is likely to be one of the three things that she always carries with her, the other two being keys and some form of payment.

What made this growth possible? Where did this massive scale come from? What was the structure of the mobile industry that made reaching this two billion mark possible? Three features stand out:

1. An object with a social function tied to a service. The primary human benefit driving the growth of the mobile industry was that of social interaction, people connecting with each other. Initially this meant calling people – a familiar activity at the time – but with a new twist: the cord had been cut. Over time this began to also mean sending short text messages.

2. Service providers – mobile operators – subsidizing price. To compete for customers those providing voice and messaging services subsidized – in markets where this was legally possibly – the price of the mobile devices in exchange for a longer term customer relationship. As a result end customers rarely saw the full price of the device and the infrastructure combining both devices and networks was rolled out at unprecedented speed.

3. The shift from a familiar collective object to a personal object.The last, and often overlooked, feature of the mobile industry is that it was based on a shift from a familiar collective object – the family phone – to a personal object, the mobile phone. The idea of a personal phone simply did not exist in the popular consciousness 20 years ago.

With this growth, this bigness, came a new communications mass market, some of the most valued brands in the world, and massive economies of scale. And with it came perhaps the strongest example of a hybrid consumer product. The mobile platform – because of it’s scale and it’s focus on the big human fundamental of social interaction – is a center of gravity for other familiar benefits and functionalities. Think of the clock. Imagine how many people wake up to a phone each morning, how many have stopped using a wristwatch. Or, to take a more recent example, the camera is now moving onto the mobile platform.

Tomorrow: Mobility (continued)

TECH TALK The Best of 2005+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.