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Can we all admit that ‘Mobile Web’ is total rubbish?

Long time SMS Text News and Mobile Industry Review columnist, Malcolm Murphy, is back! And he’s taking no prisoners with his first contribution to MIR 3.0: The mobile web is getting it in the neck. Read on to see if you agree.

Over to you, Malcolm:

– – – – –

How do you access data/content on the go?  Is it through the browser on your phone?  Or through separate applications?  Recently, I’ve noticed that I don’t do “mobile browsing” any more; 90% or more of the data I consume is via other applications, e.g. the Gmail mobile app.  A quick straw poll of a few friends suggested that it’s not just me, and it reminded me of something from a few years ago.  I was on a panel at a mobile messaging conference, and a question came in from the audience: since applications can easily be delivered via the browser on the desktop, surely the same will happen in mobile, so all we need on the mobile device is a browser?

My answer was no – there is such a big gap between the capabilities of desktop browsers and mobile browsers that it’s not feasible.  And browser apps are resource hungry; just look at the load on a PC when you fire up Gmail if you don’t believe me.

Of course, there are a couple of vested interests to declare.  Firstly, I was working for a company that was promoting mobile messaging apps, so I was hardly going to say anything else, was I?  Secondly, the questioner worked for a mobile operator, and mobile operators are desperate to hear the answer that the browser can do everything, because it simplifies their lives enormously.

The question is still relevant today, and not only do I still stand by my original answer, I don’t even think mobile browsing is an enjoyable pastime!  To paraphrase Blur, Mobile Web is Rubbish.

By rubbish, I mean it’s frustratingly slow, although that’s not the real problem.  The real problem is that even when web pages do load, it’s such a hit and miss affair whether they will render correctly on my mobile screen that I frequently wish I hadn’t bothered.  And if the site in question is using Flash or funky Javascript or whatever, then you can forget it.

The industry knows this, of course.  That’s why Vodafone have deployed technology from Novarra, it’s why T-Mobile’s web and walk includes the Opera browser, and it’s why the chaps at Skyfire have managed to raise nearly $18m to build a better browser.

Even with a well designed website, there are generally better options.  Here’s a simple example: train times.  Now, I love, and have done since it was launched.  But, if I want train information, I have three choices: call National Rail Enquiries, text National Rail Enquiries, or try the mobile web.  Texting is both quickest and most convenient.  Try it for yourself, if you don’t believe me.  It’s also the most expensive 🙁 so I do still use the website.  But if you took cost out of the equation, the web wouldn’t come close.

Most websites aren’t designed with mobile in mind, and when they are I can’t be arsed to remember if I a particular site has a mobile version, or if it does whether I need to visit “” or “” or “” to get the right version.  Or to remember that website ‘A’ renders fine in the standard browser, but website ‘B’ works much better in Skyfire.  So if you are one of the people doing the content on the operator portals, I salute you, because apart from the fruits of your labour, there isn’t much out there.

So I’m reduced to using applications to get my content.  My IM, facebook, football and cricket scores, twitter and RSS needs are all served by non-browser applications on my phone.  I don’t browse the web on my phone, because it’s not worth the effort.

Aha, you say, but what about the iPhone?  That’s the future, that’s where the mobile web is at.

Sorry, no.

First off, the iPhone is a niche device.  And even if it were mainstream, web browsing isn’t the method of choice on the iPhone.  Look at the twitter updates from your iPhone enabled followees.  They’re all using one of a bazillion twitter apps for iPhone.  Same for LinkedIn.  And Facebook.  Facebook have an iPhone specific site, yet they still developed an iPhone app. Why?  Because it gives a better result.

Browsers on handsets will get better.  That’s what the iPhone shows us.  But PCs will always have larger screens and be more powerful than phones, so the mobile web will always lag behind.  It may improve, but for now, it’s rubbish.

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