The Blog

The Mobile Web – Trends and Predictions


We're reaching critical mass

The mobile web is reaching a critical mass. The amount of mobile surfers is increasing dramatically, and we're set for an explosion. CNN's mobile site traffic has gone from 2.7 million page views a month, when it launched, to over 30 million. Neilsen reports that mobile growth has occurred 8x faster than PC internet growth. Smart phone adoptions rates are skyrocketing, and the iPhone appears to be leading the pack. We are starting to see long-term trends forming, and I think that in our thinking on “the mobile web” we are missing that the effects of mobile browsing is not going to be limited to cellphones.

In Febuary AdMobs released a report on the state of the mobile web metrics. In it they listed some statistics about platform adoption rates:

  • The iPhone (as a device) has a 33% share of smart phone traffic world wide, with 49.5% in US.
  • Sybian is in the lead world wide (as a platform) with 43% market share versus the iPhone's 33%. However, the iPhone (as a platform) leads with 50% marketshare in the US.
  • Sybian has dropped 21%, with the iPhone picking up 29%, since August '08.

Also worthy of note: the iPod Touch, a mobile device but not a smart phone, is not included in these numbers.

It looks like, for the time being at least, the iPhone has won. If the growth rate it has shown so far lasts for two more months, even assuming no users abandon Sybian, it will be tied for the lions share of the world wide market. Expect it, and its technologies, to be a baseline for what mobile interfacing is going to be. And this is going to define how the medium grows.

On the other side of the mobile issue, Mobithinking.com recently did a study of the spiderability of mobile sites, comparing the cache dates of several different types of mobile url. Their findings showed that:

“The log files on the web pages showed clearly that the pages pointed to by x.com and x.mobi were both crawled by the Google spider within twelve hours of being published on the Internet. In addition, when the random generated words were typed into a Google search bar, only the .com and the .mobi pages were found. After two weeks, the only two naming conventions that made it into the search indices were the .com and the .mobi. None of the others were findable at all.”

This proposes an interesting dichotomy for SEO's working with mobile technology. Currently Google favors two practices for mobile site development: a .mobi url for an extra 'mobile page', or using a unified .com site.

Bruce Lawson (of Opera) has a potential answer, and it's a great one for SEO's. He wants “One Web”, with mobile platform's interpreting content in such a way as to make it more readable on a device; rejecting the notion of a “mobile web”. He argues that what we need is to standardize our features across platforms: there is no reason that 'tel:' url's cant function on a PC (with Skype, for instance); no reason that time table data should not be first and foremost for transit sites; and location aware content is by no means limited mobile devices.

I don't disagree, but I think that the solution isn't as simple as just saying that we'll make mobile devices that suit the web, and that will be it. Ignoring the technical limitations of a small screen, ignoring the shift in design thinking from pixel to ratio based measurements required for pseud-ZUI's such as mobile Safari, ignoring mobile data connection speeds, fuction itself changes with mobile.

While the web focuses largely on user contribution and multi-directional communication, the input process of mobile devices limits the feasibility of serious content contribution. This changes the type of activity that people will perform. Long blog posts? Probably not. Quick reference? Probably. Twitter? Absolutely. The predominant use of mobile web in 2008 was email, then search, then quick reference (particularly maps, weather and sports), and then simple social media (facebook); according to Neilsen Mobile/Telephia. Mobile use is going to be different, and as such we are going to need to optimize our landing pages for it, and creating sepperate mobile optimized landing pages is one way to do that.


“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”

- Marshall McLuhan,
The Medium is the Massage

This can all be summarized, I think, in an answer to something that Adam asked over at A Media Circus: “is mobile a medium“? I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan, and his insistence that the content of a medium does not matter. He said it was the medium that defines what we do with content, and as such it was the medium that defined the content. “We shape the tools, and then the tools shape us.” Already we're seeing blogging limited to 140 bytes, we're seeing growing pages as users flock to and away from .mobi sites, we're seeing a change in content. Whether the mass of information we gather comes from the web is trivial, in accessing it through a phone we change its form The content is unimportant. How we are receiving it is. So is mobile a medium? In a McLuhanesque sense, absolutely, and if we want to see it develop healthily, we need to start looking beyond the mobile web, and see how mobile is affecting the web itself.


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