When I use the word “mobile web”, I am not referring to the web running in mobile browsers, although I understand that is what the words have come to mean. I believe that mobile devices are bringing web services into our pockets and purses, onto restaurant tables and bars, and into schools and stadiums.
I am not particularly concerned about whether these web services are deployed in a browser or in an app running on a mobile device. I realize that these are big issues for developers and that the mobile web suffers from too many browsers, too many operating systems, and too many device configurations and screen sizes.
But the power of the web in your pocket is so large that none of this really matters at the end of the day. The “mobile web” is where “it” is at right now. And it is also where it is all going.
And this past week was a big one for the mobile web. We got three big things we’ve needed badly:
1) A real competitor to the iPhone – the Droid
2) A scalable business model for mobile apps – in app transactions in free apps
3) A standard for broadcasting video (and audio) to mobile devices
Here’s why I think these are all big deals.
First and foremost, we need competition in the mobile web market. If Apple were to own the mobile web opportunity that would be very bad for developers, for consumers, and for innovation broadly. Nothing against Apple, it would be true with any company. Android is the best hope for a strong competitor to Apple. In fact, as I’ve written here before, Android is a lot like Microsoft’s Windows OS. It was a copy of Apple’s operating system in many ways, but it was open and it could run on many devices. And it became the standard with Apple retaining a small but important share. I believe the same thing will happen with Android and the Motorola/Verizon Droid looks to be the first really great Android phone to come to market.
In addition to competition in the mobile web market, we need a scalable business model for mobile web apps. Display advertising is not likely to be that answer. In app transactions seems like a good one. It has worked very well in social gaming and is starting to show up in other web apps. But it is even more powerful on mobile devices where the user already has a transactional relationship with one or more providers of the device. Apple has decided to allow in app transactions on free iPhone apps, something they have been reluctant to do until now. This is a big deal. I think this could be an “order of magnitude” kind of inflection point for monetizing mobile apps.
We also need a way to offload bandwidth sucking applications from the carrier’s networks. The AT&T network has suffered as iPhone users have adopted rich media on their devices. The same could happen to Verizon if the Droid is as popular as I think it can be. But there are ways to offload much of the high bandwidth services. Instead of watching the Yankees game via the AT&T or Verizon network, you can watch it over the digital TV broadcast spectrum using the ATSC standard that will ultimately find its way onto mobile devices. We’ve already seen this happen with the digital audio broadcast standard, HD Radio, that is now on Microsoft’s Zune and will soon be on all kinds of mobile devices. Last week, I started listening to last.fm radio on the Zune via the the 102.7 hd2 channel here in NYC. There is a lot of one way spectrum out there that is now digital and can be used to push high bandwidth content onto mobile devices. I expect we’ll see mobile device manufacturers and carriers work to leverage that spectrum to free up their networks for more interactive uses.
As important as these three developments are, I suspect we’ll see like weeks like this past week a lot in the coming years. The mobile web sector is developing quickly and innovation is happening all over the place. It is very exciting to see.