Mobile Web: A Sad State of Affairs

Using the internet on a phone sucks. Anyone with a mobile device will tell you this. Even if you are using a Smart Phone, Pocket PC, BlackBerry or iPhone, chances are, you are going to complain about it one way or another. Many people liken today’s mobile web to the early to mid 90’s and how the internet experience was on a PC. If you are too young to remember this, let me give you a primer. It was almost all text, slow as molasses, expensive, and ugly. Just like it is on your phone today. I want to dig a little deeper and examine each of those four characteristics and see how similar they are to today’s mobile internet browsing. I’ll also try to use the advancements in PC web browsing to forecast what it might be like for us in the coming year or two.

Before high speed/broadband internet was used in a majority of homes, people were relegated to using dial-up modems that crawled along at a snail’s pace. PC’s were not nearly as powerful as they are today. In fact, my phone has more memory, storage, processor speed than my first computer. Desktops in the mid 90’s were best suited for word processing and basic business applications. My first memories of the internet were in 1993 when a friend of mine and I would post on message boards about who the best Star Wars characters were and why. In case you’re wondering, it’s Chewie. Moving on. We would dial this loud obnoxious modem up at 2400kbps and go to these newsgroups and look for topics we felt like posting on. Once we decided to leave messages, we would come back the next day to see if it got posted. It was fascinating to us to see our screen name/handle in there with all these other names from around the country. These message boards would load slowly over the next few years until we hit the big 56k modems.

When websites started incorporating a logo or graphic into the site, it would take what felt like forever to load. In these days, jpegs and bitmaps could choke your computer out and knock you offline even. In essence, if you wanted to get online and move around efficiently, you needed to go to text based sites without tables, frames, or pictures. Sound familiar? Even on a Pocket PC with a 640X480 resolution screen, you want to avoid any sites that aren’t really designed around mobile phones or devices. The GPRS/EDGE/EVDO speeds just don’t give you the same experience that you would get on a desktop.

Many of the popular websites we visit are not designed with mobile clients in mind. A lot of sites are going back and redesigning or retooling their sites to accommodate these users. I know that personally, I don’t really bother with specific sites unless I am on a Wi-Fi connection. It’s not worth my time to wait for a page to load graphics when all I want is news. Many of the people I’ve talked to about this feel the same way. We’d prefer to get our information with less glamour and glitz just for the simple fact that it takes too much time to load banners and photos. Go back a few years when carriers were charging on a per kilobyte basis. You were not even going to bother with visiting certain sites because it raised your data plan costs so high. We’re now at a point where we can get unlimited data for about $20 a month, but it’s not enough. Not all phones load flash, java, or frames the same way. Sure, the experience is much better than it was even a year ago, but there is still no standout web application yet. We’re hearing that Mozilla is working on a Firefox for mobiles, but it even that might be months away. It’ll probably roll out right in time for the first Android phones to hit the market. Whether it’s Firefox, Opera, Thunderhawk, or a yet to be realized program, I’m excited to see what we’ll be using this time next year. We mobile devices users are a demanding lot, but it seems like somebody is always working on something better.

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