Mobile – one internet today, but moving to two

Mobile internet 2 

People get pretty excited when debating whether mobile is sufficiently different to the fixed internet that we should think of it altogether differently.  I looked at this in October with my post One internet or two, and you can see from the comments how this question seems to polarise people.

In that post I argued for one web because:

  • The distinction between PC and mobile is collapsing.  There is a range of devices through 3G enabled laptops, to notebooks, to palm tops, to tablet PCs, to large smart phones, to small smart phones to mass market phones.  If there is no clear distinction in devices it seems wrong to me to distinguish in the sites you build.
  • The sites people look at on their mobiles are mostly the same as on the PC

Given these observations the arguments of ‘two web’ proponents such as the .mobi crowd (where my good friend Jo Rabin is active) about small screen, limited input capability and narrow bandwidth didn’t seem compelling.

However, at the end of the post I wrote:

[Entrepreneurs and VCs] need to look for things that are truly different on mobile – not different just because of screen size etc.

I don’t remember how I found the Communities Dominate Brands blog but it is excellent.  They have two recent posts on this subject – Mobile the 7th Mass Media and Role of the iPhone in 7th Mass Media.  Fantastic posts both, espescially the first, and take some time to read the comments.

Why?

Because author Tomi Ahonen offers a great list of four areas in which mobile is truly different.

These are more than the auto-tagging arguments we hear so much at the moment.  I am not sold on the argument that the ability to take pictures wherever you are and have them automatically geo and time stamped is a game changer.

I recommend the whole post, but in summary Tomi’s four points are (if you read his post he has five, I have collapsed two of them):

  1. The mobile is a uniquely identifiable device – so personalisation and targeting can be an order of magnitude better.  Every time you go back to a site it recognises your number.  The media owner can know with 100% accuracy when you visited his site and what you did whilst you were there.  No need to worry about cookies.
  2. It is always on and always with you – so you can have alert services.  Apparently seven out of ten people sleep with their mobile within arms reach – and most of them literally have their phone in bed with them.
  3. The phone has a built in payments channel – twice as many people have phones as credit cards and their is no 18 year age limit – combine this with unique identification and the result is truly revolutionary
  4. Mobile makes media input and creation unbelievably easy and convenient.  Simply snap and post to your blog or Flickr.

Tomi is an author, so he needs soundbites, but to him mobile will be to internet as TV was to radio.  Apparently over 25% of all internet access is already from mobile.

I buy all this.  For these reasons it will become sensible to build different services for the mobile web.  Timing will be everything though, and as we stand here today I don’t see the infrastructure in place that would persuade me to build for two internets rather than one. 

The change for me is that I am now watching and waiting for that day to come (and planning to get in ahead of it).  There are a few plays around already which play into this trend – Ray Anderson’s Bango and Shozu spring to mind.

  • There is no doubt that being connect to the Internet on the moove produces a lot of opportunities. The problem is the nature of network and the presence of ologopolies:
    – the mobile network is intelligent while the internet is dumb (neutral). The consequence is that to produce value on a mobile network you must embrace the “operator intelligence”. There can be only an answering machine: the one provided by the telco. It does not matter if it sucks and if it is built to make people wait and spend more. Internet has demonstrated that the network must be neutral to let people produce value.
    – ologopolies keep prices to high to make mobile internet spread. If you do not have flate rates and are not sure about how much you are going to pay, you will not use the umts services unless it is necessary. But this is changing very fast: when you will have wi-fi access all over the city and a device that can connect, you will not need an umts network.
    Ciao. Nicola

  • There is no doubt that being connect to the Internet on the moove produces a lot of opportunities. The problem is the nature of network and the presence of ologopolies:
    – the mobile network is intelligent while the internet is dumb (neutral). The consequence is that to produce value on a mobile network you must embrace the “operator intelligence”. There can be only an answering machine: the one provided by the telco. It does not matter if it sucks and if it is built to make people wait and spend more. Internet has demonstrated that the network must be neutral to let people produce value.
    – ologopolies keep prices to high to make mobile internet spread. If you do not have flate rates and are not sure about how much you are going to pay, you will not use the umts services unless it is necessary. But this is changing very fast: when you will have wi-fi access all over the city and a device that can connect, you will not need an umts network.
    Ciao. Nicola

  • nic

    I agree Nicola. At the moment the operators are a drag on innovation, but the rise of alternative networks plus a dawning realisation that their current strategies are failing bode well for the future.

  • nic

    I agree Nicola. At the moment the operators are a drag on innovation, but the rise of alternative networks plus a dawning realisation that their current strategies are failing bode well for the future.

  • I’m not sure where this gets us. I’d say, ‘show us the application’. Bango, complicated platform with tiny potential.
    ShoZu sounded lovely, and I have noticed people posting with it – so I thought, what the heck, let’s install it right here right now. My god. For sure, there may soon be two internets, but one of them is the internet of about 1992. When I first got an IP connection via Demon I had to use some packet-radio software on a DOS PC and configure it myself. I managed that, but I can’t get ShoZu working. OK, I got the application onto my phone and thought I was doing OK, but it was when I was dumped to someone else’s web site and told to memorize some data that DIDN’T EXIST FOR MY PHONE (well, it’s obscure – Sony Ericsson) and then offered me a fourteen (count ’em, 14) point configuration routine – I gave up. I have confugured a lot of stuff over the years and I know when I’m beat.
    And all that, for what? For something that will become a commodity as soon as the phone operators notice that people are using it.
    I guess my point here is there is a long way to go before mobile approaches the joy of the real internet. Mabye in fifteen years?

  • I’m not sure where this gets us. I’d say, ‘show us the application’. Bango, complicated platform with tiny potential.
    ShoZu sounded lovely, and I have noticed people posting with it – so I thought, what the heck, let’s install it right here right now. My god. For sure, there may soon be two internets, but one of them is the internet of about 1992. When I first got an IP connection via Demon I had to use some packet-radio software on a DOS PC and configure it myself. I managed that, but I can’t get ShoZu working. OK, I got the application onto my phone and thought I was doing OK, but it was when I was dumped to someone else’s web site and told to memorize some data that DIDN’T EXIST FOR MY PHONE (well, it’s obscure – Sony Ericsson) and then offered me a fourteen (count ’em, 14) point configuration routine – I gave up. I have confugured a lot of stuff over the years and I know when I’m beat.
    And all that, for what? For something that will become a commodity as soon as the phone operators notice that people are using it.
    I guess my point here is there is a long way to go before mobile approaches the joy of the real internet. Mabye in fifteen years?

  • mspoke

    From previous posts you may already know my point of view. All this talk of mobile internet is futile until the operators sort out the transparency of data charges. I was saying this 3 years ago and we really haven’t moved on at all have we. Still I have no idea what the data charges are on my mobile.

    I think the real opportunities for mobile will truly come when we can connect to wifi networks and have an integrated pricing plan with our home connections.

    Until then I don’t think the majority of people feel the need for many services being offered.

    Ivan – I manged to install Shozu, I agree it’s a pain to install and having to go back and forth to the Flickr site makes it not very convenient.

  • mspoke

    From previous posts you may already know my point of view. All this talk of mobile internet is futile until the operators sort out the transparency of data charges. I was saying this 3 years ago and we really haven’t moved on at all have we. Still I have no idea what the data charges are on my mobile.

    I think the real opportunities for mobile will truly come when we can connect to wifi networks and have an integrated pricing plan with our home connections.

    Until then I don’t think the majority of people feel the need for many services being offered.

    Ivan – I manged to install Shozu, I agree it’s a pain to install and having to go back and forth to the Flickr site makes it not very convenient.

  • nic

    Thanks Ivan. As I say I don’t think we are there yet either. I mention Bango and Shozu only as evidence that some of this stuff is starting to happen.

    There are a number of reasons why everything happens more slowly on mobile, and your problem of high complexity caused by device proliferation is one of the biggies.

    I’m not sure it wil take 15 years though.

  • nic

    Thanks Ivan. As I say I don’t think we are there yet either. I mention Bango and Shozu only as evidence that some of this stuff is starting to happen.

    There are a number of reasons why everything happens more slowly on mobile, and your problem of high complexity caused by device proliferation is one of the biggies.

    I’m not sure it wil take 15 years though.

  • I’m not sure that mobile is as revolutionary as many people expect.

    Certainly, there is a lot to be said for effective LBS. My killer app is being able to say show me the nearest ATMs (for some reason London seems to have a dearth of working ATMs). But I

    Trying to shoe horn a mobile to do computer based tasks strikes me as silly. Call me a sceptic but until the UI problems are nailed mobile phones will remain a communication device. That to me is the importance of a mobile phone. As a converged communications device (IM, email, SMS, voice calls, video calls, barcodes, presence etc). Get the communications task convergence correct and you will have a very powerful product. I suspect that iPhone (2nd Gen) will be one of the first of these converged communications devices.

    Payment point strikes me as a regulatory/political nightmare. The politicians are going to restrict the use of mobile phones for payment. All it will take is a 12 yr boy to buy some porn with his mobile phone for all hell to brake loose. The mobile payment companies are opening themselves to criminal charges for negligence if they do not put in safe guards now.

  • I’m not sure that mobile is as revolutionary as many people expect.

    Certainly, there is a lot to be said for effective LBS. My killer app is being able to say show me the nearest ATMs (for some reason London seems to have a dearth of working ATMs). But I

    Trying to shoe horn a mobile to do computer based tasks strikes me as silly. Call me a sceptic but until the UI problems are nailed mobile phones will remain a communication device. That to me is the importance of a mobile phone. As a converged communications device (IM, email, SMS, voice calls, video calls, barcodes, presence etc). Get the communications task convergence correct and you will have a very powerful product. I suspect that iPhone (2nd Gen) will be one of the first of these converged communications devices.

    Payment point strikes me as a regulatory/political nightmare. The politicians are going to restrict the use of mobile phones for payment. All it will take is a 12 yr boy to buy some porn with his mobile phone for all hell to brake loose. The mobile payment companies are opening themselves to criminal charges for negligence if they do not put in safe guards now.

  • nic

    mspoke – Bundled cellular data packages are on already here on some networks and on their way on others. Plus (and contrary to my predictions a couple of years ago) wi-fi/wimax coverage is looking like is will be a credible alternative in the not too distant future.

    Simon – I have never been a believer in LBS, but the other areas will come. The regulatory nightmare you describe is real and will slow things down, but I doubt it will stop them. The trick here will be in predicting the timing.

  • nic

    mspoke – Bundled cellular data packages are on already here on some networks and on their way on others. Plus (and contrary to my predictions a couple of years ago) wi-fi/wimax coverage is looking like is will be a credible alternative in the not too distant future.

    Simon – I have never been a believer in LBS, but the other areas will come. The regulatory nightmare you describe is real and will slow things down, but I doubt it will stop them. The trick here will be in predicting the timing.

  • Nic,

    I think operator driven LBS is going to fizzle. It is to much hassle, costs to much and can be achieved via cheaper methods another way. I thinking something along the lines of Google Map that either triangulates the signal on the phone, uses the Cell Tower ID or uses built in GPS to get approximate position that would work for queries such as “Where is my nearest ATMs?” which are displayed with icons along with something showing your current location.

    I just remain a sceptic about a lot of the hype surrounding mobiles. I do expect to see new and unknown services to arise that harness the uniqueness of mobile phones and the power of the internet. I just don’t see this fundamentally changing the existing internet rather extending is reach and power.

  • Nic,

    I think operator driven LBS is going to fizzle. It is to much hassle, costs to much and can be achieved via cheaper methods another way. I thinking something along the lines of Google Map that either triangulates the signal on the phone, uses the Cell Tower ID or uses built in GPS to get approximate position that would work for queries such as “Where is my nearest ATMs?” which are displayed with icons along with something showing your current location.

    I just remain a sceptic about a lot of the hype surrounding mobiles. I do expect to see new and unknown services to arise that harness the uniqueness of mobile phones and the power of the internet. I just don’t see this fundamentally changing the existing internet rather extending is reach and power.

  • Nic – I don’t buy Tomi’s hypothesis – I’d argue that Internet is the TV, Mobile is the (tranny) radio in his metaphor.

    Also agree with Nicola and Simon.

  • Nic – I don’t buy Tomi’s hypothesis – I’d argue that Internet is the TV, Mobile is the (tranny) radio in his metaphor.

    Also agree with Nicola and Simon.

  • Elizabeth Frank-Backman

    I agree that mobile phone visitors significantly improve one-to-one marketing opportunies. However, there are pitfalls that could really kill a venture based on that assumption.

    In the early days of land lines, telcomms assumed that the phone identified the customer. They used the telephone number as the customer id and got into *big* problems with billing, marketing, and customer service. (I worked personally on projects trying to fix the problem).

    The fact is, there isn’t a one to one relationship between the phone and customer. People change phone numbers and buy new mobile phones. Some people have multiple phone numbers (I’ve got ones in three countries – USA, UK, and Israel). An effective mobile solution still needs to figure out the person behind the number. Otherwise customer history will be lost or fractured and with it the continuity of marketing and relationship data.

    People also share phones – its not uncommon to keep an older pay-as-you-go phone around the house for house guests. Providers could get into serious billing or privacy problems if they simply assumed that the person pushing the buttons was the person who last accessed the website using the phone.

  • Elizabeth Frank-Backman

    I agree that mobile phone visitors significantly improve one-to-one marketing opportunies. However, there are pitfalls that could really kill a venture based on that assumption.

    In the early days of land lines, telcomms assumed that the phone identified the customer. They used the telephone number as the customer id and got into *big* problems with billing, marketing, and customer service. (I worked personally on projects trying to fix the problem).

    The fact is, there isn’t a one to one relationship between the phone and customer. People change phone numbers and buy new mobile phones. Some people have multiple phone numbers (I’ve got ones in three countries – USA, UK, and Israel). An effective mobile solution still needs to figure out the person behind the number. Otherwise customer history will be lost or fractured and with it the continuity of marketing and relationship data.

    People also share phones – its not uncommon to keep an older pay-as-you-go phone around the house for house guests. Providers could get into serious billing or privacy problems if they simply assumed that the person pushing the buttons was the person who last accessed the website using the phone.

  • nic

    Thanks Elizabeth – you raise a good point that we should think carefully before assuming one number equals one person. It doesn’t seem like a bad starting point to me though – most people keep their numbers for quite a long time these days. If they have multiple phones it is often precisely because they are managing multiple identiries.

    Allowing people to port their ID to a new number sounds pretty important though.

  • nic

    Thanks Elizabeth – you raise a good point that we should think carefully before assuming one number equals one person. It doesn’t seem like a bad starting point to me though – most people keep their numbers for quite a long time these days. If they have multiple phones it is often precisely because they are managing multiple identiries.

    Allowing people to port their ID to a new number sounds pretty important though.

  • yeah being able to port your id is very important

  • yeah being able to port your id is very important