Mobile internet is ten years behind the wired web

By June 28, 2007Google, Mobile

Playdo CEO Donnie Lygonis planted the idea for this post in my mind following the conference yesterday.  He was telling me about a presentation he gave in which he was arguing that the mobile web today is like the wired was in 1997.  I think he is roughly right, which is perhaps surprising given how long we have all been investing in it.

For me the key points of similarity between the web in 1997 and the mobile web today are:

  • Narrow bandwidth
  • High latency
  • Browser wars
  • Network operators trying to own the value chain (remember the portal wars between ISPs?)
  • Geeks enthusing rest of the world not getting it – look at the scepticism today from many quarters about whether mobile advertising can work

Noting the parallels in stage of development is not to deny the important differences between mobile and the wired web.  The heterogeneity of devices and OS’s, plus the small screen and limited input capabilities make mobile more difficult, whilst the fact that it is always on, always with you (i.e. mobile), has a camera and knows your location give it extra dimensions of potential.

As we know, the tipping point on the wired web came when broadband hit critical mass in terms of penetration.  So it will probably be on mobile.  But, and this is the critical point for me as a VC, all the really valuable internet businesses today were founded long before that point.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, timing is everything for young companies and the timing is (finally) starting to feel right for the mobile internet.  Google was founded in 1998 after all.

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  • Do you think we’ll see the emergence of – successful – new firms, on the scale of Google or even a Yahoo with the emergence of mobile internet? Or do you think established internet or mobile players will win big and get bigger?

  • Do you think we’ll see the emergence of – successful – new firms, on the scale of Google or even a Yahoo with the emergence of mobile internet? Or do you think established internet or mobile players will win big and get bigger?

  • nic

    That is a great question Farhan. My first instinct is that we will see some very big companies created but that they will get bought out before they get to the scale of Google. I say that because the opportunity in mobile is obvious to everyone so it is unlikely that people will make the mistake of allowing a competitor like Google to emerge.

    That kind of assumes nothing will come out of left field though, and that is a dangerouse assumption. There is enough that is new and different about mobile that something truly revolutionary is possible.

  • nic

    That is a great question Farhan. My first instinct is that we will see some very big companies created but that they will get bought out before they get to the scale of Google. I say that because the opportunity in mobile is obvious to everyone so it is unlikely that people will make the mistake of allowing a competitor like Google to emerge.

    That kind of assumes nothing will come out of left field though, and that is a dangerouse assumption. There is enough that is new and different about mobile that something truly revolutionary is possible.

  • More like 1987…there is as yet no common OS. Destroys the economics of mobile apps building.

  • More like 1987…there is as yet no common OS. Destroys the economics of mobile apps building.

  • nic

    This is a good point Alan. Mobile operators and handset vendors will both fear commoditisation if the systems go open which makes it hard to see a common OS emerging in the short to medium term.

  • nic

    This is a good point Alan. Mobile operators and handset vendors will both fear commoditisation if the systems go open which makes it hard to see a common OS emerging in the short to medium term.

  • The starting point for all these discussions is that the “mobile internet” would be a mass market mobile phone application, if only the all the technology/pricing issues etc were sorted. Not sure I beleive this!

  • The starting point for all these discussions is that the “mobile internet” would be a mass market mobile phone application, if only the all the technology/pricing issues etc were sorted. Not sure I beleive this!