Blogger: Larry Cannell
Since upgrading my cell phone a year ago to a 3G-capable model, the simple mobile web browser it came with has become almost indispensible to me. The phone is nothing fancy, just your average free-every-two-years-if-you-renew consumer-grade phone. I am probably more forgiving of the browser’s shortcomings than most. It certainly has its own set of peculiarities. However, even with this minimal browsing capability I am able to read the news virtually anywhere I have some idle time (like waiting to pick up the kids at school, standing in line at the airport, or eating lunch at a local diner). It’s become my newspaper in a pocket.
But, it occurred to me recently that my browsing habits on this cell phone somewhat mimic what I did with a desktop browser ten years ago when there were fewer sites to choose from and mainstream media sites offered the best experience. I try to stay with websites I know are formatted for mobile devices because this phone’s browser doesn’t handle non-accommodating websites well at all. When using a desktop computer I usually read news on aggregation sites such as Google News or Techmeme. Both of these have mobile versions which display well on my phone, but most of the posts they link to do not. For example, I can find an interesting headline while skimming through Mini-Techmeme, click on the link,and then find myself waiting for a site, like CNet, which my browser will fail to render or will be virtually unreadable.
As a result I tend to read mainstream media sites like MSNBC or the New York Times which have mobile versions and display quite well on my phone’s browser. I rarely go to either of these sites on my desktop computer but visit them daily with my cell phone. Better mobile browsers, like Safari on the multi-touch iPhone which can resize webpages by pinching or spreading the forefinger and thumb, make it possible to view pages intended for larger screens. However, sites formatted for mobile devices are still preferable. For the mobile surfer the usable Internet is still significantly smaller.
Mobile web browser share is small compared to desktop browsers but is starting to grow rapidly. Much of this is being spurred on by the mobile telcos. In North America it’s hard to miss the intense competition between AT&T and Verizon with their TV ads touting the iPhone 3G and BlackBerry Storm. I wonder how long it will be before we will see easier to use browsers on throw-away 3G-capable cell phones like mine?
It seems to me that the growth in use of mobile devices is a window of opportunity for websites looking to find a audience.