Why the mobile internet has been slow to take-off but is the killer app

I’m a big fan of smart phones and mobile computing in general. In the not too distant future I can see a time when people no longer trudge around with laptops, but use smaller, less powerful machines specifically designed for wireless use.

 A number of machines do this or have been announced (e.g. the Nokia 770, 800, Asus’ Eee PC and the Palm Foleo) and there’s sure to be more – with alot of the development coming-off the back of the $100 laptop charity.

 There have been a number of good apps out there for ages (Avant Go for nes, Opera for mobile phones) and with faster connections, you’re no longer waiting for ages to view a web page.

Blackberries have made great inroads into the corporate market and people are now buying them as private users – but they are pretty poor at the web thing so are predominently e-mail based.

Connections are also up to speed now, with 3G networks available and compatible phones easy and cheap to come by. So why isn’t usage much greater? There are a number of reasons, but I’ll highlight what I think are the key issues.

  1. Launch of 3G focussed on the wrong aspects – when 3G launched (especially the “3” network), they focussed on video calling, and, like other products before, no one was really interested. It doesn’t work particularly well and really adds little, apart from cost, to a mobile phone call.
  2. Data charges – historically its been really expensive. People on contracts now have fairly cheap deals so that particular barrier has been removed but pay as you go customers still get a raw deal. For example, Orange charge you £1 per day to use mobile browsing etc., regardless of how much data you transfer.If they offered data packages, like the do for bundled text messages, surely they would see a rise in the number of users.
  3. Devices – current phones aren’t very good for surfing or email. If you look at alot of smart phones and blackberries, their primary function is to provide a QWERTY keyboard in as small a space as possible, with a slightly larger screen, but this isn’t suitable for everyone. Hopefully the iPhone and its clones will help with this.
  4. Web sites and services – in the financial services arena, no one I know of has seriously looked at using protable devices as a serious business tool. This is something I’d like to look at sooner, rather that later.I think there’s great potential to offer a cut-down online services app that works on blackberries and smartphones. we’re not talking the ability to process new schemes, but certainly a few key functions like policy valuations and personal details would be very handy, and mean you didn’t have to lug a laptop around all the time, and hope there was a phone line or wifi access when you arrive.

All we need to do is get Origo to develop a mobile Unipass certificate and we’re sorted.