Why iPhone won’t revolutionize the mobile web landscape
~ 10 January 2007 ~
…at least not in the short-term.
First things first: If you plan on buying an Apple iPhone this June, you better get in line in front of me, because I’ll have $500 ready to leave my hands the minute the first one’s available. I couldn’t be more elated about the announcement and more appreciative of the incredible development effort on Apple’s part.
Several people have pinged me asking my thoughts about how much the iPhone will change the mobile web landscape, seeing how I’m in the midst of authoring a book on the subject.
My reply? Hardly at all. Here’s my reasoning:
Content zooming isn’t new. Don’t get me wrong — the UI features in “Safari Mini” (or whatever the new name) are no doubt really cool, but the technology to see an entire web page and zoom in/out — “adaptive zooming”, “mini-map navigation”, what have you — has existed, to my knowledge, for some time now (at least a year?). Additionally, Opera has been developing similar technology for non-desktop browsers, notably of late in the version for Nintendo Wii (video). I really like the idea of viewing the exact same site on a mobile, but I question how practical it is for every site. (Nor is the idea of mobile widgets new, while we’re at it.)
Data costs will continue to plague subscribers. Take the NYTimes.com example shown in the keynote. We can probably expect “Safari Mini” to compress images and code to reduce download size much like other mobile user agents, but at the current NYTimes document size of +500 KB you could potentially pay $5.00 just to download the home page once, if paying per KB for data access. I’m currently subscribed to data plans on two different providers (Sprint, Cingular). One has unlimited, the other a 5 MB/mo cap. I surf endlessly on the unlimited plan, but I’m very cautious about web content on the other. Granted, iPhone owners will likely be unlimited plan subscribers, but still. (For the record, let it be said I expect unlimited data plan growth/affordability to continue to increase the next few years.)
Context is still king. At the end of the day, the iPhone is a device built for mobility. And with mobility, there are limitations and opportunities that should be addressed, both of which are roughly the same for iPhone as that of nearly any mobile device. Consider the Google Maps app, for example. Firstly, Google Maps Mobile has been widely available on a variety of devices for some time now. Secondly, if iPhone isn’t GPS-enabled, that is to say it can tell where I’m at rather than typing in my location, it doesn’t radically alter the existing experience anyway. The UI is slick for sure, but beyond that I’m still at the mercy of text entry.
iPhone owners won’t be the typical mobile web user. If the mobile web is to become anything more than rich internet access for elite phone subscribers, we must look beyond Blackberrys, Treos and yes, iPhone. Currently India is outpacing all other countries in mobile subscriptions growth (source), but don’t expect them to be iPhone owners anytime soon — or owners of devices with similar capabilities, speaking in terms of a subscriber majority.
All this aside, while the iPhone won’t revolutionize the mobile industry as a whole anytime soon, it will revolutionize the individual mobile web experience, and come June that’s about all that will matter for me.
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