Well, here we are in Twentytwelve. Supposedly it's the "year of the mobile" and all of our predictions about how we are going to use our mobile phones will finally come true.

Although I believe this year will be a pivotal point in the history of mobile technology, we've got a long way to go. Currently the mobile Web is like a gangly eight year old who, when you gaze upon you sense feelings of annoyance, intrigue and hope for a better future. We've all been there and it ain't pretty.

Web is immature and not growing up. To be clear, I am referring to the mobile Web browsing experience, the Web that will make its natural evolution from being viewed on large desktop screens to one viewed primarily on smaller mobile devices.

When browsing the mobile Web you will find the experience is quite unpleasant since most sites are not optimized for the small screen. If we are going to soon experience a mobile utopia full of simplicity and elegance, things need to drastically change. My hope is just as the immature young person seems to shoot to adulthood quicker than you blink your eye, our mobile experience will transform significantly this year.

The Mobile Web Is Annoying

Mobile computing through smartphones and tablets is growing four times faster than the PC and Internet evolutions of the 1980's and 90's. Even more interesting, people are now using mobile apps more than the "mobile Web" with users spending 94 minutes a day with their mobile apps versus 72 minutes on the Web. Unfortunately, the gap continues to widen each year.

Why is this? I thought browsing the mobile Web was cool?

Through much debate it has been determined the app world offers a better internet experience. According to Forrester Research CEO George Colony:

"The Web is not the internet; it's just a software architecture we decided to put on the internet. Like its software predecessors, the Web will eventually be replaced and we think App Internet is the best direction for the next step. It's faster, simpler and offers a better internet experience."

Here's a video of the entire talk and it's worth a view.

Quite simply, the reasons for using a mobile device are fundamentally different than the reasons why we use a PC. When using a mobile device, consumers are action-oriented and aiming to complete quick tasks such as transactions, communications or searches for information rather than long form reading or document creating such as on a desktop.

Yet, the majority of sites found on the Web today are not optimized for mobile access so the general user experience is terrible. We have to pinch and zoom to read text and to find the appropriate link (which takes two hands by the way... try zooming in and out while carrying something in your other hand), some images don't load well and sites can be too text heavy. And unfortunately, anyone with big thumbs end up hitting the wrong links and take three times longer to complete what should be a quick and easy task.

The majority of sites found on the Web today are not optimized for mobile access so the general user experience is terrible. We have to pinch and zoom to read text and to find the appropriate link, which takes two hands by the way... try zooming in and out while carrying something in your other hand.
This is annoying. It's like the 8 yr old who will not stop shouting "Hey, that's mine!" "Can I have that?" "She's pulling my hair". You just want them to stop and all you can think of at the time is "when will they grow up?"

The terrible mobile browsing experience is precisely why native apps are receiving more and more of our attention. Native apps are designed around and within the small screen, allowing the user a more pleasant experience. I am so not sure the massive growth of the app world is such a good thing and now is not the time to diverge into the native app vs mobile Web debate, but if the mobile Web is to mature there needs to be better standards that put mobile experiences in line with current use cases and patterns. Until then we are left to annoyance and the walled garden of the app world will continue to dominate.

The Mobile Web Is Intriguing

Yet, for all the annoyance there is an intriguing nature to the mobile Web. Strong glimmers of innovative new ideas involving shopping, creating, reading, searching, discovering, communicating, posting, transacting and many other activities are popping up right at our finger tips. It is truly an exciting time as many trends are converging to make 2012 the year the mobile Web finally turns the corner. Here's just a few courtesy of Trendwatching.

One intriguing movement is instant visual information gratification, or bringing information about objects that consumers encounter in the real world through "point and know" actions from their mobile device. The race is on to add a (useful) real world element using textual and visual search, and by "real world" I mean the world of objects and people.

According to trendwatching.com:

"Created by Carnegie Mellon University, PittPatt is a facial recognition tool that enables users to find individuals from photographs or videos. The face detection software can locate human faces and match them up with photographs from Facebook and Google Images, identifying individuals in under 60 seconds."

Another intriguing element of the mobile Web is the cashless society phenomenon. Sure, the cashless consumer concept has been around since the mid-2000's and we've already seen some interesting virtual payment offerings, but nothing major has been driven through the mobile device. Trendwatching.com predicts:

"This year is going to be the year we see major players like Google, MasterCard and others actively roll out their cashless initiatives around the world. For consumers, the initial lure will be convenience, but eventually mobile payments will create an entirely new data-driven eco-system of rewards, purchase history, deals and so on."

Expect to see a lot of innovation on the mobile payments and commerce space going forward.

As you have probably noticed in your own life, screens are taking over our world. We are starting to see ubiquitous, mobile, cheap, always interactive, intuitive touch-screens interface with anything and everything that lies beyond the screen. The emerging screen culture is less of a trend in itself and more of a movement towards a new digital life. In fact, the future for most devices will be a world where consumers will care less about being mobile and more about the screen, or rather what's being accessed through it.

These new uses, although promising, still seem to be force fed into our mobile experiences using traditional desktop Web-user experiences. If no new standards are created, intriguing new uses for the mobile Web just might not make it.

The Mobile Web Is Full of Possibility

The fullest possibility of the mobile Web will only come true when a common language and a better user experience become standard. Web pages must be optimized for the mobile Web or they become worthless in our increasing mobile society. The promise of HTML5 is to replace the majority of native applications over the next few years, but it is not ready for prime time just yet. Here are some of the reasons HTML5 seems poised to take over the mobile Web, according to Business Insider.

  • HTML5 will allow online software and content - not just games - to be much more interactive and richer.
  • HTML5 apps are cheaper to make because they're cross-platform. With HTML5, you can develop an app once and be up and running on every platform.
  • Engineers are more comfortable with developing HTML5 apps, according to Romain Goyet, CTO of app development company Applidium
  • The proliferation of HTML5 apps will reduce the power of app gatekeepers like Apple and shift the balance of power back toward content providers instead of app distributors.

Why is HTML so important to the future of the mobile Web? Commerce, of course. According to eMarketer, mobile commerce is continuing to see strong growth and will boost mobile sales to $31 billion in 2015, a compound annual rate of 55% from 2010 to 2015. More smartphone users, greater consumer comfort with mobile shopping and an increasing number of retailers launching mobile sites and apps will all play a part in propelling m-commerce sales.

Gigaom recently reported design store Fab.com, had seen a huge surge in mobile use since launching mobile apps in October, with 30% of traffic now coming in via mobile. But more impressive than that is the fact that mobile visitors are twice as likely to buy compared to visitors to Fab's desktop website.

Here's the main point: The promise of the mobile Web is not to radically transform large corporations, who already have access to capital required to invest in tomorrows mobile technologies. The potential of the mobile Web, just as it was with the original Web, is how much it can positively affect the local merchant and the small proprietor.
In Fab's case, as with many other commerce platforms, the dollars are rushing toward mobile at an even faster pace than average. This past holiday season has been a turning point in mobile commerce, as sales via the iPhone, iPad and Android soared. Ecommerce software developer Ability Commerce said that mobile shopping revenues on Android grew by 173% compared to last holiday season, while iOS had a 338% increase in revenues. The iPad, while generating one-third the traffic of the iPhone and Android, had 33% more revenue than both iPhone and Android combined.

The Local Merchant and the Small Proprietor

Here's the main point: The promise of the mobile Web is not to radically transform large corporations, who already have access to capital required to invest in tomorrow's mobile technologies. The potential of the mobile Web, just as it was with the original Web, is how much it can positively affect the local merchant and the small proprietor, helping them cost effectively and more efficiently reach their customers. Their hope is the mobile Web brings more transactions and quicker communications at a cheaper price.

And merchants should waste little time catching up to their mobile customers. According to IBM, consumer online spending was up 7.5% over 2010 and 14.6% of all online sessions on retail sites were initiated from a mobile device, more than double the rate of 5.6% over this same period in 2010. Sales from mobile devices doubled, reaching 11% versus 5.5% in December 2010.

Therein lies the challenge for merchants. As more consumers get accustomed to searching and purchasing on their mobile device it becomes increasingly important for merchants to have a mobile optimized presence or the customer is gone. Consumers need to be able to quickly find information and take action. In fact, if customers can't accomplish their desired action within a few seconds, they are quickly on to the next thing and the merchant has just lost a sale. Most local merchants and millions of SMBs lack sufficient resources to invest in customized native apps developed for a specific platform like Android or iOS, so they must be able to fall back on the common mobile Web every user has access to through their mobile browser.

It's true, immature and annoying eight year olds can be real pains sometimes. The great thing is with time they grow up into mature, strong and productive adults. Let's hope this is the year the mobile Web hits it much needed growth spurt.

Photo by Ed Yourdon