Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
Despite faster 3G network speeds, falling data prices, and the recent surge in mobile operators' data traffic revenues, the mobile Web user experience still leaves something to be desired, as anyone who has browsed the Web from their mobile phone knows. (See Data Prices Fall, Usage Booms and Good Times for 3G.)
Or, put another way, "the mobile Web sucks." So says Scott Jenson, manager for mobile user interface design at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). "We all feel this, and know this."
Speaking at the Mobile User Experience conference in London Tuesday, he hammered home the point that the Internet experience on the PC cannot simply be uprooted and transplanted onto mobile phones.
The mobile Web has an entirely different user interface and the industry –- Google included -– is still trying to figure out what people want to do with their mobile phones and how they want to use the mobile Web. (See Google's Mobile Software Focus .)
By Jenson's reckoning, the mobile Web needs nothing short of a miracle –- or a phenomenon akin to SMS text messaging -- to boost usage and get past the clumsiness of the user interface.
"If you find the miracle app, the user interface doesn't matter," he said. "Although, obviously, it does in the long term."
What he meant is that with SMS, for example, it was "really horrible" to use when it was first available, but the value that users got out of it was so high that people used it anyway and the application took off.
"The amazing app has yet to be invented for mobile," said Jenson.
But that hasn't stopped Google from dabbling in all things mobile including femtocells, WiMax, mobile device operating systems, and political lobbying over spectrum usage. (See Femtocell Startup Pockets $25M, Google Makes Mobile Move, Google's Android Gets Smart, Google's 700 Up, Google Lauds 700 MHz as a Consumer 'Victory', Google Lobbies FCC Again, Clearwire: We'll Kick LTE's Butt, Verizon's LiMo Bean 'Surprise', and Clearwire Won't Use Google's Dark Fiber.)
When it comes to mobile search, the Internet giant believes a radically different approach is needed compared with Web search. Google has found that people often use mobile search to get answers to specific questions, rather than to find other Web locations to browse. (See Nokia, Google Partner.)
Jenson noted a typical Internet Google search takes less than 9 seconds, while the same search on a mobile phone takes about 35 seconds. That kind of performance will not keep users coming back for more.
Google has tackled some of this waiting time and effectively made its mobile search twice as fast with the introduction of application-based search for mobile handsets, which it refers to as idle screen search. But for a more radical approach, Jenson admitted that Google was "testing the fences."
Jenson refrained from blaming mobile operators and their traditional walled-garden ways for the mobile Web's shortcomings.
"Operators have a lot to offer," said Jenson. "We all can win. They have their focused content and are also starting to open up access to the larger Web."
And there are signs of improvement, though only for a particular set of users. According to M:Metrics Inc. , while only 6 percent of regular mobile users access Web search services from their handsets, nearly six in 10 iPhone users use mobile search services from their device, mainly due to easy access to the Web and a better browsing experience from the large screen.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung