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Google: The Mobile Web Sucks

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

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

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12/5/2012 | 3:40:05 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
ItGs seem like the closet weGve got to that killer app is social networking.

Facebook has come from nowhere to be the most visited mobile website (m.facebook.com) in the UK and, anecdotally, is driving overall use of the mobile web and pushing people to get data packages and better phones.

ItGs the perfect app for the mobile context in many ways G lots of reasons to update your status GǣGabe is in the park enjoying the sunshineGǥ and it drives frequent interaction prompted by messages, friend requests, news feeds, etc. You can see how it will evolve.

ItGs extremely easy to use G much more so than Web search, in fact.

Dating and flirting sites (not adult, per se) work in much the same way and are very popular, IGm told.

Twitter on mobile is similar and is getting more and more mobile use.

There are dozens of other examples G things donGt suck so bad.
12/5/2012 | 3:40:04 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
While I agree that the PC internet experience Gcannot simply be uprooted and transplanted onto mobile phonesG, I wouldnGt go so far as to say that a miracle is necessary to boost mobile web usage. Nor would I say that an Gamazing appG is the requisite solution either. Mr. Jenson refrains from considering options for network operators, but realistically, if the potential of the mobile web is going to be realized, then application developers, solution providers and operators all must work together. For carriers, the key is deploying content adaptation and optimization solutions in their networks G like BytemobileGs Web Fidelity Service G that deliver (without trying to uproot and transplant) PC-style web browsing and therefore make it easier for users to consume data services on their mobile devices. Solutions like these create quality web browsing experiences for not only smartphone and feature phone users but also for those with mass-market handsets.
12/5/2012 | 3:40:01 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
There's a vid of an Android handset here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

The coolest thing looks to be streetview integrated with Google Maps.
12/5/2012 | 3:40:01 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
Mass-market feature phones, as they exist today, are a non-starter for mobile internet with or without content adaptation. Just ask Ray heGs got one. LOL.
12/5/2012 | 3:40:01 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
Hey Adrian
So Byte me...

Let's get a grip -- in 2 years time the iPhone experience will be pretty much ubiquitous. And then we won't be worrying about adaptation and optimization -- we'll be wondering why the hell the YouTube video is freezing...

Well, actually, we won't be wondering. It'll be because the network won't be ready for the strain, unless the carriers actually sort the backhaul issue before it chokes them.

And you now what? I reckon Google know that too...
12/5/2012 | 3:39:59 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
It all goes back to 2 things:
1. Screen Size and CPU.
You are not going to change what customers want from their Handheld Devices and their Content/Applications. These demands will do nothing but increase near term and Customer Access Devices (CAD'S) will need to get bigger screens and more processing power. Vendors will need to come up with better CAD's.
2. The real lack of and consistant availability of bandwidth provided by these Narrowband 3G networks. This will not change until serious Broadband Wireless Networks (WiMAX and LTE) are deployed in the late 2009 (WiMAX) and 2013 LTE nets are available nationwide.
Keep your eye on what is happening in the White Space Spectrum and how Google/Microsoft and others make the FCC address universal access to serious Broadband.

12/5/2012 | 3:39:59 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
I think, if I read it right, the Google personGs point was that web services are not designed for the small(er) screen or the mobile context.

Getting that application part right, a la Blackberry, shows what can be done on even lower speed networks.

On that score I'm pretty optimistic about the way thigns are going.
12/5/2012 | 3:39:59 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
I agree with you on screen size and CPU. The good news is the price of the components used to make tablet-style devices is, apparently, set to plummet. Platforms like QualcommGs Snapdragon look set to revolutionize this market.

Bandwidth isnGt such a constraint on handhelds. The amount of data you can use is limited more by battery capacity than anything

IGd argue latency of 3G is a bigger issue from the user point of view.
12/5/2012 | 3:39:37 PM
re: Google: The Mobile Web Sucks
Yep, its however much more funcdamental than screen size...

If the so called "True Web expereince" is so great, please tell my why so many sites have come up with iPhone specific entry points and formats of web sites?

Right! Because the context of usage WHILE ON THE MOVE with a COMPACT device with some compactness optimized I/O functions changes several elements and properties of the usage context - and that is true for an iPhone as well as for any other NON desktop, compact device with specific mobility enhanced User Interface and I/O properties: It actually makes a SUPERIOR expereince thatn creating the SAME experince as desktop PC can show.

Simple Examples:
- Which desktop targeting web sites has thought of desktop PCs having embedded GPS location bsed functions?
- Which Sites have planned that any user can deliver input quickly - no matter if he can type on a keyboard or not?
- Which sites have planned their usability to work well even when a point, click and scroll interactions for the user are completely differently managed than by a mouse?
- How many desktop PC targeted sites are aware that they may look differently when the screen is tilted?
- How many dsktop targeted sits are preinstalled with an embedded function to single click to invoke a voice call, or editing an SMS?

and so on, and on...

Much of such usage context is simply NOT existing (of course no one to blame: It was simply not required to take it into account in the past) when people designed their site for desktop computer usage.

Nevertheless, to retain the position there is STILL no need to at least consider many of these issues when creating Sites TODAY should not be acceptable from a user perspective.

Such sites are - as this world has evolved into a plentitude of publishing formats for content -from todays perpsective merely "legacy sites"; you can of cause use stop-gap approaches like adaptive proxies somewhere at the site (volantis, sevenval), as a service (usable net) at some network gateway (opera mini) - but that will not really solve the fundamental problem in the long run of NOT embracing what a good mobile internet expereinc COULD be when the mobileity and device peoerties are properly taken into account - functional lecagy STAYS legacy, even if you may be able to make the presentation look like it WAS made to support mobile, you can tell that it's a fake.

The experience will only then start to truely improve, when most use cases are actually implemented to deliver a context specific experience.

Such experience will be highly relying on mechnisms negotiating some parameters - of the device, the transport channel and user specific prefereces.

In Asian markets - where people don't have to live with so much of a history of fixed line broadband connectivity, the Web develops mobile FIRST and FASTEST, with developers targeting Mobile Users before any desktop use.

Forcing crappy unadopted for mobile expereince sites down the throat of mobile users will not be a sustanable approach.

The first major competitors who takes care to understand how mobility and usage on the move changes the use cases will make users swith their destination in no time and take with them their business.

It's totally OK to build as many bridges between legacy content and future, device adaptive site design as possible today.

In any case, sites shouls give a CLEARLY visible indication if it is acknowledging that mobile users are welcome and well served - recommended is to create a clearly mobile targeted site entry point that is easily understood as BEING the mobile entry point to your brand.

You may want to check out what some of the leading mobile developers on the planet think about this in the developer community http://dev.mobi.

At least try out how your main branded site proporties actually look on some of the handset emulators offered in http://ready.mobi (yes - several of your sites will most likely SUCK in there, not becasue the emulators are broken, but because that is the broken experience that you force your customers to look at...)

All the Best !
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