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When will U.S. mobile web usage take off?

Tim Peter has unearthed an interesting study on Web usage for mobile phones, which leads him to the conclusion that people use their mobile phones to surf the Web in similar ways that they use their computers. In some countries, Web usage on mobile devices far out-paces that in the U.S., and the question remains, why? Why is it that U.S. cell users use their phones to access the Web so little?


In some ways, the phones have been the culprits. Clearly, mobile phones with tiny monochrome screens were unusable, but most people don’t have those old phones anymore. And the high usage of the Web by iPhone owners shows that a really nice device really matters, even if Apple and AT&T are only now getting off that pokey data network onto 3G.
So, bandwidth is up. Devices are better. It’s safe to say that anyone who wants to use the Web on their phone could pony up the money and get that access. So it must be the money.
The $200 for the devices is likely not the inhibitor, given how much people pay for other devices they use a lot less, so it must be the high cost of the carriers. Look at it this way, if Internet Service Providers charged by the megabyte in 1998, do you think the Web would have taken off? It’s the all-you-can-eat model that drove people to use the Web and to use always-on connections without giving things a second thought.
But as long as carriers are charging by the minute or the megabyte, or have some limit to the amount that you can use before the whopper charges kick in, people will be careful about how much they browse on their cell phones. Even after the carriers begin offering all-you-can-eat plans, expect it to take a while for the general public to realize they could change their plan and start using their phones the way they use their computers—anytime they want.
So, I think it will take a couple of years for usage patterns to change. It will take that long for people to learn about the new plans, to get around to upgrading their phone to something that browses the Web well, and to start using it the way they want to. Mobile Web has always seemed a couple of years away, and it still does, but if the carriers get serious about making Web browsing affordable, it might finally be around that corner this time.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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