The Future of Mobile Web in Emerging / Rural Markets

June 28, 2007 1:39 am 0 comments

Over the past few months I have been writing about the mobile web trendsin the developed world, such as Korea and Japan where new technologies are being tested. What about mobile web in emerging telecom markets of Pakistan, India etc? Even though most analysts agree that mobile web will be important for the emerging markets telecom, the industry is still struggling with the right solutions to make it happen. Here’s my analysis of the situation.

1. First phase of mobile web was played out in US/Europe/Korea-Japan. It provided valuable lessons. Those who thought that they could take today’s web and tweak it to squeeze it on to a mobile phone have failed miserably.

2. The effort to control content and user navigation has hurt the experience of common users. It has also distracted the service providers … their focus has shifted away from the user. (The new CEO of ATT recently admitted this at NXTcomm). Result: At this time there are too many incompatible solutions.

3. The convergence of new user interface technologies and phone hardware improvements is promising. Approaches such as widgets, mobile ajax are changing the face of mobile web. Combine that with developments of cheaper phones with long-lasting batteries and expanded network capacities. This is incremental progress so it will be a while before the world sees their impact.

4. It takes a big leap of faith for non-Internet users to do anything beyond basic voice and messaging on a phone. How is the industry going to tackle this issue and establish trust?

5. The billion-dollar question is: Will the mobile web be relevant for rural area users of Pakistan or India? These hundreds of millions of users have not even heard of Internet. What feature set, level of localization and adaptation will be needed for them?

The CEO of Mobio Networks wrote a recent piece in Financial Express: Simply taking web experience on mobiles won’t work. Even though most of it is just advertisement for his company his points about mobile web are also valid for Pakistan. I will present my critique of his product in a later post but here are some excerpts:

The emergence of value added services (VAS) is one trend that is being followed closely and with great interest by industry analysts and policy makers worldwide. In India, the mobile phone has emerged as the most prevalent device to access the Internet. Most of the industry up till now has been focused on investments in wireless infrastructure. Now that a large part of that investment is behind us, attention is inevitably shifting to VAS.

The consumer is asking for the next set of services-beyond ring-tones, wallpaper, games, SMS. However, few VAS providers have realised that simply taking the web experience and miniaturising it for mobile delivery doesn’t work. The consumer is left with a poor experience and abandons the service quickly.

These range from applications in social media to dynamic widgets scaled down to fit the way people actually interact with information on the go. People want to buy train or movie tickets, read their horoscopes and catch up on the gossip about their favourite Bollywood or Hollywood stars. We cut through this clutter and deliver a mobile web experience that works typically in three clicks or less with zero or minimal data entry. We see it as developing meaningful content and applications, designed and built from the ground up to realise true value from the mobile phone.

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