Only about 15% of US mobile owners actively use the mobile web. The most common reasons given for not using it are that it's too hard to use and that it's hard to find mobile web sites worth visiting.
Startup GetFrog.com, is trying to fix both the usability and discovery issues. Clearly aimed at users who are new to the mobile web, Frog is a personal mobile home page that features extremely simple navigation. The front page, which is practically the only page, is a 3 x 3 icon grid - familiar to mobile users as it's the internal menu layout on most phones. Each icon is a link to a mobile site.
The first five icons on the Frog home page can't be changed by the user and point to MSN Weather, Google, Travelocity, Restaurant Row and Fandango (review). The other four icons are user customizable by choosing from a list of 51 sites which includes many, but not all of the mobile heavyweights including Yahoo, CNN, ESPN, Amazon and Ebay. The sites available on Frog are of consistently high quality, and everything is free (unless you decide to buy something on eBay or Amazon). One of the more interesting links that can be added is one simply called TV which leads to a page of nine icons each pointing a different streaming video. The videos are all in Windows Media format and are from ESPN, MSNBC, The Weather Channel and other well known sources.
The only other page is a settings page where the four configurable slots can be changed along with the background color of the large Frog logo that dominates the left half of the home page.
While I doubt that many of my regular readers will flock to Frog, I'm hopping the site will attract new users to the mobile web. Nine sites might seem limiting but is probably about right for giving new users the essentials, a place where they can check the headlines and weather, find a restaurant or get movie showtimes
Frog, at least initially, only officially supports QWERTY Palm and Windows Mobile devices with screens either 240 or 320px wide. When you register either on the PC website or with your phone you have choose one of the 28 supported devices. After registering you get an email with your own personal (long fuggly) GetFrog url. If you signup on your phone you are registered instantly and told to bookmark the page but Frog still asks for an email address. The email is not used that I can see - why require it?
The same 3x3 icon grid works very well on phones with a numeric keypad by using numeric hot-keys (accesskeys) for each link. In fact, Vodafone used such a design for their first Vodafone Live! homepage back in 2002. However, it takes a good browser adaption engine to get the grid menu to work across a wide variety of devices with different screen resolutions and rendering quirks.
Can a bog simple mobile portal like Frog drive wider mobile web adoption? Limiting choices to some of the best current web sites in an easy to use, no decisions format pretty much guarantees that the inexperienced user will have a satisfying experience the first time.
The real challenge is going to be getting the target users to try Frog. I initially though it strange to launch a site for neophyte mobile web users and then limit it to high end smartphones popular mostly with advanced users. But I think I can see the logic behind it. The biggest hurdle for an off portal site designed for first time users is getting them to launch the site on their phone. Windows Mobile and Palm smartphones are good mobile email devices and many, maybe most, users buy them for their email capabilites. Following links in emails on these phones is as easy as it is on the desktop. With mainstream phones you generally have to send links by SMS which has a lot more issues ranging from user fear of premium SMS scams to the fact that many phones make it hard or even impossible to follow links in text messages. Email centric smartphones may actually be the best platform for something like Frog to get some initial traction.
I'm not sure what Frog's business model is. The site is currently free and ad-free. I suspect the idea is to build traffic and then introduce ads and premium services.