What's Ahead for the Mobile Web in 2010?

2009 Becomes 2010 by Optical Illustion

I expect this year to be an exciting one for mobile browsing and mobile web apps.  Here are my predictions of what 2010 will bring to mobile web sites, services and browsers.

There will be major improvements in smartphone mobile browser technology . Mozilla, Opera, Nokia, Skyfire, Google and RIM will compete to deliver a near desktop experience on high end devices. Expect to see better and faster JavaScript engines and increased support for HTML 5's offline storage, geolocation, SVG and video features.  Desktop level Adobe Flash support will also appear on most smartphone platforms, although probably not on  the iPhone.

Full-Web browsers will become the norm for feature phones. Feature phones have traditionally used WAP2 browsers that can only handle made for mobile pages less than about 20KB in size, Full-Web browsers can handle at least 500KB pages and can load desktop sites as long as they don't require Flash or advanced JavaScript support.  Opera Mini, Bolt and UC will push the boundaries of proxy based browsing to add desktop/smartphone  features like tabbed browsing, copy/paste,  bookmarklets and streaming video to many feature phones.  Javascript performance of proxy based browsers will improve but will continue to be a weak point.  Manufacturers and operators will increasingly specify proxy based full-web browsers or the embedded full-web direct browsers from Opera, Nokia (S40 Webkit), Netfront and Teleca on mid-range phones. The ancient Openwave and Nokia WAP browsers will be relegated to only the most basic phones.

"Middle-Web" sites will proliferate. These are what used to be called "iPhone Web Apps"  They render as a single column like traditional mobile sites but with larger page sizes, more and larger images and judicious use of JavaScript for asynchronous partial page updates and eye candy like rollover effects.  Some Middle-Web sites only support Webkit based touch browsers (iPhone, WebOS and Android) but the better ones will use graceful degradation and progressive enhancement to support the less capable  full-web browsers of feature phones.

Traditional mobile web sites will start to disappear - prematurely. With interest and development effort centered around the middle-web, publishers and developers will tend to neglect their legacy mobile sites. This will be a mistake. Even though the handset replacement cycle averages 18 moths in the US and Europe, old phones live on for five years or more in the developing world. Case in point, according to AdMob (PDF), the most popular handsets in Indonesia are the  Nokia N70 and 6600  which are  five and seven years old. Developing markets are also where mobile traffic is growing the fastest; according to Opera betwen Nov 2008 and Nov 2009 Opera Mini page views  increased by  604.5% in Indonesia, 445.3% in South Africa and 1091.1% in Vietnam.  Those increases are on top very significant traffic volume as the three countries are in the top ten in the world in overall Opera Mini traffic.

The mobile web will look more and more like the desktop web. Publishers, developers and advertisers are waking  up to the fact that more people are now browsing with phones than with PCs! Things that are taken for granted in the desktop web like SEO, thematic consistency and big name, big dollar ad campaigns will increasingly come to the mobile web.

Mobile data plans will change and not always for the better. The iPhone made browsing and connected apps on phones fashionable, especially in North America.  The usage of and the demand for mobile data has risen dramatically among both smartphone and feature phone users.  Users are clamoring for more and cheaper data, However, many mobile operators somehow failed to anticipate that demand and build out their networks to meet it.  Users on AT&T, the exclusive iPhone operator in the US, are increasingly plagued with dropped data and voice connections. The operators most impacted by their own lack of foresight will cap, cut back and increase the prices of their data offerings.

Less impacted networks will see the rising demand for data an opportunity for growth. Expect to see some innovative low cost and data offerings from operators who still have surplus data capacity.  These will tend to be through MVNO's so that they don't cannibalize revenue from current customers locked into higher cost plans by contracts.  A couple of examples have already appeared;  MVNO StraightTalk's $45/month unlimited voice, messaging and data plan on the Verizon 3G network  and a $40/month unlimited data-only offering  from DataJack, a MVNO using T-Mobile USA''s 3G network. There is some doubt about DataJack's legitimacy, but StraightTalk is real,  owned by América Móvil, the 4th largest mobile operator in the world, and sold by WalMart, the nation's largest retailer.

Apple's tablet will revive the MID. Apple's product will have a wonderfully intuitive user interface and gorgeous industrial design. It may even include some "killer" new feature like "insanely great" voice recognition software. But it will be expensive, locked down and likely limited to a single operator if it has mobile data support at all. But it will be fashionable, popular and will spur  a rash of clones.  Many of which will be keyboard-less netbooks running Windows 7, but some will use the Android or Chrome OSs.

Mobile web services will start to replace mobile apps, but just barely. Supporting dozens of mobile platforms with a native app is expensive and nearly impossible.  The Web is seen as a universal platform and will dominate in a few years, but not in 2010. Mobile browsers are getting better. But on most platforms browsers will still lack the sort of fast, stable and comprehensive  JavaScript support  needed for Ajax Web Apps that are anywhere near as fast and powerful as a good native app on the same platform.  News and information services including Email and RSS readers will increasingly favor the web over apps. But messaging, mapping, and navigation will continue to be the domain of native apps for another year or two.

More Android, Symbian and Maemo, less iPhone.  Apple has the potential to revolutionize the mobile scene again in 2010 but  the competition is catching up. It will be harder for Cupertino to grow or even retain its market share this year.

Android in particular is reaching critical mass. Its been adopted by every major manuafacturer that doesn't have its own smartphone OSs. The latest Android devices like the Droid and Nexus One meet or exceed the iPhone in speed, screen size, resolution and just about every other capability except Apple's unmatchable ease of use.

If Nokia can get its house in order and push Symbian down to ever lower price points it too can gain market share.

Maemo is not normob ready yet  but will be widely embraced by the tech savvy. With almost no current market share it can only go up.

The other Smartphone platforms will stagnate or worse. BlackBerry hasn't been very innovative of late but with a strong user base and a practical feature set that "just works", it will hold it's own.  Windows Phone is in decline, losing market share and vendor partners. Palm WebOS is a great but largely unknown platform. Palm seems to lack the resources for the worldwide cross-operator distribution and promotion it needs and is a likely acquisition target.

4 thoughts on “What's Ahead for the Mobile Web in 2010?

  1. I think this article is great but very biased.

    Anyone who under estimates Microsoft's ability to catch up is making a mistake.

    Remember Netscape! I think that Microsoft see this opportunity slipping away and they are about to invest huge money to make a come back!
  2. Open source OS will certainly get a boost in adoption this year.Players like Symbian,Android and probably Bada will be magnets.To catch up with these sophisticated systems,mobile hardware will go through a metamorphosis (whopping 100GB storage,1.5 GHz processors,PM-OLED and MEMS display technologies,etc.).Further,the number of players in mobile manufacturing industry will increase in developing geographies creating a fierce competition ecology.

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