Have you ever been at a restaurant with friends trying to figure out which actor was in that Oscar-nominated film? At a family function, dying to know the score of the game you’re missing? At the mall on a rainy day wondering if tomorrow you can lie on the beach instead?
Enter the mobile Internet. While still considered by some to be in its infancy, the steady number of early adopters is forcing companies to sit up and take notice. Currently, there are over 213 million Americans carrying a mobile device on their person — be that a Treo, Blackberry or regular cell phone. According to Telephia, a market researcher for emerging technology, about 16 percent of them are using their mobile devices to browse the web — that’s more than 34 million.
In recent weeks, several articles have hyped the viability of mobile television, video and social communities, but there’s reason to keep expectations in check. For one, the number of sites optimized for mobile count only in the hundreds. Unlike the web, where there are millions upon millions of sites to surf, only a small percent of companies on the traditional internet have truly built sites optimized for mobile.
The second obstacle is the cost for the user. With all the new technology that has flooded the market in recent years, consumers are starting to feel maxed out on subscriptions. There are bills for TiVo, satellite radio, cable, Xbox Live … who can blame them for not wanting to add to their monthly expenses?
“Right now carriers are charging about $15 to $20 per month for WAP access. Considering the average mobile user is already paying $50 in cell phone, many don’t want to pay the additional charge,” says Kanishka Agarwal, VP of Mobile Content at Telephia. “That cost needs to come down, and the answer is probably going to be advertising.”
Brian Stoller, Senior Director of Strategic Development at Third Screen Media, agrees that mobile advertising will probably be the salve for the cost prohibiting widespread use. “When we ask consumers if they would rather pay the subscription or see advertising, nearly all respondents are accepting of the advertising if it subsidizes the content,” says Stoller.
While ads might cut the cost burden, there is a third, but important, liability inherent in mobile services: the technology itself. According to Agarwal, the screens of phones are still tiny, keypads make it difficult to navigate from site to site and the load-times from carriers are still too long.
“In the United States we have super-fast web access on our PCs and we compare our mobile internet experience to that of our computers,” says Agarwal. “Content providers need to make sure that their site is optimized. If a user gets a bad experience at a site the first time, they will never go back.”