Sunday, July 29, 2007

The mobile web: Fast Pipe, Always On, Get Out the Way

There have always been tensions in between mobile operators and manufacturors, because both want control over phone services like email, news and sports readers.

Now, a third sector has entered the mix - Silicon Valley. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are all racing to get their own services and applications - such as search engines or mapping tools - installed on phones.

Consequently, there's confusion. Amid much publicity, Vodafone recently annouced they were automatically reformatting web pages to fit mobile screens - and it quickly became clear that they were removing every advert and breaking many sites.

Fast Pipe, Always On, Get Out the Way

There's only one clear approach to solving this, best summarised by Tim Bray, and it relates to mobile operators: Fast pipe. Always on. Get out the way.

In other words, mobile operators must resign themselves to being pure utilities, providing wireless data at ever-increasing speeds. They're wasting time and money creating their own software services for consumers, because Silicon Valley understand better what to provide, can innovate faster, and can scale better.

Back to the future...

The mobile industry will go the same way as the PC industry. Initially, the only applications available were installed locally on the client. Then, basic web browsers became available. As network speeds increase, web applications became ever more popular. Eventually, people will live in the browser, wondering why any other applications even exist.

Even Silicon Valley seems to be forgetting some of these lessons. Yahoo! Go is a java download for mobiles that displays email, internet search, and maps. Why aren't they just re-formatting their websites instead, especially as mobile browsers like Safari 3 and Opera 9 support features like Ajax?

Mobile operators ARE broadband providers

The recent rush of mobile operators into providing home broadband is no surprise. It's a chance for them to learn the ropes before the mobile industry becomes fully IP-based too.

Unfortunately, they've failed to learn a key lesson of the web: IP is stupid, and intentionally so. All the power lies at the edge, with the content. Providing good content and services is a very different business to managing an IP network, and I think they'll struggle to do both.

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