The Mobile Web: Great Promise + Growth Pains

It’s clear that the mobile web is a big growth segment these days. Proof of that is found in recent Nielsen statistics, which have charted ~34% annual growth of the U.S. mobile web audience, now numbering some 57 million visitors using a mobile device to visit web sites (as of late summer 2009).

And now, a new forecast by the Gartner research firm projects that mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access devices worldwide … as early as 2013. It estimates that the total number of smartphones and/or browser-enhanced phones will be ~1.82 billion, compared to ~1.78 billion PCs by then.

Gartner is even more aggressive than Morgan Stanley’s prediction that the mobile web will outstrip the desktop web by 2015.

So, what’s the problem?

Well … consumer studies also show that web surfing using mobile phones continues to be a frustrating experience for many users. In a recent survey of ~1,000 mobile web users, web application firm Compuware/Gomez found that two out of every three mobile web users reports having problems when accessing web sites on their phones.

Because people are so used to fast broadband connections – both at home and at work – it’s only natural that their expectations for the mobile web are similarly high. To illustrate this, Gomez found that more than half of mobile phone users are willing to wait just 6 to 10 seconds for a site to load before moving on.

And what happens after they give up? Sixty percent say they’d be less likely to visit the site again. More importantly, ~40% report that they’d head over to a competing site. As for what would happen if the mobile web experience was as fast and reliable as on a PC, more than 80% of the respondents in the Gomez study claim they would access web sites more often from their phones.

For marketers, this means that to maximize their success in the mobile world, they should reformat web sites to conform to the small-form factor of handheld devices. And Gartner also notes that “context” will be the king of the hill in mobile – more than just “search” – in that it will deliver a personalized user experience. New functionalities such as Google’s “Near Me Now” are providing information on businesses, dining and other services that are in the proximity of a mobile user’s location. These and other innovations are opening up whole new dimensions to “seeking and finding” in the mobile web world.

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