Mobile’s Great Expectations: Part 1, The Rise of Mobile

Posted by Paul Williams, Search Analyst (Natural Search)

For several years now, businesses, marketers and consumers have basked in the multifaceted glory that has been dubbed Web 2.0. The technicalities of networking have changed since the days of Usenet, the sandboxed AOLs, and personal Geocities pages, but we all can agree that one thing remains the same — everyone wants to find and share information. This desire has contributed to entrepreneurial efforts from which complex and powerful social tools have been produced. The success of Flickr, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and the rest of the gang are examples of these social tools. It is arguable that these concepts run concurrently with the evolution of key technologies, but it is not so apparent where exactly the “Internet” as we know it will go from here.

Now that “we the people” create, upload, categorize, and wiki everything, the Internet is more than just a tool for researching and sharing information; it is a component (and, yes, proponent) of life and commerce. While it's inevitable that the technologies will improve for creating, interacting, and accessing the large amount of media and information available online, it's also imperative to think about how the Internet will look in the years to come. I'm sure it’s safe to say the future internet won't be quite as it is portrayed in our favorite science fiction– instead, I have a feeling it's going to look a lot like it does now on mobile.

In the upcoming weeks I will explore mobile and its implications. My posts will cover the rise of mobile, the API revolution, the cannibalization of search and capturing the future of search. 

The Rise of Mobile

You’d have to be blind not to notice the rise of mobile use with the Internet. The daily unique visitors that accessed news and information from a mobile device increased by 107% year over year in January 2009[1]. Even more significantly, social media access from mobile phones increased 427%. Clearly, people see the value of convenient, omnipresent access to information via their mobile phones, and those numbers indicate a positive trend. Even in Japan, “more people access the Web via their cell phones rather than on their home or work computers.”[2]

Sure, depending on the handset you're using, accessing the Internet might be a headache. In fact, I know it is — basic flip phones that run sloppy browsers or mobile devices that can't render certain website elements are not the future of anything but continued frustration. Obviously devices like BlackBerrys, Android phones, iPhones, and a smattering of Windows Mobile and Linux devices are key to predicting future trends. Not simply because they have better browsers, but because they are technologically more powerful and — specifically — have amazing digital conduits for innovative “mobile” applications. They are more personal, they can locate wherever you are with global positioning systems (GPS), and, yes, they also have smaller screens.

That last part is surprisingly important — screen size and resolutions for desktops and laptops have increased significantly since the 90s. Even back then, you couldn’t simply have an epic resolution for risk of minutely sized text. Though mobile screens are smaller, they provide great resolutions (480 by 320 pixels seems to be a nice size). The interface of these screens also ought to be considered — some of them are pushing touch, others use scroll balls, miniature QWERTY keyboards, and traditional styluses. Regardless, the use of space on that screen is precious.

Developers have worked around this issue by designing succinct interfaces for their applications (and mobile versions of websites). But you’ll never have the chance to display the same amount of readable and interactive data as you could on a larger monitor.

The solution? No, it’s not cumbersomely shrinking everything or scrolling around the same sized layouts on a smaller screen; it’s actually redesigning the means by which we access that information.  Stay tuned next Tuesday for Part 2 of Mobile's Great Expectations: The API Revolution.

[1] ComScore press release, 03/16/2009:

[2] Wired. “A Brief Tour of the Japanese Web.” 19 May 2008.

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