Yet it only takes one vaguely-worded press release with few definitions to reignite the hype again. Normally I'm a fan of the MobHappy guys, but on this occasion I think Russell's mixed up what he'd like to see happening in his version of utopia, versus what actually is.
Let's start with the press release:
"In fact, 5.7 million people in the UK use the mobile web, as opposed to 30 million who access the web by PC. This means that the mobile web is already nearly one fifth the size of the PC web"
Even if you take the numbers at face value, it's still a non-sequitur. How does the number of people accessing something determine its size?
Secondly, there is the perennial issue of definition. Is the "mobile web" anything accessed via a WAP or web browser on a handset? Does it include email as well? Are laptops with 3G data cards (or WiFi for that matter) classed as mobile web devices? I can quite believe that there are now 3-5m people in the UK who connect via WiFi or 3G from a PC. And how do you define & measure "unique visitors" from mobile devices - it's much trickier than for PC-based access because of poor cookie support, differing IP addresses and so on.
Then there's the totally unreasonable assertion that:
"Accessing the web via the mobile, as any sane, thinking person must acknowledge is going to dwarf PC access. And indeed, I would argue that it’ll replace it altogether within the next 5 years"
This is wrong on so many levels it's amazing.
- Developing countries show no signs of "skipping the PC" and going to mobile phones as an Internet platform. A combination of data-unfriendly prepaid tariffs, non-optimised handsets and operator focus on voice capacity when building their networks. Plus whenever I visit a country like Mozambique or Bolivia, the Internet cafes seem to be full of kids on MSN, the schools are getting PCs, and there's initiative like one-laptop-per-child. Not to mention that every government wants its children to be PC-literate so they can work in new businesses, learn to develop software & thus benefit the economy
- BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) will skip PCs. Yeah of course. That'll be why China has getting on for 100m broadband lines then.
- There isn't a fraction of the spectrum needed to get 2bn+ people using the Internet via mobile at a decent speed, especially if they want to compete with ADSL2+ or FTTH
- Most of the current 3G services are being held afloat by PC users with 3G data cards. This Ericsson investor presentation last week highlights the fact that Mobile PC connections will generate more traffic than anything apart from voice. And even if you assume as Ericsson does that there will be more mobile broadband subscriptions than fixed, you need to take into account that usually one fixed-sub is >1 users, while the reverse is true for mobile as a growing % of people have multiple devices & subscriptions.
- The notion that people will use a "personal digital device" (ie a phone) that somehow docks with keyboard & screen to become a pseudo-PC, with all data stored in the network doesn't fly. First off the price curve on memory & disk space >> bandwidth, so it makes more sense to store data at the edge of the network on the device. Secondly, nobody in their right mind will want a personal "hub" which is optimised-for/locked-to a single operator rather than being guaranteed to be fully open to the Internet at large. Plus there's the huge problems of federating data between the 2,3 or 4 separate devices that most people will have.
I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. I love using the web & email when I'm mobile (well, OK, given the apparently lousy state of T-Mobile's DNS servers, it could be a lot better). But there's no way I'd use anything other than a PC for "heavy lifting" work on the real web. Sure, mobile access to the Internet will improve, and there will be a few people who start to rely on it more or even completely. But it's a complete fallacy to suggest that people won't aspire to use a proper PC and operator-free raw Internet access.