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Long on Potential

By Jason Grigsby

Published on February 11th, 2008

This is the third post in a multi-part series on the mobile web that previews some of the topics for my presentation next week at the Portland Web Innovators Forum. RSVP for the event here.

In the last post in this series, we examined the size of the mobile market and how mobile adoption dwarfs that of television, PCs and automobiles. With such a large market, why aren’t more businesses working on their mobile strategies?

One reason why many businesses haven’t taken the mobile industry seriously is because we’ve heard the story before. Every couple of years mobile carriers or phone manufacturers would tout the soon-to-be-released dream of a smart mobile device in your pocket.

The title of my last post quoted Dr. Eli Harai of San Disk who recently called mobile the mother of all markets. But this isn’t the first time the mobile market has been called that.

In 1992, then Apple CEO John Sculley told the New York Times that “pocket-sized digital communicating devices” could be “the mother of all markets.”

Fool me once.

For the last few years, mobile phones adoption has out-paced other technologies. So the widespread adoption of mobile phones alone isn’t enough to warrant new optimism.

What’s changed that makes 2008 different than 1992 or even 2006 when it comes to realizing the mobile potential?

  • The iPhone’s easy-to-use interface.
  • Full web browsing experiences led by iPhone’s Safari browser and Opera.
  • Flat-rate data plans.
  • Phones with Wi-Fi support built-in and the many public Wi-Fi hotspots
  • The push for open platforms—whether truly open like Google’s Android mobile operating system or the pressure that led Apple to release an iPhone SDK.
  • The push for open networks including the open network requirements placed on the recent wireless spectrum auction and the commitment by major U.S. carriers to be open networks by the end of 2008.

Momentum in the mobile market has accelerated to such a degree that not a day goes by that there isn’t another company releasing some major new initiative. Today alone, AOL announced a mobile platform, Nokia launched a major mobile advertising platform, and Microsoft bought Danger, Inc., the producers of the HipTop/Sidekick phones.

There is still work to be done and the question remains whether 2008 will be a transition year or the year mobile technology skyrockets. But it is no longer possible to look around and conclude that mobile isn’t poised to take off.

It used to be that when people would tout what was possible with mobile phones, we had to look no further than our own phones for a harsh reality check. Now when someone pulls out their iPhone, Blackberry or Nokia N95, the future seems a lot closer than it ever has before.