I’ve been thinking a bit about the recent history of mobile Internet access lately because I was wondering why it had such a teribble start. In the mobile world, the web had a much more difficult start compared to the fixed line world for a number of reasons. First attempts by mobile phone manufacturers to mobilize the web were a big disappointment for quite a number of reasons. In the fixed line world the web got an incubation time of at least a decade to grow, to be refined and to be fostered by researchers and students at universities before being used by the public who already had sufficiently capable notebooks, PCs and a reasonably priced connection to the Internet. In the mobile world, things were a lot different when first web browsers appeared on mobile phones around the year 2001:
- Mobile Internet access was intended straight for the public instead of first attracting researchers and students to use and refine the services. Unlike at universities where the web was free for users, companies wanted to monetize the service from day one.
- It was believed the web could be mobilized by only adapting successful services to the limitations of mobile devices rather than looking at the benefits of mobility. To put it into the words of Tomi Ahonen, that is like taking a radio play, bringing the actors and their microphones, and showing them when they read a radio play on TV.
- Few if any appealing content for the targeted audience was available in an adapted version for mobile phones.
- Mobile access to the Internet was very expensive so only few were willing to use it.
- Circuit switched bearers were used at the beginning which were slow and not suitable for packet switched traffic.
- The mobile phone hardware was not yet powerful enough for mobile web browsers. Display sizes were small, screen resolutions not suited for graphics, no color, not enough processing power and not enough memory for rendering pages.
- Use of a dedicated protocol stack (the Wireless Application Protocol, WAP) instead of HTML required special tools for web page creation and at the same time limited the possibilities to design mobile and user friendly web pages.
Each of the points mentioned above would have been enough on its own to stop the mobile web in its tracks. Consequently many roadblocks needed to be overcome before the Internet on mobile devices started to become interesting to a wider audience. This fortunately coincided with the emergence of the web 2.0 and its evolution into the mobile domain. But that’s another story.
As always, comments are welcome!