Friday, February 15, 2008

It's Search Stupid

There are more cell phone in the world than there are computers. So how come practically nobody accesses the Internet on the mobile phone? That's the conundrum facing mobile insiders on every continent.

One reason is that with its small screen size and low bandwidth using the Internet on the phone is a pain. Apple's iPhone is changing the experience, but one panelist at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona, Spain says that one way to unlock the mobile experience is through Search:

Panelist Mike Yonker, general manager of worldwide strategy and operations for Texas Instruments terminals business unit, said that the way for the user to get the rich content now available on a mobile handset is through the "search" function. But this isn't so easy. He compared the limitations of a mobile handset to a full personal computer screen.

Searching on a computer, he said, is like going to a store, where the customers sees every product displayed, and can make comparisons, touch the products, even try things on for size. Doing the same search on a mobile, he said, but like trying to shop in the same store but "through a drive-up window." No matter how much stuff is in the store, you can only find out through the cashier at the drive-up window.

See Users' love affair with iPhone stumps Mobile World panel

Yonker is right that one challenge to be solved is helping users find content, but if that content is still difficult to view on the device the experience will still be bad. Expressed differently, it's not only the content that needs to bubble up to the top, but the content has to match the capabilities of the phone.

With the iPhone one can get to a true web experience. But until there are more mini-computers like the iPhone users are going to have to make do with the Internet-lite. And that's not going to grow audience.

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