There is a growing view that the mobile internet is essentially going to mean accessing existing web sites on your mobile phone, rather than sites specifically built for or formatted for mobile. This idea has been around for a while, but has been given a shot in the arm by the launch of the iphone and its integrated Safari browser, which is shown in TV adverts browsing the "normal" internet.
There are a number of other recent trends which suggest that idea of a "mobile internet" like the imode system they have in Japan is not going to happen in the West. Google has stopped prioritizing mobile sites on its mobile search engine, in favour of transcoded versions of web sites. Opera mini, which has a similar level of capability as the iphone browser but for other phones now focuses on linking to the PC versions of websites such as The Guardian, Myspace and Facebook from its home-page.
Over the last year, Vodafone and a boat load of other operators have begun rolling out transcoders onto their networks to allow their users to access PC-focused websites, and in the process completely screwing over anyone that had previously bothered to build a mobile-focused site.
There is no doubt that a large proportion of mobile internet usage going forward is going to be generated by people accessing the main PC web on their mobile handsets. For a lot of use cases there is no need to have a specialised mobile site, particularly when you have a good mobile browser. In addition, users who have particular sites they use on their PCs are going to look for the same thing on the mobile web. Every day I access PC websites on my mobile handset and it works just fine.
However, going forward, there is still going to be a big role for both for specific mobile versions of PC websites as well as mobile "native" sites (sites that only exist on the mobile web). A lot of people don't seem to accept this at the moment but the evidence is there if you look for it. The fact is that a mobile site that is specifically designed for accessing on mobile provides a better user-experience than a site made for a PC on a tiny screen (even if your browser has whizzy features like zooming).
Despite the move towards trying to compress PC websites onto the mobile some of the biggest names from the US internet market all rolling out "m." mobile sites specifically formatted for mobile including m.twitter.com, m.facebook.com, m.myspace.com In particular, the mobile version of facebook has been a massive success and has really helped to introduce mainstream users to the idea of mobile sites specifically formatted for the platform.
In addition to mobile versions of sites which are big on the PC web, there is also going to be a role for sites which are focused mainly on mobile. Despite now favouring PC focused websites, Opera Mini's own data shows that some of the most popular sites for users of its browser are mobile-specific such as mocospace, itsmy.com and pepperonity.com. In many of the hyper-growth mobile data markets such as South Africa and India, mobile internet users have often not built up loyalty to PC versions of websites and specifically seek out sites which are optmised for mobile.
In actual fact, far from demonstrating that there is no need for the "mobile web" the way that things are developing on the iphone actually proves the value of mobile-specific sites. Despite the capabilities of the iphone browser, there has been a massive push to create iphone specific mobile websites such as iphone.facebook.com, iphone.ebay.com and iphone.foxnews.com. If there is no need for specific mobile sites anymore then why is everyone building iphone optimized sites?
If you are not convinced yet, here is an example of the main facebook site viewed through opera mini:
Completely horrible to navigate - "oh but you can zoom in" well here's what it looks like:
Not exactly scan-able is it? Compare the user experience nightmare above to the mobile version of the site - which is what Opera SHOULD be linking to from their home page.
Much better isn't it? All the functionality of facebook but in a mobile friendly format. Anyway, point made I think, is there anyone out there that really believes we dont need mobile sites anymore?