The future of the mobile internet

IPhoneApps It's hard to buy a phone today that can't connect you to the internet. Smartphones take things even further with apps and widgets designed to get the most from online sites and services. But are apps the future of the mobile internet? Sarah Evans, O2's head of mobile internet thinks not.

The rise of the iPhone has really changed the way people consider the mobile internet but it’s also led, along with other mobile OS developments like Android, to the rise of apps. The question for companies now is whether they choose the mobile internet or apps to get their message and more importantly their products to you.

Sarah Evans, O2’s Head of Mobile Internet & Platform, says the iPhone was a turning point: “In 2007, there was a huge belief that the iPhone had cracked the internet experience. The screen was bigger and the web browser was more user-friendly but once apps became successful that was put on the back burner.” 

She continues: “In the next few years though, the mobile internet landscape will become richer and richer. Developers realise a mobile-friendly website gives them more value and more to play with.”  

There is a difference between the mobile web and apps but apps can often look like the mobile web and mobile web services can often looks like apps. Evans draws this distinction: “Apps are great for specific tasks and rich media like music or video. They’re also great if you need to tap into specific features of a handset.” 

On the other hand: “The mobile web makes it easier to promote your service or product with keywords and paid search. Apps can get lost with app stores becoming very full and hard to navigate.” 

Apps

When it comes to making an app, there are myriad challenges to overcome. Not only about what kind of functionality you want to offer, but which platforms you should prioritise. Platforms such as Android or iOS seem like no brainers, but then comes the challenge of Windows Marketplace or Nokia's Ovi Store alongside deciding whether to develop separate versions of an app for BlackBerry or other devices. Overcoming those challenges though does create a new world of opportunity – money.

Evans says: “Payment to access internet sites has been almost non-existent so far. With apps, people have been sold the idea of paying for content they want from the very start. If we're truly honest, it's really only apps in the Apple App Store that have encouraged people to pay. The number of paid apps in the Android Market is much smaller because buying them is trickier. Things like carrier billing will definitely help other app stores to compete with Apple”.

Tablets led by the iPad will also have a major impact on the future of the mobile web. Evans says developers and firms need to have a real tablet strategy: “Customers don't want to relearn how to use sites or services when they visit them on different devices.”

As the mobile web develops with evolutions such as HTML5 which is rapidly transforming how websites work from one device to the next, separating apps from the mobile web will become trickier. Ultimately people don’t really care if they’re using an app or a mobile site as long as the experience is good. 

Evans says: “Customers largely don't care how things are built and delivered along as they're easy and safe to use. Web apps with an icon on your handset are already really common.” 

She’s understandably optimistic about the future of the mobile web but says there is a big challenge: “how do you give customers easy access to their content, regardless of platform?” A serious challenge indeed, but one O2 is pushing hard to resolve. It is after all, the future of the mobile internet. 

Where do you think the mobile web will go next? Share you thoughts in the comments and let us know who else you'd like to hear from at O2.

image credits: volodimer

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