Yes, the Mobile Web really DOES Suck

by Karoli on September 27, 2007 · 3 comments

Being on the mobile web is akin to being on a California freeway during rush hour: slow, annoying and a useless waste of time. The only reason to be on the freeway at rush hour is because one must. It is never a voluntary act. The same is true of the place known today as “the Mobile Web.”

Over at Publishing 2.0, Scott Karp listed 5 reasons why the mobile web sucks. I have a few more:

  1. Carrier-controlled and blocked browsing: My carrier is Cingular/AT&T and I have a Samsung Blackjack which runs Windows Mobile 5.0. It is video-enabled. But it’s not, not really, because the only video I could possibly watch on it would be AT&T’s video (for a monthly fee). YouTube won’t work; in fact, no flash video will work. This is intentional,and AT&T has no intention of facilitating the viewing of video on my Blackjack. Not that it would be an entirely thrilling experience anyway, because the throughput, even on the 3G network is achingly slow.
  2. Carrier-controlled Email preferences: My phone came with Seven.com’s push mail client, which purports to push Yahoo, AOL, GMail, or Hotmail to my phone, among others. I exclusively use GMail. I have no intention of making a change to another service at this time. I have had this phone for three months and the push client has worked with GMail for exactly three days. It just won’t play nice — it’s inconsistent and if, for some reason, it doesn’t work it burns through the battery at a rate of three times normal frantically pinging the Seven.com servers, which are frantically timing out for some reason. No problem, you say? Just use the browser to go to GMail. True enough, but not nearly as convenient, mostly because I have to remember to do it, as opposed to having my phone give me a little nudge when there’s new mail to read.
  3. The unbearably kludgy and tired Internet Explorer: The very first thing I did after one day with Internet Explorer was to download Opera’s mobile client, which makes a HUGE difference, but exacts a price on the performance side of things, as well as the onboard memory of the phone. IE is so ancient and slow that it’s nearly unbearable. One of the uses for my phone is to read news feeds — I use Google Reader for that. If I use Google Reader with IE, it will re-render sites which are not mobile friendly for me. But simply using IE is an experience in slow, painful, hardly-worth-it browsing. It’s a little like being back in the days of IE 4.0, when Netscape was the other alternative, but in the days where Netscape’s memory leaks were like a sieve begging for more. For those of us who don’t feel like dropping $400 on an iPhone or iPod Touch, there must be a better way to browse.
  4. Cost: I already pay for broadband at home and at the office. Now I pay for something slower than dialup, and the fee for that is more than either one of the broadband access rates I have from my ‘non-mobile’ sites. Mobile access rates are a joke — and AT&T just decreed that Blackjack users must upgrade to their PDA plan because we have a QWERTY keyboard. This, despite the fact that the Blackjack is a SmartPhone and not a true WindowsMobile device (no touchscreen).
  5. The Carrier-created Walled Garden – Am I sounding redundant? I mean to, because every time I try to do something with this phone I hit the wall of some AT&T manufactured limitation. This is what will happen if the major carriers are permitted to defeat net neutrality. They will control your applications, the sites you’re permitted to access, the applications you’re permitted to install, and they will charge you a small fortune for the privilege of browsing ‘their’ web.

    Carriers haven’t succeeded (yet) with their attempts to limit broadband customers to their ‘partner sites’ (by charging the customer or the vendor extra), but they are carefully building it brick-by-brick on the mobile web. For all the hoo-ha about the iPhone, the walls on that particular garden are highest of all. There are laws that say carriers must allow phones to be unlocked, so it looks like Apple is trying to do an end-run around that by forcing a lock on the manufacturer’s end and bricking any unlocked iPhones in the process. And even if they don’t completely brick them, I’m certain they will disable functionality that users would have with an AT&T contract. Apple thinks they’ll be able to just shrug and leave AT&T lily-white while screwing all the folks who have remained so completely loyal to them and their products all these years.

    The sad part is that they’ll likely succeed, simply because Apple has such an irrationally loyal fan base, and because there’s nothing better out there.

    Apple isn’t the only manufacturer snuggled in bed with the carriers, either. Every single phone made ought to be able to operate across any carrier, plain and simple. The Verizon Razr should work on the AT&T network, and the Samsung Blackjack should work on T-Mobile. Phones should be completely divorced from the carriers, have wifi and a SIM slot, and be available through all vendors without carrier branding. But they’re not, nor are they going to be as long as carriers have the right to control how we access the Internet and what we access while we’re on it.

Forget complaining about advertising, speed or equipment. The fundamental reason that the Mobile Web sucks is because the telcos want it to suck. They want absolute control, so that when they roll out a new feature we all say “oooh, ahhh!” even though we’ve been able to do it from our laptops for years. But now there’s demand, and semi-decent hardware, which gives them that much incentive to continue doling out little pieces of the web, one razr-thin slice at a time.

Doc Searls: Either we work with the carriers or we work around them. Also this.

Mathew Ingram: Why does Apple get a free ride?

Todd Cochrane: I would rather have an iBrick than give AT&T a Penny

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  • ceedee

    1. ThreeUK’s X-series Gold package includes 80 hours of streaming using Slingbox or Orb each month. All X-series phones come with Real Player and Flash installed. And ThreeUK offers mostly yoof-targeted video downloads from their website.

    2. I totally agree that it’s a pain that Seven/MobileMail doesn’t work push-ing GMail. I’d recommend both Consilient and Emoze as example that do.

    3. IE is “unbearably kludgy and tired” on the pc — why should it be any better on your phone?
    I experimented with three other feed readers before reluctantly admitting that Google Reader is probably the best right now. But I’m sure there’ll be another one along in a minute or two.

    4. My mobile contract includes 1 GB of data per month via a UMST network which seems to run up to 1.8Mb/s. Didn’t dialup used to run at 56kb/s? And it costs £5/month whereas my fixed, unlimited 4mb cable broadband connection is £25/month.

    5. AT&T might deliberately imprison you in a walled garden. Most European operators wouldn’t dare. Oh, apart from Vodafone…

    Ergo, the Mobile Web does NOT suck.
    Your operator and maybe your phone, does.

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