Building A Real Mobile Web

I'd like to see a mobile web that feels just like the world wide web. The world wide web has unleashed a wave of creativity and technical achievement and has impacted society on so many levels over the past twenty years. We can have a mobile web that will do the same, but we don't have one right now.

The world wide web is a global network of interconnected communications systems that allows any computing device to connect to it. Those devices run operating systems that allow any application to be installed on them. And so any developer anywhere in the world can build a web app (or desktop app) that can participate in the world wide web.

That is not true of the mobile web. The mobile carriers have all connected to each other and to the web. But not every device can run on every mobile network. And not every mobile app can operate on every mobile device that is connected to the mobile web.

I've been saying this for quite a while on this blog that until we get a truly open mobile web we will not have a platform for innovation like the world wide web. Not everyone gets it.

That's why the Google Voice/iPhone situation is so important. I don't use the iPhone and I tried and didn't like Google Voice. So the decision by Apple and/or AT&T to prevent Google Voice from running on the iPhone does not impact me in the least. But this incident clearly shows that a business and technical architecture that does not allow (require?) every mobile device to operate on every mobile network and that does not allow every mobile app to run on every mobile device it was written for is bad for consumers, bad for innovation, and bad for society.

I agree with my friend Bijan that market forces are better than government meddling in markets but in this instance, I think the goverment is right to be paying close attention to this situation. At a minimum, the saber rattling by the FCC will make mobile carriers and device manufacturers think twice before creating proprietary platforms and networks. And I would like a simple and well articulated public policy on the mobile web.

I believe it should be required that:

1) the consumer owns his/her phone number and can use it on any network (we've got that)
2) the consumer owns his/her mobile device and can use it on any network
3) non-malicious mobile apps should be able to run on any device they were built for

I don't have a problem with subsidies and I understand that carrier subsidies are helpful in bringing down the cost of mobile devices. The iPhone has benefitted enormously from the lower prices made possible by the AT&T subsidy. But that subsidy is ultimately paid for by the consumer in the form of a contract with an early termination fee. Subsidies are a financing vehicle and they should be encouraged. But subsidies in return for exclusive devices should not be allowed. Let the market work, let each and every carrier compete in the market for the consumer's business by offering every device on their network and the best and most competitive subsidies. Exclusive contracts between device manufacturers and carriers don't let the market work in the consumer's interest, driving down prices and increasing choice.

I love what Google is doing with Android and while I've yet to find an Android phone that can replace my trusted Blackberry, I think Android is going to be a big success. They've got the right approach to the market, they are open in every way possible. That's the winning model, for Google, for the consumer, and for the mobile web. I'd like to see Apple emulate it, but they did not with the Mac twenty-five years ago and they may make the same mistake again. I hope not.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. David Semeria

    As mobile phones get better, and HTML 5 rolls out, the browser will become the de-facto platform, just like on the proper web.

    1. fredwilson

      i think you are right David, but that will take time. there’s a great discussion about that on the USV bloghttp://www.unionsquareventu…the comments, particularly the ones by peter cranstone, are worth reading

      1. David Semeria

        Wow. What an amazing discussion!Apart from some of the comments coming over as thinly-veiled pitches – which I suppose is understandable given the context – it’s remarkable to see how deeply people (on both sides of the table) are thinking in this space. It’s like sitting-in on huge brainstorming session. Great read, thanks.FWIW, I can think of one area that was missed (caching and syncing) but I’ll post a reply over there.One final point, you should make the width of the USV page auto-scaling. Reading comments in a three word column is a big turn-off, especially when 2/3 of the screen width is unused.

        1. Mark Essel

          Agree about the browser/platform for smart phones analogy Dave. Checking in on the page Fred points us to.

        2. fredwilson

          Great suggestion for I’ll get that to the right person

  2. Phanio

    You would figure that a more open mobile web would benefit all these companies and this industry in the long-run but is being hindered by short-term thinking.I think you will get what you want eventually – it will just take one of the major players to move in that direction – then the rest will follow.

  3. mbmccall

    Agreed Fred. Even the carriers suffer as they Balkanize the mobile web with two results:1) developers can’t get economies of scale on the work2) this greatly reduces the power of the Network Effect as fewer participants are in the same ecosystemSo, fewer apps are written for their platform and fewer users engage on it. Think early AOL vs the Browser…

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a great analogy. iPhone is AOL, Android is Netscape

      1. Kontra

        Interesting that Netscape was soundly beaten and killed by a closed system, IE. AOL, which ‘saved’ Netscape, is still alive. And iPhone rules.This was said over and over again about the iPod/iTunes strategy. Nobody has been able to beat it. How many times do we have to see the movie “One codebase for all devices” and realize it doesn’t work, beyond mediocrity?

        1. fredwilson

          It works pretty well on web browsers

          1. Kontra

            It does? :)Why then did the entire universe of developers gang up on Jobs when he offered the web as the ‘sweet’ solution?No, it doesn’t work. Not yet. Not until HTML5 matures. That’s at least 18-24 months away. Which is also why 70K apps were written for the AppStore and not the web, for all kinds of reasons, and not just technical. But don’t take my word for it, look at the stats.

          2. fredwilson

            Well the stats back you up for sure. But it sure seems to me that the web gives to write once, read many

          3. Kontra

            We need to move from “write once, read many” to “write well, read well”.That, BTW, sums up Apple’s approach.

          4. fredwilson

            Well said

  4. OurielOhayon

    Fred i agrree this is what is desired. Give power back to the end user. But i am afraid it will take much more time than with the real web since the gates aka operators to the mobile webs are fewer and therefore alternative paths to data is limited.However i am confident that the app based ecosystem – specially with non desktop apps depending on the browser and not on specific OS will help us achieve your point 3.In the meantime we created so users get a little more control on how they discover mobile apps.

    1. fredwilson

      our portfolio company Pinch is also working on app discovery. it’s a big opportunity

      1. OurielOhayon

        mm..i thought they were focused on app analytics and monetization via advertising. did they change direction?

        1. fredwilson

          They decided early on to cede the monetization oppty to bigger more established players and have been focused on developer analytics for the past year. They are working on the consumer side too so they can have a more complete view

  5. bombtune

    I think it’s naive to think that the mobile web will one day be exactly like the web experience on the PC. People are getting used to format shifting and will have to because the mobile web will always look and feel different. Web TV really hasn’t emerged yet either and that will require a different set of consumer understanding as well. Furthermore, the PSP handheld will always feel different than a controller and a console but they both do the same thing, enable video game play. One isn’t going to outlast the other and conform screens.I agree with you on app openness. Apple may also block Spotify, which plans to enter the American market with free cloud music service through its iPhone app. This would be a shame, particularly with an on demand music service being the industry’s eventuality.I also agree with carrier openess. I should be able to use my hardware with a carrier of my choice. I would have liked to have stayed on the T-mobile family plan but instead opted to eat up At&T just for the iPhone. I’m a little regretful.

    1. fredwilson

      you are right that mobile web, tv web, and pc web are going to have different user interfaces and “feel”but i believe they all need to have the same open architecture

      1. Tom Limongello

        So far there’s really only one site that I know of that has thought of the architecture to the point of making desktop and mobile work by offering different ‘feels’ or style sheets. That is Flickr, which redirects to if you click on a shared link in an email, on twitter etc. Device intelligence is key, as is the architecture with the ability to logically shift users between optimized experiences. The best way to think about it is to first look at how people interact with the site – via tv remote, scroll buttons, or touchscreen, and then optimize the style to the screensize.

        1. fredwilson

          This blog renders the page differently for mobile browsers. I wonder if that is a better approach long term than the model

          1. Tom Limongello

            ah nice work! I didn’t know that it was optimized for mobile and will check out streampad now.If your platform can handle mobile optimization on all subdomains, then the only value of using is just to market to the consumer that they should not be afraid of looking at the site on their phones. And to me it’s not a question; hopefully soon all sites wil be run on device aware platforms so they can render different style sheets.

  6. Peter Cranstone

    To build a real mobile web you will have to make the “web” smarter. HTML 5 is a start in the right direction but will be years coming. The core issue hasn’t changed since TBL invented it – it all boils down to “terminal and device capability”. The web doesn’t know who, what and where it’s connecting to.Also don’t confuse “contact” with “content”. The middle market (where the real size is) will always want simple contact – i.e. dial a phone number and it JFW’s (just fricking works). They don’t understand all this techie stuff.With regard to content – that has to improve. I’ve said it for years, there is only ONE web – the differentiator is what connects to it. There will be primarily three screens – TC, PC & MC. The web will be smart about each one.

    1. fredwilson

      i just referenced your comments on the USV blog post on mobile in a reply to another comment on this thread. i really like the way you think about this stuff

      1. Peter Cranstone

        Thanks… I’m sitting here finishing up testing a solution that delivers on what I’ve been talking about. There is only one Web. It just has to get smarter and the only way to do that (IMO) is make the protocol smarter (which is not the same as HTML5 which is a presentation layer).Here’s what’s going to be interesting. The BB version we release will work on your personal device. With literally the addition of one URL to the whitelist ( your blogsite will know Who, What and Where you are in real time. You will even be able to send your location to it – have that get mashed out to any search engine and then get those results back in your browser all with a few clicks.And no more reformatting the page for mobile – your web site will know the exact dimensions of your browser in real time – All the developer has to do is size the page dynamically. We’ve actually had several developers build a web site that scales to both the PC and MC without ever testing on a mobile device. It’s like their cheating – but they know every time what’s at the other end. The amount of time this saves them is amazing. Vic at Google is right – the cost of building mobile apps across multiple platforms is prohibitive – the only solution is to move everything to the browser. What he’s waiting for is HTML 5 – which (IMO) won’t cut it. You have to go deeper.

        1. ShanaC

          I’m actually very excited secretly. But I warn you to be very careful- beware of wisom of crowds if they realize that they lost too much of thier freedom ihn the process, or they feel too overwhelmed by change. Keep an open eye and an open API. Design around for the User to understand at the appropriate engagement level and all should be good. 🙂

          1. Peter Cranstone

            We already did. You (Me) have total control over what you want to share and whom you want to share it with. For the developers we built an Open API (open source) that they can use to extend their existing mobile apps so that the data can be sent to the web server. On the server side they can use their existing programming skills to access the mobile data (scripts)

          2. ShanaC

            And this is what makes me want to write all the more.

          3. ShanaC

            You remind me of what I need to write about.

        2. fredwilson

          I’d like to try it out when its ready

          1. Peter Cranstone

            We “painted it black” (as in done) last night. Just need a few days to clean things up for the public release and then I’ll post a link.

          2. Peter Cranstone

            Here’s the link:…Please read the read me first. It has lots of useful information in it.Thanks.

  7. Robert Kim, Investor

    “Exclusive…don’t let the markets work in the consumer’s interest.”Fred, unless, what’s that saying about geese and dander??? Anyways, in google’s case, its fundamental biz model makes what’s good for consumers good for itself. Ad driven.But the fundamental model of the carriers creates an adversarial relationship. They’d loose their shirts if they worked in “the consumer’s interest.” But its may be even more fundamental than that, every bschool including harvard instills that corporations must create and defend their choke points (ie apple… legally, technologically, geographically etc) in order to stay competitive.

    1. fredwilson

      maybe the b-schools are wrong.i don’t believe that screwing your customer is a good long term strategy

      1. ShanaC

        You are seeing some changes at the undergraduate level- they are becoming aware that people are touchy feely and can get driven away by having their feelings hurts due to the influence of behavioral economics and game theory.

        1. fredwilson


    2. markslater

      wonder what umair would say about this.

  8. ShanaC

    If we are saying that xHTML/HTMl and all the stuff that forces great content into the hands of the user through the browser is what made the original web amazing, and now we are seeeing the rise of a couple of speciality browsers (ie, Tweetdeck), because of the power of HTML:Then wouldn’t the case be that what cell phones really need is a makeover of the browser and how we use it? The apps are in some way replacements for it, but it fact we need to think of other ways to conceive of the mobile web for something much tinier? Why make so many little tiny browsers that only do one task? I mean I love my apps, but I keep wondering about the day when mobile web viewing is standardized (because of both device i/o specification and browser differences), that these tasks definitely need to be in an application. It means the browsers are pretty bad on cell phones, compared to computers. 🙁 On a computer- ideas like an RSS feed, and a good one, are in my browser, or are in the cloud (still in the browser though).When is this crazy period of duplication going to end so my poor battery can stay alive longer!

    1. David Semeria

      Shana, TweetDeck is not a ‘specialty browser’ – it’s an installed application which runs on Adobe’s Air platform.One of the key discussions in this space is whether browser-based applications (think GMail) can compete with installed applications (think Mafia Wars) which are written specifically for a given platform (eg the iPhone). If this were true, then developers would have to code just once for the ‘tiny browsers’ as you call them, instead of writing a different application for each type of phone (more or less).This would have huge positive impacts on development costs and interoperability issues, but would make Apple very unhappy because it would render their App Store redundant.Fred is basically asking whether, while we’re waiting for the (almost) inevitable fulfillment of this open mobile web, it is right that platform owners (Apple) and network owners (ATT) conspire to reduce consumer freedom purely to protect their own franchises.Just so you know what page we’re on.

      1. ShanaC

        I understand the differences. My concerns are behavioral ones. I see no functional difference between Tweetdeck, which has secondary “applications,” such as Twitpic, much like the ones I download into Firefox, in it. I treat it, and those I know using it, treat it closer to a browser for tweets than for something else. Long term, I thing they can compete, because most people treat the games and the seconday apps as flair, as expressions of identity. If we’ve moved beyond that in the non-mobile world, and we are (and have for years, remember skinning applications) in the internet world, there is no reason why one can’t in the mobile world. It is just a matter of consumer psychology and understanding how people feel about objects, a sorely understudied field.As for rights on mobile platforms, I cannot weigh fully on this, unless I want to give up my rights to associate in friendship with a number of white shoe, Grey flanneled men in law firms and federal agencies around the country. Since I enjoy joking around with them as well as talking about them about more serious matters, I would rather not give up my ability to ask good questions. I have learned a good deal about both law and business from them.This much I can say; A law student friend, at a prominent law school, gave me the following interpretation of a very important case: Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. He told me it was Godel-like power of Agencies to make law. I would say to mark this case as extremely important- since the Department of Justice is concurrently also investigating the ATT and Apple deal. whatever happens with this letter from FCC there will be a high possibility of a followup in court where it is used by the DOJ. After all, it is now the law.Beyond that, can’t say more. Unless you want to hire the law student for his second year internship. 😉

        1. ShanaC

          Unsurprisingly, Eric Schmidt just quit Apple’s board this morning, citing growing overlap of the two companies businesses. An entrancing drama to be sure.

          1. fredwilson

            About time

      2. ShanaC

        I know Tweetdeck runs on Adobe Air. The question is more of its function on its surface level. You could in fact open up a browser with multiple tabs that catch twitter’s links in the same fashion that secondary API’s do. In that sense, one treats it as a highly specialized browser. The middle market, as they become more aware of similar technologies, will relate to them in similar ways.I know what page we are on, I do think apps in the long run are redundant because of the way we relate to both machines and browsers. But that is all I can say.As for the FCC, I need to pass. I tease someone inside the FCC about me in a bikini as well as more serious matters. Plead the fifth on this one- not for superior insight but because I am willing to ask questions when necessary.

  9. A Reader

    “[…] bad for consumers, bad for innovation, and bad for society.”Unfortunately, it is good for carriers and their shareholders… and until that is the case, it is unlikely that we will see any concessions from carriers.

    1. fredwilson

      Unless the gov’t steps in and sets the rules

  10. ErikSchwartz

    It’s not going to happen soon for a few reasons.There is not a GSM carrier in NA that does not suck in one way or another. – I was given a Google Ion yesterday by a friend at Google (one of the IO conference phones). I went to the T-Mo store to buy a prepaid sim for it. T-mo does not sell a prepaid sim with data. I ended up going to the ATT store to buy a go phone sim. 100 MEG of data prepaid is $20 from ATT. If I like the phone I will probably end up sticking my iPhone SIM in it (because it has unlimited data).Both of their networks are spotty either in coverage or capacity.Sadly the best network in NA is VZW’s CDMA network.So realistically we’re waiting for LTE (maybe 2012?)FWIW, I see apple making many of the same mistakes now with the iphone that they made with the Mac in 1984-88. From my limited time using the OS I think 2010 will be a big year for Android.

    1. ShanaC

      It is why we need to develop alternative invest veicles to allow people who don’t meet qualified investor status to break into that pool anyway. And gain an education. In theory, they should be able to vote an excercise shareholder rule- but it might be easier to excise change if you just gave average people a more active voice in the market through different sorts of investing pools that were less mediated by managers.

      1. fredwilson

        Disrupt the VC business please 🙂

        1. ShanaC

          If you are serious, you have my email. You do realize I would be the only VC-type you’d know who go headcount phones and types of phones on commuter trains- and then go up and ask people about it, right?…You might not be so hot on games depending on the game and the state on the subway in two years. And yes, I really go do that. Great info on various things, especially how people feel about devices they carry.

    2. David Semeria

      FWIW, I see apple making many of the same mistakes now with the iphone that they made with the Mac in 1984-88.Check out Steve Jobs hates the App Store (Chris Messina)

  11. schmiddi

    the problem with this is the problem that the mobile web has had over the last 10 years … it takes the PC based web as the starting point. that is like taking the radio as the starting point for TV. it is a new medium/device, resulting in different usage patterns and user demands. apple apps are the first real game changer of the mobile web. will there be others, sure, but openness is not the key. it is about location needs, speed, and interface simplicity. beyond that there is integration across users which can be accomplished even in a fairly closed system like the att/iphone one.

    1. fredwilson

      you get innovation, which leads to “location needs, speed, and interfacesimplicity”, when you give developers open platforms to build on

  12. Allen Laudenslager

    Your the VC!Somewhere out their is a start up looking for financing to create a mobile computing company that meets your 3 points. They are not building that system because they can’t get the up-front funding.The extablished companies only see the short term loss and not the long term profits by being first into the new market.

    1. fredwilson

      Among many other things, this blog is ‘flypaper for entrepreneurs’. Hopefully we’ll catch one working on this

  13. k

    When Steve Jobs announced the partnership people weren’t happy about it.He really had no choice. He wanted and needed scale, as fast as possible.And when that’s what you need, you’re in a position where you can’t say we will allow apps like Google Voice.And now that he’s ahead and making so much money thanks to the mobile carriers my guess is it will be difficult for APPL being a public company to truly open up.It would be interesting to know how much longer Apple’s contract with AT&T lasts.And whether they will extend their exclusivity with another year or just a few months.That would be an indication Apple’s starting to feel the pressure.The FCC, Google, Palm, sites like TechCrunch… all are / will be instrumental in applying pressure.Thus, not necessarily by creating amazing products that beat the iPhone.Fast forward, let’s assume mobile carriers and device manufacturers open up, will that be enough?Will that be enough to have a mobile web that unleashes a wave of creativity / innovation?It needs to become faster and cheaper. I hear you, that’s where innovation and economies of scale come into play.But we’ve now come full-circle, haven’t we?We’re waiting for innovation to bring more innovation. If the mobile carriers have their way, don’t expect that to come really fast. Faster won’t be cheaper because of protectionist moves and because they want a decent ROI.I’m not saying anything new. You all know this already.There won’t be a “faster + cheaper” anytime soon unless there’s a disruptive technology we can all stand behind and support. A technology that disrupts the mobile carriers’ revenue stream.One that doesn’t give governments the power to shut it down.It should be like driving around in a car.This vision of the future is clouded by wishful thinking.

    1. Aaron Klein

      I think the disruptive technology may be open spectrum. That’s the key difference between the mobile web and the desktop web: the network is a free and open platform on the desktop, but it’s not on mobile.When that gets fixed and carriers get commoditized on mobile like they are on the desktop, then you’ve got a whole new ball game.I’m all for govt creating open spectrum and more competition there.

      1. fredwilson

        Were thinking alike on this one

    2. ErikSchwartz

      In its DNA Apple is not an open company. They’re a closed platform hardware company. They use software to lock users from swapping hardware platforms. That’s not unlikely to change.Remember the the Scorpion and the Frog…

      1. fredwilson

        Ooh. The scorpion and the frog. Nice link

    3. fredwilson

      Open spectrum? Like wifi but better spectrum?

  14. Aaron Klein

    Here’s the thing with this conversation: Fred is really good at seeing things how they should be, rather than the limits putting them where they are at. It’s a skill that I needed more of which reading avc has helped me develop.I think your three points of how the mobile web needs to be are correct. So the real question is: how do we work backward from that point and make it happen?I’m a small govt guy as should be obvious from my posts. But I think govt has three critical areas it has to STRONGLY regulate: (1) tell the truth, (2) follow through and do what you agree to do, and (3) don’t engage in anti-competitive behavior.For example, anyone see the NYT story on RyanAir? They’re like “did you granny die and you want a refund on your plane ticket? we don’t want to hear your sob story. what part of no refund did you not understand? GO AWAY.”Now, I wouldn’t fly RyanAir if you paid me to, but good for them. Some would say they are anti-consumer. I say, there’s an airline who is both telling the truth and following through on what they agree to do. :)Now, you can take (3) too far and eliminate the freedom to innovate. But as a principle, it’s pretty easy to see when a big business is engaging in anti-competitive behavior.That being said, it’s a fine balance. Twitter has become the standard for a data stream of what people are doing right now. You could say they have a semi-monopoly on the good data. Let’s say MySpace decides they want to compete there and builds an app that would hijack the status box and feed all that valuable data over to them. Is it anti-competitive for Twitter to block that? MySpace wants that to be “open”!So I don’t know where I stand on government involvement with this. I don’t like big companies engaging in anti-competitive behavior to stop innovation. That needs to stop, without opening Pandora’s box.In an ideal world, we’d win this war in the mobile space the same way we did on the desktop: consumer choice. Consumers chose open over closed, because it gave them more options and flexibility.And I think we’re still in the first couple of innings of this game. iPhone hasn’t won, they’ve just made a bunch of people smartphone users and expanded the market for other innovators in the space. I had a BlackBerry before having an iPhone, and now I’m back. It’s not game set match for iPhone.I’ll again say that BlackBerry, Palm and Google ought to get together (invite MSFT, if they’re willing to accept reality) and build a common web apps platform so there are two ecosystems: the open one, and the closed one. Verizon is sort of trying to do this, and maybe that’s a good foundation for the effort.I think open wins in the end. I’d sure love to see that happen because of consumer choice rather than government fiat. I’ll again say that’s a pandora’s box that innovators open at their own peril.

    1. k

      I’m not sure consumers chose open over closed. They chose the coolest product and suffer the consequences while complaining about the actions (lack of openess) of the company who sold them the product. Case in point : Apple

      1. Aaron Klein

        Ultimately, I’m not sure that’s true. Case in point: Mac vs. Windows. Once Windows got parity on user interface and apps, they built 97% market share against Mac’s 3%.If you believe the smartphone wars are over and Apple is #1 for life, then that’s reasonable to believe. I think we’re in the second or third inning at best.

      2. Aaron Klein

        Another reason to believe that it’s not game-set-match for Apple in the smartphone space. Here’s the rankings for the second quarter (prior to the Palm Pre launch, so who knows if that would have made the list):1. BlackBerry Curve2. iPhone 3G S3. BlackBerry Pearl4. iPhone 3G5. BlackBerry Bold6. BlackBerry Storm7. HTC T-Mobile G18. Palm Pre9. HTC Touch Pro10. HTC Touch Diamond

    2. fredwilson

      Yes, but the threat of govt fiat may help the market get there faster

  15. Jason

    this whole story is going to blow wide open as 4g rolls out here. Apple is shooting themselves in the foot, really does feel like repeat of 25 years ago. there are going to be so many Android phones that the choice of platform will be like mac vs pc, and we know how that is, and for sake of healthy competition hope to see winmo raise the bar in this space.very interesting to watch. we are going to have a real mobile web inevitably.

    1. Jason

      and on an AT&T rant, i am going to remember lack of subsidy 3gs upgrade pricing, no mms, no tethering, speed of HSPA deployment these years of my life. Verizon has block c, i don’t need to have an iPhone forever!

  16. manishgarg

    Fred, I somehow miss in this .. what is the main motivation for the carriers to change the business model. 1. If there are no service contracts they are not incentivized to subsidize the phones. 2. They want to build the walled gardens to avoid being dumb data pipesI agree that the market should be governing force here and nothing prevents them (look at dwindling numbers of Sprint, despite conracts). I love Android phones (have the newest unreleased android from HTC for the last two months). While Android makes it easier to build and sell apps, they have not done anything to change the market dynamics. T-Mobile will still sell the subsidized phones under contracts.The main changing criteria will have to be a common support for HTML5 and other mobile web standards, so that mobile web is more like regular web. the cost of developement and supporting multiple phones will be addressed. Closed, proprietary platforms like Apple’s will suffer. This is history repeating itself.

    1. fredwilson

      I hope you are right

  17. josr

    Interesting post!

  18. rick gregory

    Perhaps, but we should not assume that the future is simply a translation of the regular web to the mobile web. I’d like to see developers create apps that take advantage of the fact that their platform is a mobile one with location awareness, etc. Think Urbanspoon on the iPhone vs being able to view Excel files on your Windows Mobile phone. The latter is a translation of what I do on my regular computer, the former is an app that only makes sense on a mobile device that knows where it is (and has an accelerometer). No doubt HTML 5 is important on both webs, but it’s not a magic answer.Bah… this was supposed to be a reply to David Semaria’s post above. Logging into Disqus after clicking Reply ftl…

    1. fredwilson

      You’ll enjoy the post my partner albert wrote on the usv blog. I don’t have the permalink URL handy but its currently the top post at

    2. David Semeria

      Rick, the essence of the browser-as-a-platform debate hinges on efficiency and potability.The key reason for the success of the (desktop) browser – and by implication the web itself – is its inherent universality. This is a boon not only for users (use whatever hardware/OS/browser you like) but also for developers. You have no idea what it means for a developer to be able to code for only one platform.In a nutshell, the fewer the target platforms, the more developers can focus on innovation rather than compliance.As regards mobile-specific functionality (accelerometers, location etc) – these will find their way into the browser, in one way or another.

      1. rick gregory

        Actually, I do have an idea having run product dev organizations for a couple decades. And I’m familiar with browser advantages too as well as the myth that there’s such a thing as ‘the brwser’ when there are several with varying capabilities. Look at the codec issues in HTML 5 where Apple and others aren’t supporting Ogg, and Opera and others aren’t supporting H.264. Look at the differences in rendering we’re still dealing with from IE6. Want to use @font-face? FF 3.0 and before don’t support it, nor does IE. So there’s no one Browser you can write to and I doubt that we’ll ever arrive at nirvana where issues of this sort don’t exist. Thus promoting web apps as the only way to do things in hopes of that isn’t reality. Heck, we won’t see full HTML 5 support for years…I’m all for doing things in the browser if the app you want to write works well in there. I’m not for it if it means shoehorning the app into a feature implementation that works around what’s possible due to it being browser based. Yes, I get the developer pain – but great apps serve their users. Focus on delivering greatness to the people using your app even if it’s harder for you.

        1. David Semeria

          I apologize for my unfortunate choice of words (‘You have no idea..’). Clearly, you do.All the things you mention drive web devs crazy – especially IE6. But things are gradually changing…If you take IE6 out of the equation (as some sites are already doing) then it’s already possible to create decent cross browser apps. As time goes on, this convergence will increase.There is always tension between what makes sense right now and what makes sense in the future.My point is simply that in the medium/long term the browser will win.Undoubtedly there is money to be made (with other technologies) before this convergence actually occurs.

  19. William Mougayar

    And getting the telco’s out of mobile would be good. They are the biggest dinosaurs in the space. With Google Voice, Skype & others, I’d rather rely on Internet Apps for unified communications. I just got a North American Skype # for $3/month, with unlimited talking.I think Apple/iPhone will open up- they’re just buying more time. We can’t assume they’ll repeat the same mistakes as before. They still have an edge in the quantity & variety of iPhone apps which is a driving point for users. Until that gap starts to narrow down, they can still milk the cow.

  20. Rocky Agrawal

    For your point #1, it’s not clear that we do have that entirely.We have it in mobile and wireline networks, but the next gen services that are being touted usually lack portability.e.g. in Google Voice’s terms of service:Google’s Proprietary RightsAs between the parties, Google shall retain all right, title and interest to the telephone numbers used in connection with or provided as part of the Services.It’s disconcerting that at the same time they’re fighting a battle for access on iPhone, they’re claiming all ownership of the GV number.Maybe that’s temporary as they don’t have provisions in place for porting in and out, but it makes me reluctant to fully adopt the service.

    1. fredwilson

      Good catch. That’s not cool. I hope you are right about why that’s in the TOS

  21. Dan Buell

    I think the i-Phone has bridged the gap between the world wide web and the mobile web and in fact is easier and more convenient in some ways…

  22. BigLinuxGuy

    Just a couple of observations. First, it’s unreasonable to expect that all devices will run on all mobile networks. There are significant differences in CDMA and GSM technologies that preclude running a CDMA device on a GSM network and vice-versa. Second, while I agree in principle that the so-called “mobile web” needs to be opened up, the reality is that the wireless carriers have not built out their networks to the degree that networks have been built out in Europe, Japan, and South Korea. The reasons are many, but the biggest one is simply that the US is a huge geographical landmass and covering that much area may be (and probably is) simply cost prohibitive. Having said that, the wireless carriers and their “eco-system” middlemen have no desire to see mobile data become the commodity that voice has become on the wireless side and therefore will attempt to hold back the tide for as long as possible. AT&T’s Randall Stephenson admitted that they had not anticipated the heavy loads the iPhone places on AT&T’s wireless network and that the network is struggling under that load at times. Verizon will most likely experience the same issues as they roll out more “smart” phones. The data plans are priced to discourage the same kind of usage that one would expect on a “wired” connection for the same reasons. A contributing factor to the heavy data loads is the large volume of streaming data (surprise, HTML/Javascript/CSS, although bloated, are not the main culprits for the load). I would speculate that you will not see the “open” mobile Internet until the load issues are corrected and I’m not holding my breath on that occurring any time soon.

    1. David Semeria

      You’re right that the size of the physical size of the US represents a major obstacle. In Europe (at least in the countries I’m familiar with) there are at least 4 physical networks which cover the whole country – and that’s not counting the virtual operators which are allowed to piggy-back on them.Curiously though, whilst competition has eroded the cost of voice, the same has not happened with data. All you can eat data plans are still quite expensive. This is probably due to the fact that there’s a reasonable limit to the amount of bandwidth a person will use for voice (my wife being a notable exception) whereas it’s a lot harder to model average data usage (anyone for bit torrent over mobile?).At the end of the day, mobile bandwidth will always be scarcer than hardwired, and so will be more expensive.

      1. RichardF

        I think David and BigLinuxGuy have hit the bigger issue on the head. Price of data.In Europe the biggest area for regulation is price of the service. We have an oligopolistic market and the current high cost of data is what is really going to hold up the mobile web.Mostly I can put any handset on any network, apart from my iphone (which is mildly frustrating but still worth it). That will change (in fact is about change if recent newspaper reports are correct about O2 in the UK losing it’s exclusive rights to the Iphone) as Apple look to take a slice of other network customers.I can’t help but feel that all the current fuss being kicked up is simply because people want the Iphone right now but not on AT&T.Personally I can only congratulate Apple on developing an awesome phone that is beating the pants off all of the competition in terms of both the hardware and the software, they deserve their current position of strength and are perfectly entitled to protect that position. It’s Apple’s party if you don’t want to join in, it’s simple, don’t. When enough people don’t want to and there is a viable alternative then Apple will either open up or they will lose ground (which will be history repeating itself) and that is market economics.I’d never buy an Apple computer, in my opinion they are overpriced, underpowered, there are insufficient programmes written for it etc etc it’s just my opinion and I have an alternative that I can purchase (a pc).I wonder how many people would be complaining if Apple had initially chosen (or had the option to go with) a different network partner.You need a different (open) spectrum if you want the open mobile web that you describe not a botched attempt by government to try to regulate the mobile network owners who will by nature try to find ways of getting around that regulation.

        1. fredwilson

          Well apple only has 10pcnt of the phone market and I’ve tried to use the phone twice (bought it twice) and gave upTwo of my three kids have tried the iphone and prefer the blackberry tooiPhone isn’t the best phone for everyone even though it is indeed a game changing device in many ways

          1. RichardF

            I hear what you are saying Fred, I think that is particularly true of the corporate phone market, where Blackberry are still dominating. I am yet to understand why Apple do not fully integrate Microsoft Exchange.Apple’s iphone growth statistics are fantastic and 10% of the smart phone market with availability restricted to one network per country is even more impressive.

          2. ShanaC

            Amen. But in part, I think that is due to the OS, the touch screen, and the ecosystem of Apps around it. If there were really well designed, well priced phoned with Good to Great OSes on a very mobile web also competing, I don’t think the IPhone would be as popular.

          3. fredwilson


    2. fredwilson

      Those are all great observations. This is what we have to overcome. One hope is we can standardize on GSM. I feel that CDMA is like betamax.

      1. deancollins

        Dont forget you then have the freqency issues between various countries and their GSm I’d like to buy a HTC Touch Pro 2 available in the uk the last few months…. but the frequencies for the AT&T gsm network are different.

        1. fredwilson


      2. BigLinuxGuy

        Actually, CDMA makes better use of spectrum than GSM. However, you can console yourself that CDMA is being phased out in favor of LTE which will provide a single unified network across carriers (or at least that what I’m being told).IMHO, device fragmentation is something that the market has failed to sort out and I don’t have much hope that it will do so. The drivers there are the cost of the bill of materials for the feature phones, in particular, so that the carriers can heavily subsidize or give away the device in exchange for a two year plan. Why two years? That’s how long it takes before a customer becomes profitable (i.e., to offset the overhead of bringing them on in the first place, paying off the device subsidy, etc.).The wireless network issue is even harder. Where capacity can be relatively easily built out for a wired network, spectrum is a finite resource. There is a certain volume of radio frequency spacing that has to exist between channels or you get interference as well, so the “bands” that are sold in the FCC auctions have to contain those as well. The solution is to increase cell density and to turn down the power on the radios but that is hideously expensive given the size of the US. And in the unlikely case that carriers do choose to radically increase their cell density, guess who will ultimately foot that cost?

        1. fredwilson

          Wifi has shown the unregulated spectrum works, no?

  23. Vladimir Vukicevic

    Thank you for the inspiring post Fred. You show that smart/powerful people are actually taking a logical and customer-friendly view of the mobile ecosystem – which is the type of environment that will drive real and unlimited innovation.None of the challenges that you outlined, that have been brought up in the comments, or on the USV discussions are impossible to overcome. Mobile technology is not just an additional channel for the Internet. Mobile devices provide a platform for completely new business models that leverage the ubiquitous nature of mobile.Because of this huge potential, if the current players (carriers, handset manufacturers, etc.) don’t adapt, new entrants will quickly fill the need for openness – something that we’re starting to see with Metro PCS’ rapid growth.

  24. Bill Davenport

    I’m clearly in the minority in this discussion as the mobile web feels to me (as an iphone user) the same as the www. In fact I don’t distinguish between the two. I had to use your links to check on the definitions! And the innovation in the mobile web in the past couple years feels like it’s much larger than that on the www, at least for the new stuff I use today (for both mobile and computer based) vs. a few years ago. Part of the reason I wasn’t sure what the difference was is that you can use your mobile device via wifi so I don’t see a huge carrier barrier issue. Sure I’d like to see the app store be more open, but I see the app store as being 99.5% full versus .5% empty. I guess to sum it up I don’t see mobile as being hugely constrained by carriers or hugely constrained by approval processes.

  25. kidmercury

    in addition to the obvious problem of giving criminals more power, which is what happens when you let the US government regulate since the current US government is an organization controlled by criminals, regulation also hinders potential future disruptions from occurring. case in point, enforcement of copyright law once benefited the publishing industry, but increasingly it will do more to destroy opportunities for value creation if the laws are not interpreted in the context of emerging disruptive paradigms.and as has been noted, the carriers in the US suck big time, we can’t get to the good stuff until that problem is resolved.

  26. thewalrus

    I think technology, per se, is a very minor issue here….we have put men on the moon…we can figure out open protocols and standards 🙂 The main issues in mobile are platform fragmentation and regulation. Fragmentation is something the market will work out over time (even though it is a huge headache currently it should be seen as a positive, we all benefit from competition). Regulation is something that is a bit more concerning.I moved to the US this month and was looking at an iPhone…..i decided against it when i realized i needed to pay for the phone up front, sell my soul to AT&T for two years with a major monthly hit….and on top of that AT&T still gets to decide what apps I can not have access to. This problem can’t be addressed purely from the consumer side….it requires proper regulation….this video captures the comedy of it all….…Also, I think many of us take it for granted but the openness of the web itself will face challenges in the future. I always assumed mobile would catch up to the web in terms of openness….but nothing is preventing it from going the other way around. Regulation is the only thing that will decide this. As consumers and developers we need to keep pushing…but I’m not holding my breath that Comcast is going to change their policies after receiving my angry email last week asking why I can’t use my NBA Broadband account now that I live in the US. And not getting a fuzzy feeling from John Malone on this topic… happens at the micro…..but we need to be aware of the macro 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for that video.

  27. jeremystein

    i think robust mobile payments are the precursor to the real mobile web.

    1. fredwilson


      1. markslater

        nope. i think it goes like thisrealtime action taking toolrealtime search and discovery tool (contextual)realtime settlement toolthe company that can capture this is on to big things – again it has to be JIT or RT though – otherwise it is harder to workwhere twitter is ‘what are you doing’this company is ‘what do you want to do’

        1. fredwilson

          That’s a good challenge

          1. markslater

            you saw it here first!

        2. jeremystein

          isnt this the future of foursquare?

          1. jeremystein

            not only that… but i think foursquare is positioned to be a huge mobile payment player.

          2. markslater

            honestly – i have not tried 4square.but from what i can see – they are not tieing the merchants in to the real time transaction. And they wont be able to unless they utilize a platform that firstly avoids the system from getting involved in the merchants business process (not scalable) and secondly utilizing a real-time highly simple and familiar taxonomy for engagement in the prospecting of a hot lead.

          3. markslater

            and the mobile payment sector is littered with struggling or orphaned companies. Then again it onlly takes one smart bunch of folks to think like a consumer (see twitter) and build a real simple service for this game to be changed.

          4. jeremystein

            foursquare is a big deal on a lot of levels. i dont want to write an essay in this comment so ill limit it to two very quick thoughts.1. its going to fundamentally change the way we shop. i cant wait for the day when i check in at best buy and i receive personalized deals based upon my foursquare and other crm data. ill have no problem storing my credit card on foursquare to speed up my check outs.2. retailers spend years and millions of dollars collecting localization data. foursquare opens this up. i can’t wait to see what is built on top of this app and what data spews out.

          5. fredwilson

            How so?

          6. jeremystein

            i assume this is in response to foursquare as a mobile payment processor so correct me if i am wrong.foursquare is brilliant because it basically created a best buy rewards zone program for every business. even if you don’t have a loyalty program or have a way to track this– now you do.for large businesses, this data probably will slowly be integrated into existing crms. for smbs– it will replace what they have (or give them one if they have nothing). thats a BIG deal.i store my credit card on amazon because i can find any product under the sun. their suggestions suck but it does ease navigation at some point.think of foursquare as an amazon for everywhere you go. it tracks all of your locations, what you do there, shoutouts, purchases, whatever. that in combination of the peer recommendation system is extremely powerful.if i check in at a store and i am given deals based on loyalty, history on where i’ve previously checked in, a recommendation from a friend, etc, you are making a pretty compelling case for a killer mobile payments platform.i bet they collect just as many stored credit cards as aapl and amzn as they start seeing serious traction.

          7. fredwilson

            Hmm. I’ll chew on this. Interesting

          8. markslater

            but this assumes that people are willing to contribute data by playing the game – i think this is a flaw.what i am talking about is way more simpler than playing a game and creating a social exhaust so that people can mine this data contextually.second – you are not doing anything real-time. in this model businesses pre-populate deals. that is not very interesting to me as the larger retailers will flood this system with all sorts of highly annoying stuff.I want small independent businesses fighting over me for my impulse buys. i want a service to deliver them a hot lead in real-time and i want them to make a split decision on how they tip me over to a purchase, i want my social exhaust created as a result of this, and not because i badge a coffee shop at 2am -i am all about a transactive network, not a discovery app.i am all about a real-time spider that concierges my impulse buys. and if i am a SMB i am all about getting a highly qualified lead to my phone that wants to fill my seat at my restaurant and that i can close on in minutes because my reservation book is empty on a wednesday. this is native loyalty. or authentic loyalty – as opposed to old economy affinity marketing which i hate.think realtime micro craigslist, angies list, couponing, and auctioning all in one.your points are well taken on 4square – i had not thought of it in this way.

          9. jeremystein

            I think people are willing to, and have already contributed data to thegame. I know I have.How do you define real time? If I check in at best buy– I am there at thatmoment. If best buy can build into the api and send me deals tailored to mein real time, that’s a BIG deal.I don’t think that has anything to do with the game. IMO the game is to getpeople hooked on using the service.The fact that retailers can see where you shop, competitors, etc, willentice them to send you real time deals. They will fight for your impulsebuysIt is going to be more of a transaction network than a discovery app.

          10. markslater

            but it has to be about what i want – pull based. not what the data sais i might like.really enjoy your POV jeremy – i think we met before. got your PM about NYC – i am here! leaving back to boston as we speak – i will reach out to you shortly

  28. Taylor Davidson

    It will be interesting to see how the “mobile net neutrality” debate evolves, a new area with a different set of entrenched interests, competing over allocating rather than creating.Even more interesting will be to see how the net neutrality debate differs between the fixed and mobile webs until they become the same (seconding cranstone with the notion that the real difference will be devices and experiences, not whether it’s fixed or mobile).

  29. Adrian Palacios

    i was talking about bandwidth at a party saturday night with someone, and his opinion was that there’s no way consumers are ready to pay for the infrastructure and cost for delivering broadband everywhere (through the underground cables or the towers). i felt he had a point… maybe consumers aren’t ready for their end of the bargain (i.e., paying the money it takes)?moreover, at the moment this issue seems a little device-specific, right? for instance: “mobile” web… the name alone signals the marginality we read into the internet we use on our mobile phone…that’s the internet on the “small” screen. my guess is that if apple is really doing this itablet thing, it may blur the lines between personal computer and mobile phone even more than the iphone. okay, and for everyone who’s going to say “omg, a ten-inch mobile fun wtf are u kidding what pants pocket r u gonna wear to carry that in etc etc” think about it this way: what if you could nix the laptop you have to carry to all your business meetings *and* the cell phone you use in place of something like this rumored itablet, what would you choose? and forget i’m using apple here… what if any other company created something that awesome? whatever, all i’m saying is i feel technology will head to a point where the mobile/laptop lines aren’t so clear.(forgive my naivete about this topic, but it directly related to some recent thinking i’ve been mulling through for some new blog posts of mine…this is definitely a better place to get everything out on the table… more people might read my thoughts here, hahahah 😛 )

  30. pattesting

    It will be a while before mobile internet is up to the speed of broadband, but I remember when ‘normal’ internet was via a 56k modem. So perhaps it will come in time.

  31. NICCAI

    There’s a side of me that actually thinks Apple wants the FCC to get involved. They WANT their device untethered from carrier restrictions, but were smart enough to recognize the need for carrier buy-in to get the device to market. Ultimately, I can see Apple turning the mobile industry on its ear like it did the music industry. I don’t think it is only legacy technology that dies hard, but also legacy business models. Like the iPhone or not, Apple has been one of the few companies that has been able to force the hand of entrenchment.

  32. marshal sandler

    Fred I have been using Google Voice and like it-I added the Widget to my website and have received excellent results-One person wanted to talk to me about adding them to my blog-roll also this AM-I added the Sponty Widget below the Google Voice-When I called Tech Support at AT&T about Google Voice they said it would not work well if you call me toll free in the US at 248 667 8211 It forwards the message perfectly as advertised ! I tested it by calling Naomi from my web site after answering she said “Ok With Corrections!” hello I am doing The Times Crosswords BYE ! Sponty looks interesting I like very simple applications ! I invited 20 friends on my Gmail for coffee but My Social Security Check was late so I have the shorts, also New Add ons to my Zemanta and Adaptive Blue Toolbar are great ! This is not a paid advertisement but at 73 years old I can shout out my likes ! This off post-When my AT&T contract end T-Mobile will be in my future !