Google's Android Frenzy Hides Mobile's Dirty Little Secret
There's one important point that's been lost amid all the chatter surrounding Google's non-announcement the other day of its vaporous GPhone, and its actual disclosure that it'll soon be releasing a phone-software development platform. It's this: mobile apps aren't the issue. It's the (slow) networks, stupid.
Despite the fact that Steve Jobs is tightly controlling all the apps which run on the iPhone, apps aren't hard to get. Not for the tightly wound iPhone, nor for open platforms like Nokia's Symbian-based phones. (Indeed, Nokia is openly touting its openness as an antidote to Apple's closed (figuratively and literally) approach.
Sure, in some cases there are apps which aren't as widely available, or for which options aren't as broad, as users would like (As a happy Blackberry user, I'm thinking here of instant messaging on these devices, which in some cases is available for the phone but not supported by the mobile service provider.)
Think about it: if you're a smartphone user, the biggest problem isn't you model's feature set, it's the fact that you probably avoid opening your browser unless it's absolutely necessary because mobile browsing is not a fun experience.
Moreover, the reason mobile browsing isn't because you can't search Google properly. (Indeed, Google is one of the few sites which works nicely when accessed from a smartphone.) It's that the browser is so crushingly slow to load. This lag stems from the puny data speeds supported by most service providers.
Consider the widely used EDGE network. It can support a theoretical maximum of 473.6 kbit/s, when it's running full-tilt on eight timeslots. More common is a max of 236.8 kbit/s (in four time-slot mode).
EDGE is considered "2.75 G"; that is, it's faster than a "2.5 G" data-rate technical such as GPRS, but not as fast as 3G. (Interestingly, EDGE's maximum is faster than the 3G's specification's data rate of 384 kbps, so I'm guessing that, in practice, 3G tends to run faster than EDGE. That is, most EDGE communications occur via four or fewer timeslots.)
Since all the domestic carriers are building out or have built 3G networks, the salient question seems to be: Will browsing on 3G be a better experience than today's experiences on EDGE. (I know there are other options, like EV-DO, but I've already gotten more technical than I intended to in this post.)
More likely, faster networks aren't the answer (since mobile service will never be fast enough to support deskbound-like browsing.
Instead, someone will have to come up with a lighter, smarter mobile browser, and every site of consequence will have to field mobile-optimized pages, which users will actually have to use. Then maybe surfing the Web from one's smartphone won't, er, suck.
What do you think? Is the mobile Internet ready for Web browsing? Leave a message on the InformationWeek Blog and let us know.
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