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Apple's iPad Will Be the Death of the Mobile Web

2 February 2010 04:34 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Achieving Steve Jobs' long-held dream of creating a tablet device as cool and useful as the one we've seen for years on science fiction shows now appears to be a dream realized, in the form of the iPad. Ironically, the iPad makes the iPhone  -- Apple's game-changing technology of 2007, whose impact still reverberates through the wireless, mobile, and computing industries -- obsolete. And as the iPhone fades away as a short-lived marvel, so too will disappear the mobile Web.

Think about it: The iPad does all the neat stuff of the iPhone (OK, except for the camera), and it does so with a big screen that allows even richer applications and more compelling media experiences. It also works as a laptop replacement for the kind of basic work we do most of the time when we're on the road: working with email, Web pages, and Web forms; creating and editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; catching up on our reading; and handling work tasks like order entry that today's iPhone apps only hint at.

The iPhone is a bad phone and a brilliant but now-old-school media device
The iPad doesn't make or receive calls. So what? Face it: As cool as it is to use an iPhone to surf the Web, check e-mail, play games, and run apps, it'll be cooler and more productive on an iPad. And since everyone seems to hate AT&T's phone coverage (it's always sucked in San Francisco, where I live, years before AT&T began blaming the iPhone users for its inadequate network) and have been frustrated with the iPhone's own phone-calling flaws -- everyone will be able to have their cake and eat it too: reliable phone service from someone else, and compelling data services over Wi-Fi and maybe one day even over AT&T's 3G network on the iPad.

So you'll gravitate very quickly away from the iPhone's once-groundbreaking capabilities and do them on your iPad. That turns your iPhone into just a phone -- but you won't pay AT&T $30 per month for that soon-to-be-occasional usage once you're paying $15 or $30 per month for 3G connectivity for your iPad.

I suspect most iPhone users won't renew their current data service plans with AT&T when they expire. They will instead get a cheap, reliable regular phone -- and won't miss the iPhone. The good news: That iPhone then becomes an iPod Touch with a camera, probably taking the place of one of your iPods. After all, there are some occasions when the smaller form factor is handy, such as on a crowded train or bus, for a quick check of your tip calculation at a restaurant, or checking your grocery list at the store. And if you have an iPod Touch, you'll likely keep using it as an über-iPod supplement to your iPad -- and be relieved it was a lot cheaper than an iPhone would have been.

You may think I'm nuts to expect such a dramatic change in the iPhone's position. But I'm serious. It was only three years ago that the iPhone up-ended the mobile market, making once-vaunted devices like the BlackBerry suddenly look like creaky old DOS systems.

Why there's no longer a need for the mobile Web
But consider how quickly the iPhone changed the paradigm for the Web and for smartphones. I believe the iPad will have just as dramatic and short-term effects. Only this time, it's the iPhone that will look out of date. And forget about the wannabes like the Palm Pre and the various Android devices. They're walking dead now.

When it was unveiled in early 2007, the iPhone was about the Web and messaging -- there were no apps, and Jobs even said there was no need for any, that HTML and JavaScript were enough. Just as suddenly, the mobile Web was born, with sites optimized for display and interaction on the iPhone's screen. Windows Mobile and the BlackBerry had been around for a decade, yet there was no mobile Web until the iPhone. Today, many sites have mobile-friendly versions, and there are companies that "mobiize" Websites as their business. The Pre and the Droid have hitched a ride on the mobile Web bandwagon, but the iPhone created it -- and fast.

In about a year, users went from reading the New York Times in its full Web glory on an iPhone to reading the New York Times in its full iPhone glory on an iPhone app. The ability to scroll regular Web pages was no longer so cool -- in fact, it was annoyingly awkward. It wasn't too surprising that the push for mobile Web versions of sites began soon after the iPhone became a hit product.

But even the mobile Web lost its appeal pretty quickly, as those small Web pages were too limited in what they could do. The singular focus of the iPhone's small screen turned out to be more suited to specific tasks than to general-purpose Web browsing, and the Web "apps" that were developed reflected that fact. So 15 months after releasing the original iPhone, Apple introduced the App Store and the iPhone SDK -- Jobs was clearly wrong about the mobile Web being able to provide the application-style functionality he originally promised, and without admitting it, he admitted it.

And poof! In just a year, there were thousands of iPhone apps, with more than 1 billion downloaded. And 2 billion more within 18 months! Magazines and the local TV news were brimming with "how to get rich quick by discovering the next fart-generator iPhone app" stories, and it became assumed that whole industries -- TV and newspapers especially, but also airlines and banks -- not only needed to offer their content and services through iPhone apps (or at least iPhone-friendly mobile sites), but they could reclaim much of the revenue lost to the Web through mobile-delivered services.

In spring of 2009, Apple added subscription-delivery capabilities to the iPhone OS for that very purpose, and again several industries quickly began adapting to it -- abandoning the mobile Web in the process, since it offered no payment model or other values, such as capturing location information.

Today, apps already rule over the mobile Web. But many Web sites are still frustrating on the iPhone -- they don't yet have appified or even mobilized versions. With the iPad, they don't have to. Websites can be Websites again, and apps can be more like what you already know and love in Windows or Mac OS X.

As Web surfing moves from the iPhone to the iPad -- indeed, as users make the move -- what's the rationale for continued mobile Web development? Neither BlackBerrys nor Windows Mobile devices can really handle the Web, and the number of Droid and Pre users isn't enough to take up the vacuum the iPad migration will create.

The surprise winner (besides Apple) in all of this: RIM
So, in 2011 the iPad will have displaced most iPhones, caused Google's Chrome OS Web appliance to be stillborn, and sucked much of the momentum behind the wannabe iPhone-killers suddenly fighting a war no one is contesting or cares about.

In that world, Research in Motion will be unaffected. Its BlackBerry never made it to the Web, mobile or otherwise. So as the idea of accessing the Web on a phone-type device goes away, the BlackBerry is unaffected. After all, for most of its users, the BlackBerry is a phone and messaging device -- period. BlackBerry users don't access the Web, nor do they seem to want to. And as people migrate to the iPad, a phone and messaging device is what they'll want in a phone-sized device. By not having adapted to the new world the iPhone created, the BlackBerry will have lucked out and missed both the rise and fall of the iPhone paradigm.

I'll amend what I wrote earlier in this blog post: After you get an iPad, you'll drop your iPhone data contract for either a regular cell phone or for a BlackBerry, depending on how much messaging you do every day in taxis and under the conference table.

For more IT analysis and commentary on emerging technologies, visit Story copyright © 2010 InfoWorld Media Group. All rights reserved.


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