The Mobile Web vs. The Real Internet

Is There Really a Difference?

Man using tablet pc, laptop and smartphone
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The latest marketing strategy of some cell phones, particularly the iPhone, is to push the idea of access to the "real" Internet instead of the scaled-down mobile Internet. This begs the question: is the mobile web a temporary solution that will soon fade as the 'real' Internet comes to the cell phone, or is it here to stay?

Tough question.

First, let's dispel the notion that only a few smartphones or pocket PC's can access the real Internet. It is true that going to Yahoo or YouTube on the Internet Explorer that comes with Mobile Windows will take you to the mobile versions. But the 'real' Internet is still out there and waiting. These sites take you to a mobile version because they detect that you are using a mobile version of Internet Explorer.

Your onramp to the 'real' Internet are browsers like the Opera browser, which comes in a mobile version designed for smartphones and a mini version designed for other cell phones with Internet access. The Opera browser can be configured so that sites like Yahoo will not redirect you to the mobile version.

The Compatibility of the Mobile Web

The next thing to look at is compatibility issues. Smartphones run different operating systems on different hardware. The web is not built on the browser alone. Java, Flash, and other third-party solutions support the modern web. These solutions will need to be perfected on the mobile operating systems before we can see these devices really utilize the full force of the Internet.

Currently, Java runs very well on mobile Internet devices. Java was built from the ground up to be portable, so this is no surprise. Flash Lite is behind the curve but has started to make some headway in the past year.

Compatibility is an area where mobile devices will eventually catch up. As the popularity of mobile devices increases, development for the platform will increase, and it will become important for companies to provide mobile support.

This trend will bring the 'real' Internet to life on mobile devices.

Mobile Devices Are Not Personal Computers

At the end of the day, the key will rest with the simple fact that mobile devices are not PCs. The two technologies are going in different directions: PC's are getting bigger, while mobile devices are getting smaller.

When I say that PC's are getting bigger, I mean PC screens are getting bigger. The current trend is for PC's to gain ground as entertainment systems offering music and video alongside productivity and gaming. More and more, people are turning to their personal computer to watch DVDs or watch video on demand through the Internet.

And, while this same trend is hitting mobile Internet devices, it is not creating the same effect on the hardware. We want our computer screen to get larger and to support HDTV so we can really enjoy that movie we are streaming in from Netflix.

We want our smartphone to fit in our pocket.

The fact is that I want my web search engine to be part of the mobile web. I want it designed to fit on my screen. I want video optimized for my screen. And I want games that realize I'm not playing in 1280x1024 resolution on a 24" wide monitor.

And it goes beyond just screen size. Smartphones can do things that regular PC's can't. After all, Google Earth is great, but give me the version that realizes I have GPS.

Mobile Web vs. Real Internet: The Final Round

At the end of the day, the Internet is the Internet. It used to be that websites would offer a version of themselves for browsers that supported frames and a version for browsers that didn't support frames. Nowadays, we have sites that split between a Flash version and a non-Flash version and sites that optimize themselves for Internet Explorer or Firefox.

The split between the 'real' Internet and the mobile Internet is no different. As these devices evolve, mobile browsers will offer better support for viewing 'real' Internet pages, and sites like Yahoo will offer mobile users the ability to switch between the mobile optimized version and the standard version.

And, just as cell phones that offer very limited web functionality will give way to cell phones that offer the same web resources as smartphones, the differences between standard websites and mobile websites will move from being limited versions to being optimized versions.