Trends 2008: Web access everywhere; e-commerce
The mobile web is talked about a lot by people who have a vested interest in the mobile web becoming popular. The frequently-cited arguments in favour of web usage on mobile phones sound pretty convincing until you realise that most of those people talking so passionately about it have invested in the mobile web, and therefore may be stating their wishful thinking rather than an observed reality. (I am, unfortunately, no exception, being a mobile web developer myself.)
Mobile internet use has been hyped a lot – WAP has been around since the late nineties, and many people originally speculated on it being a huge success. Well, it never was in most parts of the world. It’s quite understandable that observers are now rather more cautious when it is announced that the mobile web is finally here, and that it is about to engulf the mainstream consumer.
In such an environment it is refreshing to hear the opinion of a neutral organisation who simply observes what is going on in the minds of consumers worldwide. Trendwatching.com produces well researched monthly briefings on the latest consumer trends worldwide. I have been following them for a while, wondering when the time would come that they would announce the mobile web as a major consumer trend. And now, in December 2007, the time has arrived. They announce in their predictions for 8 important consumer trends in 2008 (PDF):
“Five years ago, we introduced ONLINE OXYGEN as the engine behind all this excitement: control-craving consumers needing online access as much as they need oxygen. […] If there’s one device that’s going to introduce another few hundred million people to the online world, it’s the phone. And yes, initiatives like Google’s Android and ‘their bidding on the 700MHz band’ and WiMax and so on are definitely going to speed things up. […] don’t count on consumers’ insatiable demand to be online 24/7 to remain unmet forever.”
– Trendwatching.com, “Online Oxygen”
Although still a bit cautious in their wording, and emphasising that it won’t happen overnight, the trendwatchers have confirmed that the mobile web is not just a bubble. The signs are set for internet access anywhere, at any time, on almost any device, and it’s looking as though we won’t be able to imagine a world without it in a reasonably small number of years’ time.
But what is all that online access to be used for? E-commerce and social networking, say the trendwatchers. Social networking is a bit difficult to grasp, I think; it’s another one of those areas with a lot of hype and not necessarily much substance. E-commerce is a very important reality though, as yesterday’s article from Computing points out (UK online sales have risen by 29% since last year, reaching £130bn). And Trendwatching.com are convinced that this trend is going to continue:
“Sometimes, the Next Big Thing can be right under your nose. Consider the online riches to be reaped in 2008 from… ecommerce! Sure, it’s been around for years and years, but prepare for a forceful ‘sequel’. After all, never before have so many consumers been willing to overcome security threats, still shockingly bad (or boring) design, and delivery screwups. In other words, 2008 could be a goldmine for smart e-tailers, who, if they get their act together, could make billions and billions of dollars, euros, pounds, yen, kroner, lira and rand that are impatiently waiting to be spent by web-savvy consumers around the world.</p>
So in 2008, spend blood, sweat and tears on improving your ecommerce presence; the pay-off will be immediate, and far more substantial than investing in Web 2.0 me-toos!”
– Trendwatching.com, “Online Oxygen”
Consider that this market research organisation spends most of their time talking about brand psychology, status symbols, and the purchasing habits of particular sections of society. They are not technology-oriented in the least. And nevertheless they are announcing the coming of the ubiquitous internet, and its huge value for commerce. For me, this announcement marks the transition of the mobile web from hype to reality.
Of course, there are still a lot of problems to overcome – the top three are probably user experience, data traffic pricing, and handset market fragmentation. But if the consumer demand is there, these problems can all be sorted out. People are figuring out how to design engaging and usable mobile web sites and applications; flat rate data plans are becoming more common (in the UK at least); and fragmentation will mean that developing for the mobile web is a bit more expensive than it could be if everybody stuck to a standard, but it’s still an entirely surmountable issue.
With the economic force of e-commerce retailers pushing technology ahead, I am rather optimistic towards the mobile web.