Many handsets have had web connections (and actual http/html connections, not just wap) for many years. On some devices its even quite good. But it has never made the penetration into normob psyche that many people predicted. I'm often asked why this is, and why I continue to evangelise on-device portals and applications over mobile web given in availablity of all-you-can-eat data plans.
To illustrate my point, I distilled my thoughts down into what I call 'The Three Roadblocks to Mobile Web'.
So you've built a brilliant mobile web site. Perhaps you've used one of the automated tools to rebuild your main site and represent it to a mobile user. The problem is, you're not getting any hits. What is the problem? Does your content suck? You are getting loads of traffic through traditional routes, but not through mobile. How can you get more people to your site?
1. Having the idea
The number 1 problem with mobile websites, is to get people to have the idea to use their phone to do some web surfer at a convenient moment. I used to use the example of someone waiting on the platform for their train, but Paul Golding recently pointed out to me that the peak time for mobile web use is between 23:00 and 00:00 - when people are in bed. Anyway, you can imagine your ideal user who is idling for a few minutes - now is the perfect time for them to visit your website. The problem here is that even when people are in this situation, even when they're playing with their phone, you've still got to get them to press that Internet button.
There are a lot of people who are scared of this button. There persists
Having an on-device application puts your content in view. If your content has been downloaded and cached to be read offline, then people are much more confortable about starting the app. The fear that you don't know how much it is going to cost to click the next link disappears, and your content icon is one of maybe a dozen application icons on most phones, and not one of a million billion sites.
2. Knowing you exist
So, even if you've got someone in bed doing a bit of late night surfing. How do you get them to browse to your site? Mobile traffic isn't driven in the same way as desktop traffic. You can have all the SEO and tagging and cool tricks in the world, but the fact remains that typing a couple of keywords into that Google box you've got at the top of your browser is very quick and easy, and typing even one keyword into the Google box on your phone is more trouble than you can be bothered with, even if your really interested in the result.
3. Getting to your site
Traffic is driven from operator portals. Your late night surfer is going to see a couple of things on their home screen that catch their eye and click through on those. They're unlikely to go off that. If they can't be bother to search Google from their phone, they're definately not going to type your URL in.
So you spend some money, and you get a keyword on a shortcode. You advertise it, and the auto-responder sends your URL back. And some people even save it. In the list of bookmarks in their browser. Out of sight, out of mind.
So this is why I back on-device applications.
1. It is visible - you've put your icon and your brand literally into the pockets of your readers/customers
2. It is memorable - you're application is now in direct competition for eye-time with your user's browser. You're way up the decision making tree now.
3. It is comfortable. I build ODPs to download and cache data in a controlled way. This isn't necessarily any less data, but it is more predictable for the user. They feel in control, and with off-line browsing there is no fear in pressing the next link.
And if you're thinking of building an app store, then why are you thinking of building it as a website? Put your icon on your customers phone.
I buy a lot of games from GameMobile, but I wish that they'd build their own app so I can browse the latest games comfortably from my phone, rather than on line. I promise you that I for one will be hitting that 'Buy Now' button far more often.