Talking to those who are (still) excited about their iPhone is something of a revelation. They are excited not so much by the solid web browser, though it does garner a good deal of comments. They are excited about the applications. And not just any application, those that utilize their web connections to get information and keep them connected to the world around them.
Listening to these folks has got me thinking; are Mobile Web browsers even necessary? I mean, for all that we are using mobile devices to do, browsing actually seems to be the least pleasurable task. So why do we harp about with different mobile browsers? Are we missing the mobile paradigm of use completely?
A Mobile Paradigm?
Now that mobile is more than just a niche phenomena, we can start to see some generalizations in the way mobile devices are used that are remarkably different from PC and other media use. I like to use the phrase “30 second tasks versus 30 minute tasks.” Essentially, mobiles enable us to do those tasks that only take a few seconds to get done, and we generally leave those longer tasks for more fully-featured devices.
For example, a mobile device might have word processing software, but because it’s screen and input facilities are more limited we usually resort to using this software for searching specific topics or for spot checking. Rarely are we using it for fuller tasks. However, we will utilize that file on a desktop in order to do fuller editing and content mixing.
This is what I mean by “30 second tasks versus 30 minute tasks.” Mobile devices let us get the smaller tasks done immediately because they are always with us. But when it comes to Mobile Web browsers, the idea is completely different: “PC browsing in your pocket,” though not every one seems to agree that such capability is necessary.
So What Are the Other Options?
There are a few types of mobile application scenarios that we are most familiar with: searching, mapping/GPS, and social connecting.
In terms of searching, many mobile devices allow you to use a search widget from a home screen or through a key-press that brings up a native or web-runtime (WRT)-based application. This will sometimes open the result in a browser window, but more often than not it won’t. You get some results and then are able to do other actions with them — call, add to contacts, get directions, etc. Sure, you connected online to get the information, but didn’t use a browser.
Then you have mapping/GPS applications. These also use a wireless connection to download maps and get the data. But again, you aren’t in the browser. In fact, these applications do everything they can to keep you from ever seeing the browser. And that’s a good thing, given the size of a mobile device and how difficult some can be in switching applications. No tabbed interfaces here, just search, see, and go.
Then you have those applications that just connect you with other people. Social networking, instant messaging, and email software are great examples. Like mapping/GPS, these are usually single-task applications, but these are person-to-person, rather than person-to-thing. Some facilitate SMS messaging in lieu of IP-based connections, some allow file swapping, and others even consolidate several types of these services under one application. All done without the browser.
So we have here three quick means of using a mobile device (30 second tasks) that don’t require a browser. And I’d even guess that these three kinds of applications would cover most of the usages that many mobile users would have.
So then, why would we even need a web browser? Especially now when mobile application stores are appearing as applications on devices. It seems like the wrong direction to go. And with mobile devices, doesn’t efficiency count more than replicating past comforts?