I wrote my first article about mobile phones and content back in 1998. In the nine intervening years, mobile content has been hyped to oblivion, with little in the way of corresponding concrete results. But we're getting there. In small steps. Honest.
The written word appears to be making the initial transition. Like magazines, for example - as in Cosmopolitan, Vogue and FHM - and coming in June, your very own Charged. You can now read snack-sized magazines on your mobile device.
Mobile magazine aggregator Mobizines has garnered 200,000 regular subscribers with snack bites from the BBC, GQ and Maxim in the UK since launching a year ago. They hope to roll out that success in Asia and the Americas, among other places. For now, though, mobile magazines are still in niche territory.
The chief hold-up is pretty much the same thing holding up the rest of the mobile internet - most of us don't use our phones to access the internet or get data downloads. (There is the obvious grand exception of Japan here, where more people use their phones rather than their PCs to access the internet.)
According to Hostway, a web site hosting company that has invested substantially in the mobile internet, only 25 percent of mobile device owners access the web with their phones. Laptops and desktops are still the kings of the information highway. For most people, mobile devices are for phone calls, texting, email and ringtones. Period.
The reasons for this divide are well documented. Users want simplicity and affordability. When there is a dead-easy application, like downloadable ringtones or texting, it spreads like wildfire. But mobile web browsing and data transmissions just haven't lived up to their hype. Pages download too slowly for small screens, they are hard to navigate and the data charges for the download are expensive and unpredictable. We all know that.
But some new technologies combined with some big chunks of investment from major mobile players are making the mobile internet a more user-friendly proposition.
Perhaps the biggest potential for change comes with the dotmobi domains, which were released for public registration in September 2006. These are backed by Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung Electronics, Ericsson, Vodafone and a host of other big mobile players.
All dotmobi sites must be optimized for viewing on a mobile phone, so users can be sure to find a site that works on smaller screens.
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