The last few months mobile initiatives seems to boost in Belgium. In April there was the first Mobile WebCamp in Hasselt and the next one will be in February. In September Belgium had its first Mobile Monday in Brussels, followed by the second one this week, a third one is planned around February. The iPhone is on sale in Europe and Android is on its way. Is it time for a mobile revolution?
The short version? Not yet. As much as I would like to see it happen something tells me it's still too early. Wanna know why?
First of all you need a capable device. Although most mobile phones on the market have a browser built in, it doesn't seem to be enough. In my opinion the browser is not the most important internet application on a phone: it's too clumsy to use and most webpages aren't optimalized for a mobile experience. So what do we need? Widgets, applications, gadgets or any other name will do. These are all small applications optimized for a limited task: the weather forecast, the nearest Chinese restaurant, a city map, my train schedule, etc.
While that's true for the low-end phones we have iPhones, G1's and BlackBerries these days. Sure, that's the way to go but does everyone want to pay €525 (current price for an iPhone in Belgium) for a phone? A lot of us do and the popularity of these phones my be one the most important triggers for mobile internet but I think prices are still too high for the masses. This problem will solve itself over time.
Europe is not the US and Belgium is tiny. If you drive one hour chances are good you are in a different country, on a different mobile network, with different fees. Roaming fees vary form operator to operator but are way too expensive. When do I need my data connection the most? Exactly, when I'm abroad. I know the restaurants in my own city, which events are scheduled and how to get from A to B. I need this information when I'm on a city trip, looking for a place to eat or something to do on a rainy day. Today I don't use mobile internet even though it would do the task the best because it's too expensive. We need a European operator or a data plan with fixed rates in Europe, no matter which country you are in. I'm willing to pay a little extra but not too much, I still live here, not abroad.
Applications and stores
Java ME (the ‘mobile Java’) has been around for a while and allows developers to create these small internet widgets. This is great but it's hard to find a popular application that is not the Gmail mobile app. Why is that? Quite simple, it's too difficult to use. A phone is not a small desktop computer, you don't Google for an app, go to the website and download it. The App Store and Android Market are a great answers for this problem and look... it sells. Let's hope Windows Mobile will include this in one of the next releases.
As Fabian Tilmant explained on Mobile Monday we need more mobile platforms. If we want to get more users on mobile internet we'll need something to offer them. Some platforms are ready: Twitter, Facebook, De Standaard, etc. can attract a great deal of people but that's not enough. Others platforms are not ready yet: the NMBS (the Belgian Railways), De Lijn (public tram and bus service in Flanders), banks, etc. As I wrote before I'm waiting for the Belgian Railways (and others) to come up with a mobile platform. Mobile internet will get some added value when I can check if my next train is delayed or if I still have enough money on my bank account while queuing in the supermarket. This is possible today using their websites but this includes using websites designed for desktops, not for mobile phones (look for your next bus using your iPhone if you need an example).