I am sure most of the mobile-focused readers of this blog have read or read about Russell Beattie's The end of Mowser blog post that has turned into an "End of the Mobile Web" debate. I am sorry that Russell's mobile initiative didn't work out, but as I'll talk about below this same method appears to have worked for another company and I think we are just beginning to see the start of the mobile web. While there are those who say the Mobile Web must die since mobile devices today have the horsepower and hardware to bring us the full web on the go, there are many more millions of people who do not have these devices and need the web mobilized or they will never experience it and it may indeed die a slow death.
One of Russell's statements that really stood out for me was, "But the traffic never showed up, and what did show up was of questionable quality at best. Let me say that again clearly, the mobile traffic just isn't there. It's not there now, and it won't be." I think it helps to take a look around the market in this space to see whether or not the mobile traffic is there or not because it may not have showed up for Russell and Mowser for a number of reasons (promotion and advertising of Mowser, layout/design of the Mowser site, lack of people's awareness of the mobile web, etc.).
Green Light Wireless launched Skweezer.net back in 2003 and appears to be going strong 5 years later. They have won multiple awards for their Skweezer product and just recently released the Skweezer Public API that may have developers integrating Skweezer into new applications.
Skweezer looks to do just what Mowser intended by "mobilizing" an URL that you enter into the launch page. I used to use Skweezer quite a bit back when I had devices with lame web browsers. I am now into using the higher end mobile devices with better browsers, like Safari on the iPhone, the S60 browser, Mozilla on the N810, Opera Mobile, and Opera Mini. However, even with these powerful mobile browsers I still often look for mobile-optimized pages and jump on Skweezer from time to time because websites really do look better (single column with little scrolling) and load faster when they are optimized for the small screen. You may not get all the functionality that you get with the "full web", but when you are on a mobile device do you really need that all the time?
Google also has a tool, the Google Mobilizer, that mobilizes websites for people on their devices. These pages are OK, but Google adds annoying page breaks that actually make the browsing experience more tedious than going to the free Skweezer.net site.
There are millions of people who have features phones here in the U.S. (more people in Europe and other countries have smartphones with more powerful browsers) who have no idea that they can even get the internet on their phone. Just ask your co-worker or family member if they browse the internet on their phone? These are the people who look for the free phone available from their carrier and who are just starting to discover the mobile web as carriers start to offer lower cost data plans and they become aware that the internet can exist on their phone thanks to Apple and the iPhone. Services like Skweezer and the Google Mobilizer can help make the web a reality on these feature phones and I think we are still in the early days of the web on the go here in the U.S.
Not everyone has unlimited data plans either, so mobile-optimized sites and services are still valuable for these people. I do think that data prices will drop and unlimited plans will continue to be offered in the future as the wireless data infrastructure improves across the U.S. and the globe. As these things occur in combination with awareness and advertising, visiting the internet on your mobile phone should start to take off.
I agree with Russsell and don't think it makes sense to have websites only designed for mobile devices, but I do think it is important to have a mobile-optimized version available. This is as simple as a plug-in for Wordpress sites, but may be a bit more work for other sites. Even websites optimized for the iPhone offer a much better experience than the "full" internet version of websites so even though the iPhone can browser the "full" internet people are visiting the iPhone mobile-optimized sites.
I spend about 50% of all of my web browsing time on my mobile devices. As I stated, I am using smartphones with powerful browsers, but even then I spend about 80% of this time on the mobile versions of Google Reader or Bloglines so I rarely have a need to browse the "full" internet on a mobile phone. There are lots of developments occuring in the mobile web browser market (an entirely different topic of conversation) that should also improve the mobile browsing experience.
We haven't even begun to see what the internet on a mobile device can do for us, but the iPhone has definitely opened some eyes and prompted us to imagine what could be on our mobile phones. I am not sold on having the "full" internet on a 2 or 3 inch display and think there will always be a place for the "mobile" web since people will always have mobile phones with small displays due to the size and utility of such a device over something larger like an iPhone.
UPDATE: Kevin Perkins, the CEO of Greenlight Wireless, posted a great blog article after myself and others sent inquiries to him requesting his take on the situation regarding the mobile web. As someone who has been in the business for quite a while and seems to be doing well with it, I trust Kevin's opinion and was pleased to read his post that affirms my belief that the mobile web is not dead. I also gained a better appreciation for the transcoding that is done by Skweezer and have to say in my experiences they do it very well.