Is there a point to .mobi?

Registrars claim 'significant' interest in the new domain extension for handheld-friendly sites, but analysts say the key to better mobile surfing lies in scalable Web site design

Despite keen interest from registrants, the .mobi domain extension is not the key to getting users onto the mobile Internet, analysts believe.

The top level domain (TLD), which went live on Tuesday, is intended to help on-the-go surfers find sites that will display well on handheld devices with small screens. But, say experts, the initiative is not the right approach towards solving the disparity in Web experiences between the PC and phone.

"It's PR spin," said Windsor Holden, a senior analyst with telecommunications consultancy Analysys, on Wednesday. "It's not going to make it any easier to access the content — in fact it will add a couple of keystrokes to what you're doing."

Holden told ZDNet UK that creating a .mobi version of a site was "not the be-all and end-all" way to target the mobile market and suggested that, given the trend towards convergence between fixed and mobile communications, site designers "have to realise [their] content will be accessible via a great range of devices".

James Enck, an analyst with Daiwa Securities, echoed this view, telling ZDNet UK that "it's really about Web design rather than domains". Referring to the example of Google Mail, which automatically scales itself to a mobile device, Enck said the site's presentation was "ideal".

"You don't need a separate domain to do that," he added, while suggesting that the .mobi initiative could be "another mobile industry attempt to control something that's uncontrollable — another quasi-walled garden".

Registrars, though, are more upbeat, claiming "very good interest" in the domain extension throughout its pre-registration period. ".mobi is our most popular domain since landrush, easily outstripping the likes of .co.uk, .com and .net," said a spokesperson for registrar Fasthosts on Wednesday.

Fasthosts' spokesperson said initial registrants were largely comprised of "lots of mobile and telecoms companies and brand protection", adding: "There is certainly a lot of name-securing going on, but there is also plenty of opportunity for specialist mobile Web sites being applied."

Neil Barton of Hostway also described a "significant interest in .mobi over the last couple of weeks as the pre-registration period was coming to a close and over the last couple of days as it launched". Barton attributed the bulk of registrations to "companies protecting brand identity with Trademark applications, SME companies, individuals and also a number of speculative registrations".

However, Holden speculated that the first wave of registrants could be "people dipping their toe into the water because they don't want to miss out", arguing that greater emphasis should be placed on "ensuring there is an enjoyable user experience on the mobile so this real opportunity to get the Internet beyond the fixed experience is not ignored".

"You've got applications like the Opera browser which do it anyway, but looking forward the key isn't to suddenly say 'we're going to create a special little category', the key is to make the initial access a lot easier," he added.