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The Mobile Market That Isn’t? Russ Closes Mowser

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For years we have heard about the huge opportunity the mobile web offers developers. With billions of handsets in service, if even just one percent of them use your service you can potentially make millions! We’ve heard this line of reasoning before, however, from the likes of WebVan.com and DrKoop.com. Using such reasoning as the foundation for launching a new business targeted at the mobile web may lead to the same success those sites enjoyed.

I was sad to see that Russ Beattie has decided to throw in the towel on his mobile startup, Mowser. Russ is one of the web’s best-informed and deepest thinkers about the mobile market, so you may want to read his thoughtful statement about why he has decided not to continue active development of Mowser any further. Mowser performs on-the-fly adaptation of standard web content to better suit the limited capabilities of mobile handsets, and it does a pretty good job of it. Russ plans to keep the service running but warns that it could disappear in the future.

Russ is quite clear about addressing why he doesn’t want to continue:

I don't actually believe in the "Mobile Web" anymore, and therefore am less inclined to spend time and effort in a market I think is limited at best, and dying at worst. I'm talking specifically about sites that are geared 100% towards mobile phones and have little to no PC web presence. Two years ago I was convinced that the mobile web would continue to evolve in the West to mimic what was happening in countries like Japan and Korea, but it hasn't happened, and now I'm sure it isn't going to.

He’s also clear about the traffic he observed from the billions of mobile phones out there:

The argument up to now has been simply that there are roughly 3 billion phones out there, and that when these phones get on the Internet, their vast numbers will outweigh PCs and tilt the market towards mobile as the primary web device. The problem is that these billions of users *haven't* gotten on the Internet, and they won't until the experience is better and access to the web is barrier-free - and that means better devices and "full browsers".
the traffic never showed up, and what did show up was of questionable quality at best. (Easily 80% of Mowser's traffic has been related to porn).

In case you haven’t gotten his message, he restates it succinctly:

Let me say that again clearly, the mobile traffic just isn't there. It's not there now, and it won't be.

So, what do you think? Will you remember Russ's experience the next time you're hearing smooth-talking execs up on stage telling you how mobile Java is where the future is? Is there a mobile web market opportunity? Will there ever be one, or is this just a fantasy that a bunch of MBAs with overly optimistic spreadsheet models have cooked up?


Dean Collins replied on Thu, 2008/04/17 - 8:56am

 What do I think? I think wow - one guy decides that startup life isn’t for him and this is supposed to throw a whole shadow over the industry.....hmmm I don’t think so.

I like Russell, I’ve been a long time reader of his blog and an occasional user of his Mowser application.

I think the key point here is that...."Mowser was filling a temporary problem”, with the release of the iPhone and the imminent massive model variants of the Android OS on the Horizon and the sure but steady improvements in the Windows Mobile 6 OS I think Russell is throwing in the towel as handsets are getting “good enough to no longer need Mowser”.

As an employee of http://www.Amethon.com one of the worlds first mobile browser specific analytics applications I for one am seeing huge growth in mobile content.

Amethon’s clients are seeing traffic build month on month, and yes I think a lot of that has to do with better quality handsets and better quality browsers and most importantly higher data speeds with somewhat more reasonable flat rate unlimited data plans.

The best part about this mobile content is the volume of advertising coming into the space is funding a better user experience, and with tools like Amethon Mobile Analytics users analytics information and a solid roi can be demonstrated against this advertising spend.

Am I sad to see Mowser go, yes - Will Russell bounce, for sure - one of the smartest pioneers in the mobile business, Do I think USA consumers are a little behind eastern consumer patterns in mobile content consumption - YES but that has more to do with carriers and handsets than personal desires and usage patterns.

The mobile space is just taking off, with all the fallouts and successes that there was in the desktop browser wars in the 1990’s.

I think this was definately a flaw with the Mowser business model but do I think one guy pissing on the industry as he walks out the door is a big deal, nope not really.

Dean Collins

Richard Lowe replied on Thu, 2008/04/17 - 10:36am

I think Dean hit it on the head the market is changing. It is sad the twist the US carriers have made it go thru but maybe in the long run it will turn out for the best. iPhone has change the market and I am sure Android will as well. Verizon is said to be openning it's network. I have always had a problem with people thinking the mobile web was a end all be all. It's just an extention like the Web, M2M, and many others to come.

Jeroen Wenting replied on Fri, 2008/04/18 - 1:47am

they've been saying for years (the better part of a decade in fact) that "the market is changing" and "real soon now" everyone will use mobiles for everything and spend tons of money buying software and services for them.
It's not happened yet, and I agree with Russ that it's unlikely to happen any time soon.

While there are indeed billions of mobile phones that have been produced, that's no indication of the market size for such products and services.
The vast majority of those phones are simple ones that can't even use those products and services. And of those phones that can a good portion (maybe the majority) is in use by people who don't care about those products and services and just got that phone because it was the best offer they could get or they liked the look of it.

Consider that the average phone gets replaced every 18 months but those "billions of phones" figures are based on old replacement cycles of 3 years or more.
Also consider that a lot of people have more than one phone, and won't buy your product or service (if they buy it at all) for all those phones.
Then consider that their network or service providers may not enable them to purchase those products or services even if their phones are capable and they might purchase if they could.

In the end those billions of phones are reduced to millions of users.
Of those users the number of potential customers is low, as the majority of those millions are kids who only care about ringtones. That's why sites selling ringtones are doing brisk business, but the competition there is extremely tough and many are resorting to tricking customers into signing up for expensive subscription plans instead of one-off sales, giving the entire industry a bad name.

So I can only conclude that it is indeed not a healthy industry to be in.

Bill Thomas replied on Sat, 2008/04/19 - 11:22am

"Mobile web" sucks , that's why. The mobile market is going to explode in the coming years, although not via browsers. Mobile phones are going to get native software to enhance their usability and connection to the net. Apple's SDK, Android, Windows Mobile, even RIM are allowing 3rd parties to install applications on phones.

Jose Maria Arranz replied on Mon, 2008/04/21 - 3:06pm in response to: Bill Thomas

I don't agree with bill, mobile world is repeating the desktop history: in the begining computers were isolated and "computing services" were based on installed applications. Today most of "computing services" are obtained by web.

Mobile browsers are becoming as powerful as the desktop conterparts including AJAX and Internet connection is cheaper these days.

The failure of Mowser is "bad luck": when it was necessary (poor browsers, poor devices) there wasn't much "Internet mobile" out there, now mobile Internet is starting to explode but mobile browsers can process normal web pages with no very much problem... bad luck.

Good luck Russell, I know you were working some time in Spain


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