July 11, 2008
The Wireless Web Could be Bigger than the Wired Web
The Wireless Web Could be Bigger than the Wired WebYou think the Internet was revolutionary for the technology market and the masses? Well the mobile Web may turn out to be even bigger.For years technology pundits have predicted the arrival of a mobile Internet that would not only let people surf the Web, but locate friends in real time and even pay for purchases using their mobile device. While there have been moves in that direction, limitations to the technology and carriers' reluctance to open up their networks has slowed progress. That's starting to change, which venture capitalists and investors said could usher in a whole new class of devices, applications and technology centered on the mobile Web."The whole mobile Internet will flourish...and be much more universally available then the fixed-line Internet,'' said Roger Lee, a general partner at Battery Ventures, a venture capital firm with offices in Boston, Silicon Valley and Israel. "The reality is three-quarters of the world can't afford a PC and use phones (instead) to access data."According to industry pundits, the wireless Internet won't look a lot like the wired Web of today.Instead of being tied to wires or a so-called mobile computer, they envision a time when you can do things like walk through Central Park in New York City and get a guided tour on your mobile device that describes the history of your exact location because of built in GPS. It would be able to recognize any phone, regardless of the carrier or network. That same wireless device could act as a wallet or even keep you apprised of when friends in your network are in the area."There will be a torrent of creativity and new applications and new ways to make money," said Steve Baloff, a general partner at Silicon Valley, Calif.-based Advanced Technology Ventures. "We will see a big wave." Baloff, for one, is interested in location-based services.While the underpinnings of the future are already here, it's only been in the last year or so that it's picked up steam. Apple Inc.'s (APPL) iPhone showed the world you can surf the Web on a mobile device and have a similar experience when surfing the wired Internet. Last week Apple came out with its iPhone 3G, which purportedly loads Web pages twice as fast as the original iPhone, has built in GPS and longer battery life. Google (GOOG: 535.60, +19.51, +3.78%) recently unveiled Android, which is software that provides the tools for developers to create open standards based mobile applications. And Verizon Wireless declared in late November it would open its network to allow third party developers to make applications. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers even launched the $100 million iFund that invests in companies that extend the use of the iPhone and the iPod touch."There's a meaningful effort to create a really ubiquitous wireless Web that's not dependent on any one carrier or any one handset," said Lee of Battery Ventures. He likened it to the wired Internet where you have the same surfing experience no matter which ISP you enter through."The wireless world is totally managed by the carrier and handset makers and that needs to change. When it does change it ushers in the emergence of the wireless Web which will be as important if not more important than the wired Web."But in addition to carriers being more open with their networks so that developers can make applications that consumers can more easily download, the technology will also have to improve before the wireless Internet is ready to take off. While the iPhone's larger screen makes surfing the Web more pleasurable than using say a Blackberry, some industry observers don't think it's big enough. They argue the battery and the microprocessor will have to be more robust since larger screens tend to drain the life out of the batteries."The battery technology is still terribly behind the curve," said Mark Mowrey, an analyst at Laguna Beach, Calif.-based Al Frank Asset Management and the investment company's resident technology guru. He said a microprocessor needs to be developed that can process at a low enough level that the battery lasts longer."The screen with the iPhone is too small," said Mowrey. He thinks the market will really take off once someone comes out with a device that has a screen two to three times as big as the iPhone but is as slim and doesn't dramatically reduce the battery life. "I think someone will go and do it in two or three years. Do I expect Apple to be the first? No. Apple will be the one to perfect it," said Mowrey.While VCs and investors said it's easy to predict that the wireless Web will be an important market, it's much harder to predict what applications will be adopted by the masses. For example, Twitter, the micro-blogging service that lets people send text-based posts up to 140 characters long, is a popular application, but it's not used by the mainstream."The more interesting thing I can't answer is what's the next killer 'app'," for the wireless Web, said Baloff of ATV, noting there will be a lot of moderate successes in this area as the mobile Web possibly becomes the next generation computing platform."If you talk to any teenager, they spend the vast majority of their time on the iPhone and not on a PC," he said.