Search is (slowly) coming to mobile

Search is (slowly) coming to mobile

Mobile Internet
Mobile internet technology and adoption is still in its infancy, but its business potential, from the advertiser’s view, has begun to appear on the horizon. Today, there are more mobile phones than laptops in the US and an even wider disparity in Europe and China. Mobile internet use is also growing as more device-compatible content and applications are being created and next generation devices mature and are adopted. Younger demographics in most countries are showing avid cell phone users.

Is mobile internet then, a stairway to advertising heaven? While a study by (August, 2006) indicates a rise in numbers of users accessing the internet via mobile and other handheld devices, common use of mobile internet is still very narrow and functional.

This article provides a concise overview of this extensive topic, covering the problems and opportunities of web browsing via wireless devices in general and how these affect usage patterns. In addition it will cover the growing world of mobile search relevant to how search engines are tackling the issues at hand, prospects and setbacks. Finally, it will briefly touch on the opportunities for website owners and marketers to gain higher positioning within mobile search.

Web content for mobile devices – or the big mismatch
Unfortunately, the majority of current websites are not compliant with xhtml or even html standards as defined by W3C. This makes them visually and functionally incompatible with mobile devices. A large portion of modern desktop browser code is dedicated to handling non-standard html code that web developers produce and still display it correctly for users. This non-standard environment means incompatibility with additional platforms such as mobiles and handheld devices. Had web content been originally stored in xml and displays platform-adjusted with xslt, then an already rich mobile internet experience would exist.

WAP Content
Which content then, is available for the mobile surfer? Beyond non-compatible html websites, which can still be accessed by most devices, some web publishers also develop customized content for mobile browsers. The wireless application (WAP) protocol was specifically designed for showing internet content in cellular devices. The mobile equivalent of html is the Wireless Markup Language (WML) as the standard language for content creation. WAP also supports wml script, which resembles the JavaScript functionality, adjusted for CPU and memory limitations. However, the number of wml websites is insignificant compared with the tens of millions of html sites containing an almost endless wealth of information and applications. Why?

Problems with content delivery for wireless devices

Screen size is the fundamental problem with web content on mobiles. While connectivity will improve, prices will go down and habits will eventually change, most web documents were simply not designed to be displayed on a screen the size of a large postage stamp. It is difficult at best to create a user experience nearly as rich, useful and exciting for the small screen as it is for large desk and laptop monitors.
Weak device standardization for hosts of carriers, devices, network types and WAP browsers do not support standard content presentation to users. While standards like xhtml-MP, which is basically xhtml customized for mobile devices, were designed, they do not offer complete implementation and full conformity to the requirements from a desktop web browser. Common problems include inconsistent color representation, incompatible presentation of html tables and more. This implies that a well-presented mobile application must be platform-dependent, i.e., adapted for each device and browser, which would entail large overhead considerations for publishers.
Low device computation power has limits that would cripple the user experience for many websites. Due to limited processing power, even for the better mobile browsers such as Opera, do not support JavaScript at this time and more powerful CPUs mean high device prices.
Wireless access latency and high cost, or perceived cost, of wireless access limits affordability.
Common uses of mobile internet
For the reasons described above, most wireless device users are limited to narrow, functional online activity. According to telephia research, the most popular uses are email, weather, sports and search. Checking emails, weather and sports updates are logical uses. But what are users searching for through their wireless devices? And what are they getting in response from the search engines?

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