Will Mobile Kill The Web? (Hell No)

Square honcho and legendary angel investor Keith Rabois said some provocative things about mobile versus web at the VentureBeat Mobile Summit:

Keith Rabois, a startup veteran who’s now president and chief operating officer at Square, didn’t mince words today when he talked about the potential of mobile startups. He said “the website as you know it” is “dead, dying, will be dying,” and that the future lies in reinventing Web experiences on the mobile phone.

Obviously Keith is somewhat biased, but I think he is on to something. The importance of the mobile experience is growing fast. Just this morning, I was thinking about my own portfolio of investments and realizing that I needed to find a mobile marketing guru to help some of my companies.

But while mobile is certainly growing in importance, the Web certainly isn’t dying–at least for most applications.

No matter how powerful mobile phones get, their small size provides two major limitations:

1) They are terrible for displaying large amounts of data
2) They are even worse for allowing the input of data

As a result, mobile apps are great for many consumer applications (games, finding restaurants) where those limitations don’t apply, but don’t pose any realistic threat to those applications that bump into those limitations.

For example, spreadsheets have little to fear from mobile apps. No one in their right mind is going to put together their financials using an iPhone app.

In contrast, entering sales call notes into a CRM application should absolutely by done via a mobile app, since a) you can enter the details as soon as you get back to your car, and b) most salespeople enter terse, cryptic notes like “Called mr, lvm” (called male prospect, left voicemail) even when they are using a full-blown computer, so speed of data input isn’t a major concern.

Even much-hyped mobile applications like shopping are unlikely to play a major role, except as a means of looking up and/or purchasing products when you’re shopping at a bricks and mortar store.

Mobile apps feed on impulsiveness; anything that requires consideration will default back to the computer.

The wildcard in all this are future user interfaces. Mobile phones are already powerful enough to handle nearly any application–today’s phones are more powerful than your laptop of 5 years ago. But the form factor doesn’t lend itself to larger displays or high-speed keyboard input.

Give the hardware boffins some time, however, and those restrictions may eventually go away. When phones can project HD screens on your retinas, and you can enter input via a virtual keyboard based solely on your finger movements, there will no longer be any need for full-fledged computers. Ironically enough, however, at that point, the mobile interface will bear more resemblance to today’s Web interface than to today’s limited mobile interfaces!

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6 thoughts on “Will Mobile Kill The Web? (Hell No)

  1. But, what if we start connecting tablets/handsets to monitors as the new desktop?

  2. Type, schmype! What about voice input? Google is doing a great job translating even long search strings into results!

  3. I think there are a few different arguments in this post – the one in the title, and some others in the actual post.

    First, on the title, I don't think the out of context quotes in paragraph one add up to "the web will be killed". The web as we know it IS changing, but it's an evolution rather than a death. For example, Google telling its product teams to build the mobile version first, as this focuses their minds on non-negotiable functionality and elegance.

    You say, "Even much-hyped mobile applications like shopping are unlikely to play a major role, except as a means of looking up and/or purchasing products when you're shopping at a bricks and mortar store." I couldn't disagree more.

    Look at how much money iTunes rakes in. As you say, impulsiveness is where the money is. Well, it's easy to make impulsive purchases via mobile – it doesn't have to be a washing machine.

    You and I are probably at extreme ends of the spectrum on this: You tend to mull over purchases or just not make many (if you can help it). I am a bargain fiend (for things I know I will use, including luxuries like massages, custom stationery, etc).

    The first thing I do in the morning is grab my phone, check my email, and then check the Groupon, LivingSocial and Gilt apps to see what went on sale overnight. Some mornings, I might spend a few hundred dollars before I get out of bed. I'd have to run the numbers, but I probably spend about $200/week via my phone.

    Between those two extremes lie a lot of people who ARE spending more modest amounts. Many of them are moms, who often control disposable household income. They shop on their phones because they don't have time to go to stores (not even to buy groceries in many cases).

    Sorry for the blathering comment, but I think the mobile shopping topic is ripe for a whole post of its own – with a more considered, correct viewpoint. 😉

  4. Personally, I believe that mobile devices will be the computing center. Everything else is going to be peripherals, namely screens, keyboards, etc.
    Furthermore, with voice recognition, semantic web and automation of a lot of processes, we won't be using the "regular" web the way we do today. So it's not that the mobile will kill the web, they will consolidate into the mobile device.

  5. The key here is friction. I think many of the lessons we've learned (in tech) over the last decade have to do with ways to reduce friction. Reducing cognitive friction, reducing number of clicks, setting intelligent defaults, reducing load times, these have all had massive effects we didn't predict.

    Where mobile reduces friction, it will win. But Chris is right that for now it won't reduce friction for a spreadsheet, so it won't win there.

  6. Jackie,

    Interesting point on mobile shopping. I don't buy anything on impulse, so it may be that my shopping experience is very different from the majority of people!

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