|Topic:||The mobile web? No, it’s the social web|
|Title:||Country Manager, India|
Sagar Chandha heads Opera Software’s operations in India. Mr ChandhaHe joined the company’s Norway HQ in 2003 and was an essential member of the marcomm team that delivered Opera’s web-based services. In 2006 he moved to India to set up and manage Opera’s Indian office and operations from Chandigarh. Mr ChandhaHe has since developed the office into an offshore engineering centre to develop Opera Widgets and Unite Applications. Chandna also manages Opera’s sales and marketing efforts in the Indian subcontinent. Sagar ChandhaChandna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Applications from Indira Gandhi University in India, an A Level diploma with India’s Department of Information Technology, and an application developer diploma from IBM.
User growth of social networks in India is outstripping even the growth in mobile web usage. The mobile web is rapidly becoming the social web. The resulting bandwidth load on networks is considerable. But new technologies are evolving that will allow most content to be displayed inside the web browser. Making existing web applications work on mobile phones would be a more sustainable solution than multiple, separate applications that run on a variety of handsets. The mobile web itself, rather than standalone mobile applications, could become the winning platform on mobile.
The web as we know it is evolving, right in front of our eyes. We can see it in the growth of devices such as the iPhone. We can see it in the adoption curve of the Opera Mini web browser. The web is going mobile. Let’s test your imagination. Think of all the innovation the web has seen so far. Think of the impact the web has made on your life and the lives of others – the growth of Facebook, the rise of Twitter. Think of how we conduct our lives differently now than we did five – or even three – years ago. All those changes have taken place, yet just 25 per cent of the world’s population has access to the web. More than 60 per cent of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone. If you think the web has made extraordinary leaps, you haven’t seen anything yet. In five years’ time we will no longer distinguish between ‘the web’ on our laptops and the ‘mobile web’. There will simply be the web. How people connect to the web will differ based on what device they have available. Indeed, your phone might be your primary device to connect to the web. When you go to work, perhaps you will connect your phone to a monitor and – voila! – instant desktop computing. The rise of smartphones undoubtedly plays a part in fuelling this phenomenon but, contrary to all the news reports about Apple and Android, I do not believe that this is the chief driver for mobile web growth. After all, although it is the fastest-growing segment of the phone market, smartphone sales account for only 13 per cent of all phone sales. I believe the biggest driver of change is the basic human desire to connect with others. The web is the perfect way for people to stay in touch and the mobile phone is certainly the most appropriate device. According to Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report, which tracks trends on the mobile web, the most popular mobile phone for browsing the mobile web in India is the Nokia 5130. The Nokia 2700, one of their classic series, is the second. These are not high-end smartphones, yet people using them still want to access the web. Social networks clearly account for a large percentage of mobile web users. Over the past year, Orkut usage in India surged 189 per cent. But Orkut wasn’t alone: Facebook usage in India jumped 431 per cent, users of Peperonity grew 453 per cent, and, perhaps most overwhelming, visitors to Mocospace, a mobile social network, jumped 85,000 per cent. No, the comma is not a typo. It turns out that 2009 was a good year for the mobile web in India. Usage increased more than 245 per cent, yet page views increased at a faster rate: 266 per cent. These numbers tell us that more people are browsing more pages. But it also means each person is browsing more pages on the mobile web than they did in the previous year. But user growth of social networks in India is outstripping even the growth in mobile web usage. In other words, the mobile web is rapidly becoming the social web. Social interaction is sewing a new pattern in the fundamental fabric of the web. As more mobile phones connect to the web, new technologies are evolving that will ensure most content can be displayed inside the web browser. HTML5 holds great promise in this regard. Rather than a web reliant on plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight, to name just two, HTML5 allows rich content, such as video, to run directly in the browser. This will help improve the stability of the browser and reduce processor cycles. Battery life may also be improved. HTML5 will help bring rich content to more people regardless of the phone they possess. You will no longer need a high-end phone with a full web browser to watch YouTube clips. This means light, proxy-based browsers will be able to handle more than they can today. As proxy – or server-based-browsers expand their domain, the bandwidth load on networks can be better managed. The iPhone is a good example of what happens when mobile data traffic expands faster than network operators anticipated. You have undoubtedly seen the headlines. Network operators are struggling to keep up with the load brought upon their networks. The size of a web page is often trivial: a few kilobytes here, a few there. But multiply this over billions of pages and the resulting network load is anything but trivial. Safari on the iPhone and many other mobile web browsers pull down all that data to the handset, but proxy-based browsers can reduce the size of web pages up to 90 per cent. This helps mobile operators reduce capital expenditures and more effectively manage the expansion of their network. Even with server-based web browsers, operators will need to expand their networks, both for greater speeds and greater capacity. The web is about to expand dramatically. Perhaps the mobile web will help solve the last mile problem. For many people fixed broadband or even dial-up connectivity is unavailable to them because of where they live. Mobile phone towers, however, reach considerably more people and with less cost to the environment. As mobile data can cost-effectively reach more people than wired connections, we can also reduce the need for power-hungry laptops. For some people, their first experience with the web will be a mobile one. It can be a life-changing experience. They will have an educational resource that far surpasses a library. They will be able to find people who share similar interests, have the same fears and familiar beliefs. They will discover new ideas which can in turn help their families and create new opportunities. A major part of India’s population lives in villages. Connecting them to the web via mobile devices can further development initiatives, such as e-voting, micro-finance, e-banking and even disaster preparedness. The government of Andhra Pradesh already has a government portal that citizens can access in specified Rajiv Internet village centres. As more of these services can be conducted via the mobile web, we can reduce infrastructure costs while serving many more people. These efforts are already in motion. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has recently announced a National Forum on Mobile Applications that will explore how to use mobile applications, and presumably, the mobile web, for sustainable development and growth. This meeting will touch on many of the key areas where mobile technologies can improve lives and livelihoods, including telemedicine, education, agriculture and banking. This is an honourable and welcome initiative. However I must caution our leaders to look at the mobile web itself, rather than standalone mobile applications, as the solution. Making existing web applications work on mobile phones is a more sustainable and pragmatic solution than cranking out multiple, separate applications that should run on a variety of handsets. I believe the web will be the winning platform on mobile, just as it is currently winning on the wired web. The web wins because it crosses all platforms. Rather than create a separate application for Windows, then Mac, then Linux computers, we are free to create for just one platform: the web. The need to rely on the web is even more acute on mobile devices. The variety of mobile operating systems, many of which are proprietary, and wildly differing handset capabilities, create a complex nightmare for anyone attempting to author mobile applications. A far better solution is to consider either mobile web applications or W3C widgets (which are simply web pages anyway) to ensure these applications reach their intended users. Our mobile phones are changing, yet their purpose remains the same. Before, we relied on our mobile phones to place calls and both send and receive messages. Now, we use our phones to access Facebook and Twitter. Yet we still use mobile phones to maintain our connections with one another. All of the changes we have seen and will see spring from our basic need to reach out and connect with friends, tell our stories and share parts of ourselves. We have always formed ‘social’ networks. Today, we can just as easily interact with people as close as next door or as far away as another continent. Social networks are not only changing how we interact with one another, they are changing how we interact with the web itself. Now it is up to us. By extending the reach of the web to the next billion people, we can truly begin to unlock its vast potential, and perhaps, just a bit of our own.