At the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona this week, Google mobile exec Vic Gundotra let an interesting stat fly: He told the FT that Apple’s iPhone accounted for 50 times more mobile searches than any other handset. “We thought it was a mistake and made our engineers check the logs again.”
This validates Google’s Android mobile operating system project, which, if successful, will power several smartphones that mimic Apple’s iPhone. It also shows that carriers’ mobile Web portals, or “decks,” become far less relevant once people have phones with decent browsers/user interfaces.
Why’s that? Because those iPhone users weren’t taken to Google by default when they fired up their Safari browsers — they got to Google on their own. (With a little help from Apple — see comments below.) Which means that as smartphone growth continues to outpace “dumb” phone growth — and as smartphones represent a bigger portion of the overall mobile market — the deck becomes less important.
That’s mixed news for carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which are betting on the mobile Web as a growth driver. Their decks have, so far, created a nice trickle of revenue: Browsing on most phones is a chore, so subscribers are happy to go to the deck first — pre-bookmarked on their phones — where they could search, buy ringtones, or browse other carrier-picked mobile content. But as powerful, iPhone-like browsers become more common, that start page isn’t necessary.
The silver lining: Smartphone users, especially iPhone users, gobble up much more of the mobile Web than subscribers with hard-to-navigate phones like Motorola’s Razr. Which means carriers are more likely to sell all-you-can-eat mobile Internet access subscriptions to smartphone users, priced around $15 – $40 per month. Which, for now at least, should make up for any lost content/ad revenue from the deck.
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