You know, sometimes my own powers of prediction are truly amazing. Back in 1998, for example, I thought, “Why would you want to work at a search engine? They are so boring. Email, that’s where the excitement is!” It’s that kind of effortless market acumen that’s kept my family in ramen and envy through the years.
So I had to giggle when I re-read this old 2008 post of mine about how the iPhone was changing the mobile search market:
“To me it appears the writing is on the wall in terms of the direction mobile search is going, and it is away from the separate ecosystem of mobile-only ads and landing pages. This very fact will only increase the iPhone’s dominance as sites stop investing in mobile-only design.”
So, okay. I guess if I’m to be generous to myself I got that maybe 50% correct: it’s true that the need for mobile-specific search ads and accompanying WAP-compatible landing pages has all but disappeared. And of course, the iPhone was anything but a flash in the pan, and even if Android is coming on strong I’d still say that the iPhone was the driver of current smartphone design. But the idea that people would just use their phones to interact with web pages they way that they were without any need for dedicated mobile sites—bzzzzt. Wrong and wronger—although they aren’t calling them “mobile sites” but rather “apps”, the end result is that marketers must create mobile versions of their content—and on multiple platforms, too. The market has actually become more fragmented and the effort has increased along with the opportunity.
In a way it feels like 1998 all over—just as beautiful, functional sites back then were vastly outnumbered by brochureware and sites that broke all aesthetic and taste boundaries, so the current crop of mobile apps contains a few gems along with a lot that are clunky, lame, or derivative. It is now de rigeur for a major web property to have its mobile apps, and independent apps abound, too; the iPhone App store now has something like 300,000 offerings. And as in 1998, the available systems for cataloging, presenting, and discovering apps leave something to be desired. On top of that, a lot of search done on mobile is local, and while Google is moving hard to own that space through its Places pages (and of course through its squelched attempt to purchase Groupon), there is still room for new players to emerge.
Basically, these are exciting times. There is a lot of value being created right now and The Next Google is still out there. If you want some ideas in advance of who the winners in this new market might be, let me know. I’ll tell you what companies I think are lame, and you can send your resume to them immediately, get in early, and then enjoy a good laugh when you drive by me in your Tesla five years from now.