Mobile Internet will Overtake the Desktop Internet Within 5 Years


The mobile internet is ramping up faster than the desktop (PC-based) internet did, leading to projections that mobile internet usage could overtake desktop access by 2013 - 2014.

The mobile internet is ramping up faster than the desktop (PC-based) internet did, leading to projections that mobile internet usage could overtake desktop access by 2013 - 2014.

Every technology cycle tends to run faster than the previous one, just as good Shumpeterian/ long-wave economics students would expect. We can see exactly that cycle playing out when we look at the growth of the most important English-language driver of the mobile web, Apples iPhone and iTouch.

Since their launch in 6/07, they have shipped 85 million units. Compare that with figures from a comparable period (eleven quarters after their respective launches) of 18 million downloads of the Netscape browser, and 8 million subscribers to AOL.

These figures and other excellent analysis come from the Internet Trends report (warning: pdf file), produced by the well-respected Mary Meeker and team, analysts at Morgan Stanley.

In true Shumpeter style analysis, they show 5 tech cycles leading to this point. Starting with mainframe computing in the 1960s, progressing through mini computers in the 1970s, PCs in the 1980s, the desktop internet in the 1990s and mobile internet computing in the 2000s. In each cycle, the number of units available has tended to increase by a factor of 10.

Each cycle has had its leaders (IBM for mainframes, DE for mini computers, Microsoft for PCs and Google for the desktop internet). The question now is, who will ead the mobile era? Apple seems best placed right now, but will Google or some new upstart ultimately take that crown?

Mary also provides some excellent analysis around mobile usage drivers. Social networking is seen as key. In fact, in July 2009 social network users overtook email users in numbers (around 800 million users), and they had already overtaken in terms of time spent in 2009.

Games are another key feature, with the iPhone now being the largest gaming device on the planet - by a long chalk. Other types of applications, video, Skype-style VOIP calling and location based services are all also big drivers, supported by a payments infrastructure (using carriers or increasingly AppStores with pre-registered credit cards) that enables instant gratification commercial, and which will see the module shift from free content & services supported by advertising (desktop internet model) to micropayments from users for things of value (mobile internet model).

Now here is an irony that readers of will appreciate. Japan has actually led the world in mobile connectivity, and the mobile web, for years. Japanese service provder NTT Docomo has over 40 million mobile internet subscribers, and eCommerce site Rakuten reports that in 2009, 18% of revenues came from mobile, which is growing at 33% a year, twice as fast as desktop. Japanese social networking site Mixi serves 72% of its pageviews to mobile devices, up from 17% in 2006.

And yet Docomo's i-mode protocol and supporting devices have not been able to capture market share outside Japan. Instead it is Apple that has captured global leadership with the iPhone. Even more than that, this leadership position continues a trend started by the PC revolution, namely that to access the latest and greatest technology, you need to pay up in gold ol' American greenbacks . So while the Japanese may have led the way in the moile internet, the US will benefit as it re-inforces US dollar hegemony (or the US dollar as the world's reserve currency).