Brian Fling on Canada’s mobile web landscape

Brian Fling, author of the dotmobi Mobile Web Developers Guide, delivered a talk at Web Directions North today about the mobile web landscape in Canada and elsewhere. Across the world, mobile access is revolutionizing the way people access and interact with information in the next two years. Except in Canada, where Fling said the transition will take five years.

The 3 C’s of the mobile web are Cost, Content and Context, and balancing those goals is where you find the mobile web’s “sweet spot,” Fling said. Cost means if you don’t design a site with a mobile user in mind, that user could unwittingly get a big phone bill. Navigation, image sizes and page weight all become more important as content concerns on a mobile device. And context on a phone is much different than when a user is sitting in front of a computer.

Some of the benefits of mobile phones is that it is the first truly personal mass media, as well as being always-on and always-carried. It’s also the only mass media with its own payment channel. Payment by cell phone hasn’t taken hold in North America, but in Japan cell phones can be used as mobile wallets.

In fact, Fling said he thought the web is on the cusp of major transformation, driven by mobile devices, and pushed forward by Google, Apple and Opera software. Apple especially has captured the imagination of people as to the possibilities of the mobile web.

But what of Canada, or as Fling said, “what is the the deal with Canada!?!” Canada’s slow wireless growth is due to relatively cheap landlines, which slowed demand for wireless. 67 percent of Canadian homes have a mobile phone, which is actually low compared to the rest of the world.

Growth in Canada is only nine percent per year, and based on past and present growth rates, it could take Canada five more years to reach the market penetration of other countries.

With new spectrum being auctioned off, there is some hope that Canada’s wireless landscape will see some progress, but restrictive regulations that don’t allow foreign competition may again cripple the Canadian market. Fling said unless there’s change, Canada will continue to lag. Right now the three main wireless carriers are dominating different segments of the market, and as a result the total market is stagnating.