Part One of Two: Busting myths around mobile travel and other liesNewsBy Timothy O'Neil-Dunne | March 15, 2011Share This article was originally published on What is the current state of the nation around mobile travel and travel-based applications? Is it apps versus browsers, or something deeper than that?These two articles are intended to be a reality check, rather than a doom and gloom review of the discipline.Currently we are seeing a rush to smartphones by consumers. And the evidence is clear that smartphone adoption has reached a tipping point of sorts. There is also the rapid emergence of the tablet category, driving adoption further adoption.So what is influencing the broad acceptance of all this? Well, there are several major factors that have an impact and each of these need to be evaluated carefully when considering your mobile strategy. Let’s call the overview The Four Lies of Mobile: Performance is greatMobile devices are so easy to useThere is cheap accessMobile broadband is everywhere Before we can examine the four areas, let’s include a little context: the devices themselves.There is a strong lack of consistency among the families of smartphones. Clearly Google’s Android and the Apple iPhone dominate, while Blackberry devices make up the third player on the popularity list.Nokia’s dramatic fall from grace and Microsoft’s continuing struggles for a smartphone winner has made them strange bedfellows. And let’s not forget probably the first smart phone system, PalmOS, now known as WebOS.It will play an important role going forward for new owner HP but it will likely struggle for relevance, especially after the somewhat less than satisfactory Pixi offerings.So, no consistency in device or even in a model. This inconsistency should favour the browser, but it doesn’t.A further issue is that the current mobile devices have an initial life expectancy of about 1.25 years. This number is probably a little short, but remember the number of devices that are lost, stolen or damaged is higher than you would expect, and clearly far less than a PC.There are a lot of different forms of devices out there and many are of poor quality, although quality is improving. But, equally, the extremes to which users put them through are still barriers to consistently good performance.Myth #1 - Performance is greatLet’s talk about overall mobile performance. I read with wonderment the fabulous stories about how great it is and how stupid I am for not being part of the in-crowd who are having a truly wireless wonderful mobile lifestyle.I wish people would just stop talking about the mobile experience being great. It’s not.We accept far less standard of quality in mobile in terms of raw performance (speed, consistency and reliability etc) than we do in, say, our laptops and desktop machines. Performance is often sub-par - understandable, but still not good.It feels as if we are actually still about two to three years away of freely available broadband quality and reliable service. But consumers lap it up – we are now being told that cutting edge is 4G - but more like 3.1G.The other problematic issue is the process of logging on and the time we spend going through that process. It makes the whole mobile experience less than satisfying. I liken it to the time it takes to warm up the PC, except now we have several extra elements of logging onto each application.It is not what many are expecting and definitely not what I want. That said, I am writing this piece on a train going from Cambridge to London. GPRS, EDGE and 3G as well as "No Service" has, unfortunately, been the order of the day.Myth #2 Mobile is easy to useThe devices themselves are also so complicated that the experience through such a small aperture is just not that great.I have two smartphones I use on a regular basis and two not-so smartphones I also use. I also have an iTouch I use as a Skype phone.The experience on each is less than great, although they are getting better. Apple is clearly superior but not my favorite. The apps layer onmany is often a confusing array of junk.In fact, I have yet to find a mobile app that I like (other than Angry Birds) that is truly useful, other than mobile boarding passes. The use of the touch sensitive screens is pretty bad. For me, high alkaline content in my fingertips causes problems with some touch screens. Also, as I travel a lot in cold places, heat sensitive touch screens also suffer.The lack of common standards on UX is hampering the general acceptance. I find it somewhat arrogant of the device, OS and app makers that we, as consumers, have to put up with bad coding and poor/lazy UX.Myth #3 Mobile is cheapThe cost of the data plans is outrageous. And to make matters worse, some mobile companies (making money hand over fist) have withdrawn the unlimited data programs, or in some cases never implemented them.This adds tension and nervousness around the use of data plans that inhibits adoption of mobile data. The common contract basis is two years, but this often leads to months of unhappiness for the customer while he/she waits for the upgrade window.And then my favorite - the data roaming jail. There is no low cost data roaming plan. So take a step outside the confines of your home country and watch your bill go into orbit (around the sun!).I know many a parent who has suffered because of their child wildly Facebooking (is that really a verb) on holiday in some foreign land – and then coming back to find bills in the thousands.Even the alternative is not good. Free wifi is rare, although there are some countries that do a good job (Greece is one). If we didn’t live in a network controlled world, by now we should have a whole range of phones that are dual or more SIM cards. Again not so.Not one of the smartphones out there has a capacity to enable dual SIM cards, although there is an Android phone with dual SIM cards.This ensures that any user is locked into harsh contractual obligations with no possibility of escape. Woe betide anyone who has an unlocked iPhone and tries to roam on another network. Its possible but for the vast majority it’s a tough task and beyond the skills of the usual consumer.Myth #4 Mobile high-speed broadband is available everywhereAs I travel around, I do as much as I can to keep connected. The cheapest way I have found to do this is via the 3G data pay as you go sticks.I have tried this now in 5 countries (US, UK, Germany, France and Australia) and the service tends to be pretty good for much of the time. But it can be spotty, and it can be expensive.The performance of the data services is still sporadic at best, so data roaming is just darn hard to do... still.So here is a lesson to consumers as well as industry folk: do not go with the same pan-regional network. Germany and UK combine well, but other countries less so.But still speeds frequently drop to EDGE or even GPRS rather than full UMTS/3G. I have not yet sampled a LTE modem yet in a real world scenario, but I did sample 4G/LTE in both AT&T and T-Mobile stores. Not quite as fast as it looks on the telly.Let's face it: the world of mobile is clearly not the same as that of the PC. And, in some respects, this is not necessarily a bad thing.But smartphones with limited screen size and the tablets are making changes in how we behave and interact with the devices.My plea is that before you start putting out mobile versions of your rich content-heavy websites, please consider the usability of the device and ability of the user (trying standing upright in a packed London Underground train with only one hand free, for a start).The next installment will examine the battle of apps versus browsers.