Updated February 19 at 5:19pm

Mobile Web, the next tech frontier

Fueled by the success of Apple’s iPhone, the number of people accessing the Internet using a cell phone or other portable gadget is soaring. Annette Tonti, left, is CEO of MoFuse, a Providence-based startup that develops mobile Web sites.

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Mobile Web, the next tech frontier


Ready or not, the era of the mobile Web is upon us.

Fueled by the success of Apple Inc.’s iPhone – and new competitors like Motorola Inc.’s Droid and Palm Inc.’s Pre – the number of people accessing the Internet using a cell phone or other portable gadget is growing “explosively,” according to Mary Meeker, an influential technology analyst at Morgan Stanley.

About 57 million people have bought an iPhone or its phone-less cousin, the iPod Touch, since they went on sale in 2007. To put that number in perspective, the two pioneers of the PC-based Internet, AOL and Netscape Navigator, had eight and five times fewer users respectively after the same amount of time on the market, Meeker said.

People are underestimating how big the mobile Web will be in the coming years, Meeker argued in her annual presentation to the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco in October. Already, she said, it is “driving unprecedented change in communications and commerce.”

For the slumping cell-phone industry, advanced gadgets are a lone bright spot. Sales of smartphones worldwide rose 27 percent in the second quarter, while total sales of mobile handsets declined 6 percent, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

“The mobile Web just cannot be ignored at this point,” said Jack Templin, a consultant and entrepreneur who heads RI Nexus, the R.I. Economic Development Corporation’s program for the information technology and digital-media sector, which recently held a panel discussion on the future of the mobile Web.

The technology’s profit potential was underlined on Nov. 9, when Google Inc. agreed to pay $750 million for three-year-old AdMob Inc. and its mobile-advertising network. The purchase immediately turned Google into the biggest player in mobile ads.

“Our mobile revenue is growing faster than our regular revenue,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Bloomberg News. “All the signs indicate a great success in this space.”

In some ways, the mobile Web’s emergence presents a headache for existing businesses, which now must figure out how – or whether – to deal with yet another new technology.

Annette Tonti, the chief executive of Providence-based, mobile-software startup MoFuse Inc., said she sees the challenge firsthand near her home on Aquidneck Island. Restaurants in Jamestown and inns in Newport are skeptical about whether they need to invest time and money in a mobile Web presence.

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