The mobile web refers to browser-based Internet services accessed from handheld mobile devices, such as smartphones or feature phones, through a mobile or other wireless network.
Traditionally, the World Wide Web has been accessed via fixed-line services on laptops and desktop computers. However, the web is now more accessible by portable and wireless devices. An early 2010 ITU (International Telecommunication Union) report said that with current growth rates, web access by people on the go – via laptops and smart mobile devices – is likely to exceed web access from desktop computers within the next five years. In January 2014, mobile internet use exceeded desktop use in the United States. The shift to mobile web access has accelerated since 2007 with the rise of larger multitouch smartphones, and since 2010 with the rise of multitouch tablet computers. Both platforms provide better Internet access, screens, and mobile browsers, or application-based user web experiences, than previous generations of mobile devices. Web designers may work separately on such pages, or pages may be automatically converted, as in Mobile Wikipedia. Faster speeds, smaller, feature-rich devices, and a multitude of applications continue to drive explosive growth for mobile internet traffic. The 2017 Virtual Network Index (VNI) report produced by Cisco Systems forecasts that by 2021, there will be 5.5 billion global mobile users (up from 4.9 billion in 2016). Additionally, the same 2017 VNI report forecasts that average access speeds will increase by roughly 3 times from 6.8 Mbit/s to 20 Mbit/s in that same time span with video comprising the bulk of the traffic (78%).
The distinction between mobile web applications and native applications is anticipated to become increasingly blurred, as mobile browsers gain direct access to the hardware of mobile devices (including accelerometers and GPS chips), and the speed and abilities of browser-based applications improve. Persistent storage and access to sophisticated user interface graphics functions may further reduce the need for the development of platform-specific native applications.
The mobile web has also been called Web 3.0, drawing parallels to the changes users were experiencing as Web 2.0 websites proliferated.
Mobile web access today still suffers from interoperability and usability problems. Interoperability issues stem from the platform fragmentation of mobile devices, mobile operating systems, and browsers. Usability problems are centered on the small physical size of the mobile phone form factors (limits on display resolution and user input/operating). Despite these shortcomings, many mobile developers choose to create apps using mobile web. A June 2011 research on mobile development found mobile web the third most used platform, trailing Android and iOS.
In an article in Communications of the ACM in April 2013, Web technologist Nicholas C. Zakas, noted that mobile phones in use in 2013 were more powerful than Apollo 11's 70 lb (32 kg) Apollo Guidance Computer used in the July 1969 lunar landing. However, in spite of their power, in 2013, mobile devices still suffer from web performance with slow connections similar to the 1996 stage of web development. Mobile devices with slower download request/response times, the latency of over-the-air data transmission, with "high-latency connections, slower CPUs, and less memory" force developers to rethink web applications created for desktops with "wired connections, fast CPUs, and almost endless memory."
The mobile web was first popularized by a silicon valley company known as Unwired Planet. In 1997, Unwired Planet, Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola started the WAP Forum to create and harmonize the standards to ease the transition to bandwidth networks and small display devices. The WAP standard was built on a three-layer, middleware architecture that fueled the early growth of the mobile web, but was made virtually irrelevant with faster networks, larger displays, and advanced smartphones based on Apple's iOS and Google's Android software.