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Does Mobile Matter?

Published: July 16, 2007

Author: David Rodnitzky

Driving through the heart of Silicon Valley today, I noticed a Yahoo billboard proudly proclaiming market leadership in Mobile Search. To me, this claim is a Pyrrhic victory at best, and embarrassingly desperate at worst. It’s kind of like hearing a coach tell a reporter “we lost six games by less than three points. If we had won those, we would be in the playoffs.”

But as I kept driving, a tried to give Yahoo the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, many prognosticators have been hailing mobile as a virtual Internet killer, and as new devices like Apple’s iPhone start to make it relatively easy to use the Web on your mobile phone, maybe being the leader in mobile really is worth something after all?

Then again, in 2000, Yahoo could have easily put up a billboard proclaiming search dominance, and all of its once great rivals – Excite, AltaVista, Lycos – couldn’t protest the claim. As we now know, however, dominance in any Internet category is fleeting and Yahoo is now in a heated battle for second place in online search.

The problem with Yahoo’s claim of mobile dominance at the moment is – frankly – no one cares. Google, MSN, eBay, etc – they all have mobile strategies but none of them have really decided to throw their hat in the ring. So Yahoo being the #1 mobile player is sort of like being the best ice skater in Alabama.

No doubt, there will come a time when mobile does matter. Maybe the iPhone will usher in that era, or maybe we are still a few years a way. When that time does come, however, you can be sure that Yahoo’s rivals will come up with solid strategies to grab marketshare. If, after the full-scale launch and integration of “GMobile“, Yahoo is still king, then I would agree that they have something to bray about.

Which brings up one final point – exactly when will mobile matter? I remember working at a dot com in 2000 (apartment rentals) and our VCs told us that we had to create a mobile strategy, since it was only a matter of months before consumers would be finding and renting apartments via their mobile phones. Similarly, I actually interviewed in Yahoo’s mobile search department way back in 2003, and I was told that mobile was a core initiative of Yahoo at that time.

And I consider myself pretty much a nerd when it comes to trying out new technology, and the most that I’ve done with my phone is email, very basic Web browsing, and a few text messages. The idea that my phone will soon become my preferred portal for accessing the Internet still seems futuristic to me. Let’s not even begin to talk about how my Parents’ generation feels about this -they are still figuring out the Internet!

Believe me, I would love to see Yahoo be a smashing success – in mobile or otherwise. I bought YHOO shares about two years ago and I will gleefully take any good news coming out of Sunnyvale. And as a search marketer, I think it is good for the entire industry to have healthy competition against Google – no one likes putting all their eggs in one basket.

The fact, however, that Yahoo is #1 in mobile and that they need to flaunt this on expensive billboard space does not give me warm fuzzies inside. Here’s hoping that Yahoo can find something more meaningful to brag about in the near future.

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