By Tole Hart, Gartner Analyst
The rapid growth of the wireless Web in Japan largely reflects how far behind Japan has been in Internet access.
NTT DoCoMo's I-mode service and related wireless Web devices represent the first exposure to the Internet for many Japanese users. While the Internet was taking off in the United States in the 1990s, potential Japanese Net users sat on the sidelines because high telecommunication rates made Web surfing prohibitively expensive. Thus, services such as I-mode tapped tremendous pent-up demand.
On the other side of the coin, Web-enabled phones and other devices make a relatively poor showing for Americans used to surfing the Net on a PC. PCs support faster connection speeds, which enrich users' experience, and the wired Internet has a larger amount of content and greater variety.
U.S. wireless Web services have also grown more slowly than Japan's simply because fewer Web-enabled devices have been sold in the United States. The lack of a nationwide wireless provider was partly responsible, but this situation has begun to change as several providers' wireless Web services (such as Sprint PCS, Cingular, Reflex and BlackBerry) have established national footprints.
Finally, it is not the small screens of handhelds that have slowed wireless Web adoption in the United States so much as it is the high number of click-throughs needed to get to what the user wants. For now, navigating on Web-enabled devices is a bit cumbersome, but this will improve.
U.S. users will eventually come to covet the services that the wireless Web can support, especially messaging. The wireless Web may have unfolded differently in Japan than in the United States, but users in both countries want what it can offer.
(For related commentary on 3G wireless Web phones, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)
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