The iPhone’s Mobile Web “Experience” Sucks

I Was There

“Even the iPhones browser can disappoint. It has a version of the Apple Safari browser that doesnt support Flash, a programming language widely used on Web sites, so users are limited in what they can see on the Web. And, you pay a lot to experience the pain of surfing the mobile Web. Lewis Ward, an analyst at the International Data Corporation, compares the mobile Web today to AOL before it went with flat-rate pricing in the early 1990s. Most people surf on a pay-per-kilobyte model, which encourages them to surf as fast as they can, he says.”

An article out from the New York Times entitled “Mobile Web: So Close Yet So Far” talks about how disappointing the mobile web experience has largely been for consumers thus far.

While I can only speak as one U.S. consumer using one U.S. web based phone (the iPhone), I will chalk up the internet browsing experience on my iPhone after several months now as an abject failure.

As much as I love the iPhone, and it is the best mobile phone I’ve ever used, the web browsing on it leaves so much to be desired. AT&T;’s sucky “Edge” network is not worth using at all. Unless you are really in a pinch and absolutely must get something from the web it simply is not worth using.

When I got my iPhone I thought that browsing the web was one of the big things that I’d be doing with it. I do not do this at all.

A case in point. I whip out my iPhone as I’m heading up the escalator at the West Oakland BART station and try to go to a web page. There is no train at the landing yet. The iPhone fires up like it’s going to load but then it just moves so slow. Maybe a minute later the train arrives. I hop in. My page still has not loaded. The train pulls forward. It’s probably a good half mile and maybe another minute and a half before the train pulls into the tunnel that goes under the Bay (where I lose all internet access). Still no web page loads. Now I’m under the Bay after about 3 minutes or so of waiting and I’ve given up. After about 5 days in a row of this performance I simply stop trying to use my iPhone on the way to work. This is disappointing because I would like to have read an article on the iPhone on my way to work during the 8 minutes or so I’m under the Bay in the BART tunnel.

While it is true that you can use wi-fi with the iPhone this is kind of stupid. Why? Because in general it’s too much work to screw around trying to find unsecure wifi spots to use. In the few places (like home) where you *know* you have wifi, you don’t need to be on your iPhone when your MacBook Pro is a much more suitable way to browse the web.

Yes, there is the occasional occurrence when you are standing in North Beach and want to call the sushi restaurant to inquire about dinner and you’re willing to wait the 3 minutes plus to get the phone number on your iPhone. But as for general web surfability? I’d rather surf my first ever AOL dial up connection than AT&T;’s “Edge” network. And it’s a big disappointment to me that the iPhone disappoints so much in terms of internet useage as this is something that I was actually very much looking forward to doing with it when I shelled out the $700 to buy it in the first place.

And before you say $700 – $100 (generous rebate gift certificate sort of thing back) = $600 not $700 — not in my case. Apple’s “generous” $100 rebate code didn’t work for me in the store when I tried to use it and I’ve yet to get around to trying to figure out who to deal with on that one.

18 Replies to “The iPhone’s Mobile Web “Experience” Sucks”

  1. I find texting Google (46645) a far more effective solution than using mobile web browsers for something as simple as a phone number or movie times. I’ve yet to use Google’s 411 service (1 800 GOOG-411) if only because the SMS works so darn well.

  2. I did actually try Google’s 411 service the other day and found it sort of disappointing too. I was trying to find the phone number to the Walgreen’s on the corner of Telegraph and 51st and I called and gave them the City of Oakland and the intersection of Telegraph and 51st and they came back with 8 matches or something and started playing them back one by one. But I’m not going to call 8 Walgreens to try and find the one I need so I just gave up.

  3. I have to completely disagree – I’m still over the moon about the iPhone’s browsing capability.

    There are lots of people, myself included, who spend 99% of their day right near WiFi. My office has it, my home has it, and everyone’s house I spend any amount of time in also has it. And the WiFi is fast and reliable. (I’m also lucky enough to live in Mountain View, which you’d think would be great, but the Metro WiFi doesn’t like the iPhone, so I’m screwed there. Luckily, again, I’m near fast WiFi 99% of my day).

    Combined with the fact that we finally have a full-featured, awesome browser – the mobile web experience is phenomenal. Many orders of magnitude better than anything else I’ve tried – and I’ve been desperate for this for years.

    We do real work on our iPhones – rebooting broken servers, testing customer bug reports, you name it. If it can be done in a browser on SmugMug, we’ve done it on an iPhone. Less lugging of laptops = more better. 🙂

  4. I’ve had a different experience than you with the iPhone’s mobile Internet browsing.

    First, EDGE can be annoyingly slow. But it depends on where you are and the strength of the signal. I found slightly faster speeds in New York approaching 200 kbps versus Canton, OH where I live.

    It also depends on the site. Some sites load at a decent speed, and while it can take more than a minute for NY Times to load, the browser let’s you scroll around and click links once the first parts of the page start to load -within 10-20 seconds many times.

    I find the iPhone browser to be the best I’ve ever experienced on a mobile phone with the multitouch touchscreen, zoom, pan, scroll features. Even the LG Voyager with its EVDO 3G speed loaded many pages slower than the iphone based on my tests with demos in the Verizon store. I suspect Voyager’s browser software is the reason.

    I bought a wireless router recently so I can use wi-fi at home. Since it takes several minutes for my desktop computer to boot up, it’s much faster to use my iPhone to check my email and the weather.

    I agree that surfing on a laptop is better than surfing on an iphone but I don’t have a laptop. The iphone was indispensable on my recent trip to New York. I used it to reserve a hotel room, find the lowest cost hotels, figure out how to get to certain locations.

  5. I’ve baffled at this article… Is this guy smoking crack???… Who’s payroll is he on???… As I write this, from my iPhone, on the subway, using EDGE, my browsing experience is flawless enough to have the time to read this crap… don’t know whatelse to say… really.

  6. For the most part I agree, but I find the iPhone web apps very useful as well as WAP sites.

    So as far as the “real” Web is concerned you’re absolutely correct, but I still use Safari on my iPhone more than any other app.

  7. Sorry Thomas, but I have to disagree. Sure, the EDGE connection can be frustratingly slow at times, but in general, I’ve found that its real world performance is similar to 3G phones, particularly the Voyager and Ocean. The biggest issue that I’ve encountered with the iPhone is websites that force you onto iPhone-specific WAP pages and don’t let you onto the full page. Fandango recently did that and now it doesn’t work, making their service worthless to me.
    As for the lack of Flash, yeah that can be annoying, but you should probably fire up Activity Monitor, go to a Flash heavy site and watch your CPU usage fly through the roof and your battery drain. This can even include sites with lots of Flash ads. Flash, properly coded, is great and adds lot to a page. Flash poorly coded, is a huge pain. Guess which you encounter more. I would like Flash support, but I also like not having to worry about some random page nuking my battery.

  8. If there’s something better, I’d love to hear what it is. Comparing the iPhone experience to the browsing experience on your laptop is kind of silly.

  9. The $100 Apple Credit *Not Working* is a known problem (happened to myself) and long story short, if you goto the Apple page to request a iPhone credit – you will find that they will issue you a NEW credit number. That one will work.

    But you better hurry – the page says they only accept claims until 11/30!


  10. *grin* I love when Apple users turn on each other; when one dares say anything approaching criticism, constructive or not, it’s like wading into shark-infected water wearing a meat suit. These same commenters now attacking you probably hoisted you on their shoulders just a few months ago when you “made the switch”. Ahh, the fickle fruits.

    Anyway, you hit upon something that gets glossed over when people talk about the iPhone, the lack of quality wireless pipes, whether it’s AT&T;’s EDGE network or open WiFi spots. Anyone that has a solid, quality experience with either of those is an edge case vs. the majority. Another thing I’ve noticed is a lot of people have great connects in places they don’t really need it like their their office or home or perhaps at a local coffee shop where a laptop is usually close by yet places where mobile web browsing may be most useful tend to have horrible connectivity like airports, subways, ferries, etc.

    It’s a frustrating paradox.

  11. @Don MacAskill:

    I’m glad you’re near so much open WiFi, that definitly helps when it comes to iPhone browsing but I’m curious; since you’re always near your house, office or a friends what do you really need a mobile web browser for? Seems like everything you mentioned could just as easily be done from your home or work machine or asking your friend if you can jump on their machine for a second.

    Granted there is a very high cool factor in doing it from your couch instead of taking the 2 minute walk to a computer but honestly it seems more like a solution looking for a problem. This backs up my view of the current genreation of mobile web-browsing, if you’re not very mobile then it works great 🙂

  12. $700? did you pay an illegal 100$ to wait in line for you?

    also, your criticism about the edge network has nothing to do with the phone itself.

    also, you just have poor coverage in your area. edge speeds near me are very quick.

  13. First, EDGE is built in the phone when they could have chosen 3g, so it IS a valid iPhone criticism. My samsung sync has 3g and it is kick ass compared to edge.

    I too found iphone edge speeds disappointing, so I went w/ a 3g phone.

    I find using goog 411 hit or miss, but I know quickly whether or not I have a hit or miss and can move on. I use goog 411 and sms (google search) now for the most part. I also use some wap sites ( has good flight delay info for example).

  14. Thomas, I couldnt agree more. My biggest issue was the hype

    “how the internet is supposed to be” was the claim …

    my god Steve .. you got it so dam wrong.


  15. Interesting reading your experience. Up here in Canada the iPhone is not available yet. Instead we only have the version of the iPhone that has no phone(the iTouch). But if the internet experience with the iTouch and iPhone is the same, then why would I buy an iTouch? Ah yes, so I can buy/download mp3s from the iTunes store….

  16. A lot has been said about the device, the cost of the device, and the poor performance of AT&T;’s EDGE network.

    Little has been said about AT&T;’s pricing. I think their EDGE pricing is pompous and ridiculous.

    I have all-you-can suck EDGE on T-Mobile for $15/month. In fact, I have a $30 bundle that gives me unlimited EDGE and T-Mobile HotSpot (WiFi).

    Why does AT&T; still gouge for their service? It’s not even HSDPA!

    And then there’s the gouging on international roaming. I will give AT&T; credit for being the first to introduce some international roaming data plans, but all of the carriers have a very, very long way to go on this.

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