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In the beginning the internet sucked, and smartphones never sucked

Posted on July 17, 2013
By Anne Frisbie

At Cannes Lions this year, senior agency folks were asked what they love about mobile, and what struck me about their answers was that many of them in different ways said that what most impressed them about mobile (especially smartphones) is that it was the first emerging technology that they had experienced in their lives that actually worked when launched.

That got me thinking. Do folks remember how much the internet sucked in the beginning? In 1996, when I started in digital media and sold my first display banner to IBM, the internet sucked. I loved it, anyway, of course. My love for the internet got me to quit my job at Goldman Sachs and start an internet company. But overall we loved the internet in the 1990s because it blew our minds about what was possible.

We saw the potential, and many of us weren't that cynical about the reality. In 1996, I would load up five web browsers at my office, and then I would head out for dinner so that I didn't sit around for an hour while the images downloaded. When I returned after dinner, half the images still hadn't loaded. The internet in 1996 - unlike mobile in mid- 2008 when the first iPhone was released - kinda sucked. I would be remiss in writing this article without giving thanks to Apple and Google for giving us emerging technology that works.

My thanks is not really needed since consumers have given their thanks by buying billions of smartphones & adopting mobile. Let's look at four years after the start of the internet and the smartphone. In 1999 (four years after the start of the internet), 44% of US adults had access to the internet (and this wasn't even broadband at the time i.e. it was really the feature phone version of the internet). In 2012, four years after the first iPhone, 61% of US adults have smartphones and over 90% have cellphones.

Globally the story is even more insane with only 4% global internet penetration in 1999 whereas in 2012 over 80% of the world has mobile internet access and 25% of that is via smartphones. Mobile is being adopted by consumers astronomically faster. So mobile doesn't suck, and consumers are adopting it astronomically faster. My next blog will look at how we in the media industry are doing in adopting mobile compared to our adoption of online at the turn of the century.