Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/24/mobile_internet/

It's time for a close-up look at mobile porn

What's that on your iPhone?

By Guy Kewney

Posted in Mobile, 24th June 2008 12:06 GMT

Column Apparently, someone has discovered that you can watch videos on the iPhone, and that "videos" includes "porn." Mobile porn... wow. So I asked a purveyor of photo-porn on the web what made the iPhone special for his customers.

"No idea, but we think it's the zoom," he said. "You can get to see the detail, you know?"

What we actually know about the typical iPhone user appears to be, well, probably very little. According to the excited report in Time Magazine: "About a third of iPhone users watch video on their phone, according to Nielsen Mobile; which is nearly 10 times the number that watch video on other cell phones," said Time's reporters, laying bare all the secrets of the demographic.

If you take this at face value, the "mobile internet" is here.

"Three out of four iPhone users are men with above-average incomes, and iPhone users spend heavily on entertainment. More than a third of iPhone users shell out more than $100 on phone and data charges every month, as compared with just one-fifth of other cell-phone users."

Before we run screaming into the streets, maybe we should ask some more detailed questions. Like: "How many people actually do that?" and "Do iPhone users watch more porn than Nokia phone owners?" and "Actually, how 'mobile' is this, in any sense that would concern mobile operators?" In short, do people download videos onto their PCs and Macs and then sync to the iPhone? or do they do anything other than surf the web over the air?

Umang Gupta, founder of Keynote Systems, thinks the hype is justified; but speaking as an expert in web performance measurement, he also thinks there's a lot we don't know, and need to know.

"If you look at the so-called mobile internet," he told The Register. "There are three questions which need to be solved. First, whether the wireless spectrum is able to carry all the data; next, whether we can do it at a price which people are prepared to pay; and finally whether the advertising industry can provide enough revenue to support it."

To find out the answers, you'd need a pretty good survey done of iPhone users vs desktop users vs Nokia users - and not just in America but worldwide. And to do that you'd need someone who has monitoring stations in most cities around the world where they could see exactly what individual users do with their equipment.

This is meat and drink to Keynote Systems, which meets these requirements nicely, and to Umang Gupta, long-term Silicon Valley visionary and serial entrepreneur, who thinks it's a great project. Gupta's company has "monitoring stations" in most major cities around the globe, where they do web site assessments: trying to see what locals actually see when they visit sites belonging to their clients. And they can sign up volunteers who will then allow Keynote to monitor exactly what they do online.

But the fact that Gupta thinks its a great project just goes to show how little we really know about advertising, mobile data and the Web "on the move" - because if Keynote hasn't yet done a project about some web niche then it's a pretty good giveaway that nobody has been making real money out of it... yet.

"You don't spend a lot of money, testing stuff that makes no much money for you," was Gupta's succinct analysis of whether the big players in the so-called Mobile 100 have a good grasp of market trends. And it takes a lot of money to get real information, he points out.

Keynote sells its sector analysis reports for around $20,000 a copy and this isn't small-scale, "statistically valid" survey stuff like Nielsen produces. It's done by actually monitoring how users interact with Web sites.

Gupta got into this business in 1995, quite a short time after the remarkable collapse of his original corporation, Gupta Corporation, at the end of the client/server epoch (which Gupta led) and his company was one of the dotcom leaders - valued at $4bn at its peak. With sales of $40m, that was a valuation that was bound to collapse - and it did! - but Keynote survived and flourished, with Gupta estimating this calendar year's revenues at $75m and claiming the number one slot in web monitoring.

We've had several surveys on mobile internet. We've even had one (into its fourth edition already) on mobile porn from Juniper Research, predicting a $3.3bn "hand-held" market by 2011. And sites like www.czechmytits.com keep going, and yes, it is possible to see what a couple is doing on a small screen.

What we can't see, says Gupta, is exactly what the users are doing. Are they downloading images? Streaming video? Or syncing to their desktops, and using their home ADSL? Are they travelling sales staff, bored with stale old hotel porn? Or are they looking at music videos without any sexual content? Or perhaps looking for places to eat out?

In six months, Gupta says, we'll definitely have the results of his first study, and he may well be about to release the result of the second, which will include data about the new iPhone 3G. This time next year we'll have a picture of what the iPhone user does online and how things are changing over time.

What does he think this will reveal?

"First, the mobile internet is definitely going to be big," Gupta promised. "The industry has to solve issues like pricing: the charging model simply has to be a flat-rate data model, like ADSL. And also, it has to be low-cost; the market needs that. To provide these, there has to be a growth in spectrum availability; and I believe that will happen; there will be a technology solution."

A cynic would point out that Gupta naturally isn't going to admit to doubts about the viability of a market he is hoping to tap for several million dollars a year. As he says, nobody is going to spend real money testing a product which has no future.

But, even those of us who are deeply sceptical about how mobile the mobile internet will be will accept that Gupta's track record (and contact list) means that he's no outsider, no beginner, and no blue-eyed kid. His time in Silicon Valley goes back to the early days of Relational Software Inc, which Larry Ellison launched, renamed as Oracle (Gupta was employee number 17) and turned into one of the world's biggest software companies. His fellow-alumni at the Indian Institute of Technology include names like Arun Sarin (ex-Vodafone CEO) and most of the senior Indian figures in the US IT crowd.

Whether he's going to focus specifically on which bits of rude pix iPhone users zoom in on is another question. I decided not to ask it. As to what customers of the HTC "touch" phone touch, that's another story entirely. ®