In preparation for the Web Directions South conference next week, which Builder AU will be covering, we’re rolling out a series of interviews with speakers on how they see the state of the Web changing in the near future.

In this interview we talk to Rob Manson and Alex Young of Mobile Online Business, and — working on bringing micropayments to Australia. They’re presenting a talk at Web Directions South next week titled “E is for everywhere: mobile content, services and commerce strategy in Australia”. We sat down to ask them where they thought the mobile development market in Australia was going.

How do you see the mobile development landscape in Australia?

The atmosphere right now really feels much like Web development in the early 90s did. Networks are opening up and the devices are getting more power, bandwidth and functionality. A lot of the issues that mobile developers have been struggling with soon won’t be issues at all (e.g. on-deck, low bandwidth, low memory, etc.). Just like in the 90s when we spent a lot of time worrying about laying out pages with tables and making a high and low bandwidth version of each site — now we have rich css and pervasive broadband. It’s fun and exciting again watching a market shake out into a new more stable state while it reshapes a big chunk of our society.

Do you think high data cost and low reliability is holding back the Australian mobile market?

I think it has but services like 3’s X-Series are completely reshaping this. Finally a telco understands that fundamentally they’re in the “pipes” business. Once users don’t have to worry about high data costs then the really pervasive nature of mobile services and applications will start to have a much broader impact.

Are there any specific challenges for mobile development in Australia?

Regional network coverage can still be a big issue, depending upon your target market. And I think high data costs have been a really big issue for a long time now. Although again, that’s starting to improve.

Do you see the market moving beyond SMS as the killer app?

Absolutely! I think SMS will be an important part of the mobile interaction model for a long time, but just that, a part of the overall model and not the whole model itself. Today’s mobiles deliver the reality of pervasive IP based applications, and we’re only just beginning. This has the potential to completely change the way people think about space and time.

Is mobile advertising a “sleeping giant”? Can it be enough to drive mobile development?

If you adapt your view of what “advertising” is, then yes — If you’re just talking about banner and text ads, then no.

Mobiles let people access information and act on decisions or make purchases anywhere, anytime. They can connect you to other people, places, objects and times wherever you are. They can completely alter our concept of a “sale” altogether — changing our understanding of direct response advertising. And they can let you feel really connected and in control of a service — changing our understanding of brand development. I think it’s this new perspective that can drive successful mobile development.

How big do you think micropayments can become?

Obviously we’re strong believers in the whole “mobile payments” space. In fact we believe that your mobile will become your remote control for almost all your transactions over time — whether they’re micropayments or large scale transactions. It’s that sense of control that is important, and people really seem to value that when it comes to payments and their finances in general.

What types of applications are most suited to be given a mobile interface?

Remote control of all sorts. Applications that let you reach out and touch something, someone or somewhere else. We believe that this divergence (e.g. ability to control things from an increasing distance) is more important than the concept of convergence that many people are focused upon (see our attached whitepaper).

What types of problems are encountered when porting/creating an application for a mobile device?

Physically there are all the obvious issues: screen real estate, memory footprint, fragmented OS and browser platforms, variable network connection or coverage and inconsistent user input models. However I think the most important problems to master are usability and ensuring that you’re delivering real and unique value through mobility — not just trying to simply port an app from the PC to the mobile.

Spatially, mobiles are the logical conclusion of user centred design. Users go to a PC to use it (device centred), whereas mobiles go with the user (user centred).

Do you think the iPhone or Google phone will have an impact in the Australian market?

The iPhone already has just by expanding the way people think about mobile usability and by promoting the delivery of rich Ajax style Web applications on mobiles.

The Google phone could because they are a very smart company with a lot of market power. However I don’t think that a mobile driven by traditional advertising would really reshape the market. Ads (which monetise click-thrus) on search pages logically make sense from a usability point of view because the user is looking for links to click on to help fulfil some information need. Mobiles just feel like a completely different model. When you make a call or send a message you almost always already know who you want to talk to and just want to do that as quickly as possible. However if they can find a really useful twist on location based services or entertainment based advertising (e.g. gaming and content) then things could get really interesting.