I came across this column by Tobi Elkin in MediaPost (registration required) that says 28% of people who have a wireless handset have browsed the web on it.
The data comes from an Ipsos study and the column includes this quote from Adam Wright at Ipsos:
Advanced wireless networks and new handsets now offer a good browsing experience, so the phone has become a good way for people to extend the way they conduct their daily activities,"
That is certainly my experience. A year ago, I was never accessing the web on my phone. Today, I do it all the time, at least 3-5 times per day if not more.
I think there are three issues that have to get solved for this kind of thing to truly go mainstream. The first is screen size. My phone has a screen that is 3.5" wide and 1.75" high. It's big enough for me to read web pages, but it's not big enough to read maps and other heavily graphical applications.
The second issue is network speed. The 2.5 generation networks like GPRS (which is what I am using on my phone right now) are really not fast enough for the average user. I put up with it, but I doubt that most people will. However, 3rd generation is upon is with things like Edge and EVDO, and they are getting into phones quickly. I actually think the network speed issue will be solved before the other two issues.
The third issue is server side recognition and delivery of a mobile browser version of the web service. Too few web services do a good job of recognizing a mobile browser and sending down the right format for viewing. This has to change before mobile browsing goes mainstream.
These issues have been mostly solved in other parts of the world, like Asia and increasingly Europe. As is always the case with mobile technology, the US is the last to get the good stuff. But I expect the next 12 months will see major progress on all three of my big issues. I would bet that 50% of the people who have wireless phones will be browsing the web on them this time next year.
In the meantime, we have another category emerging which is wifi enabled devices like the Sony PSP and Nokia 770 that allow you to walk around the house and/or office and browse the web wirelessly via your wifi connection. With metropolitan wifi mesh networks emerging over the next couple years, these devices may be a better way to browse the web outside the home or office.
Of course, the big reason that all of this matters is that web delivered services are where the action is in technology these days. When the day comes that we can develop a web delivered service and access it on whatever screen we want, computer, phone, flat panel TV in the family room, then the power of the Internet revolution will finally be realized.
It's not so far away now.