Nobody would have called me prescient in 1993. That was about the time that mobile phones, with their big, bulky designs, began to hit the mass market. I was reading a story at work one day about how some in the business could anticipate the day when everyone lugged one around. Who the heck wanted to carry around a phone, I muttered, to be reached by anyone and everyone, wherever they happened to be? Well, now you know why I'm not wealthy.
I may be a slow learner, but I have indeed learned my lesson. I started to have an inkling about what mobile phones could mean for our business when I traveled to Asia in 2002. In Japan, for example, many users were already searching for local restaurants, booking reservations online and generally using their cell phones the way we in America were using our desktops. I also happen to have three teenage daughters, and they are very, very good teachers about how technology is changing the information world -- especially my oldest. She loves technology and has mastered every new device that came along well before anyone else, and she often tells me how to find information online in ways I haven't thought of. Need a house sitter? Try this website. Trying to help a 13-year-old with the flute when you've never played yourself? Just go on YouTube and you'll find someone teaching the scales. She was right, and I was humbled, but please don't tell her I said so.
Riding with her on one of our annual trips to North Carolina two years ago, I watched with curiosity as she entertained herself by viewing an episode of "Friends" on her iPod and surfed the Web and texted all through the trip on her cell phone. By the end of that trip, I knew what everyone else would be doing in a few years -- and also that the Star Tribune had better be prepared for all the news and information we were trying to build on the Web to be accessible by mobile devices, too. Since then, these two devices (iPods and phones) have begun to merge into one smart device, and more and more people are carrying them. We estimate there are at least 1.2 million active mobile users in the Twin Cities metro area today, and more of them are able to access advanced data every day. For example, from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2008, the proportion of mobile subscribers paying for advanced data services increased 23 percent nationwide.
Some might contend that the news industry was slow to grasp the power of the Web, but when it comes to grasping the combined power of mobile and the Web, I am determined that the Star Tribune will be ready. It's only a matter of time before everyone is surfing the Web, reading news and information, and watching videos and longer shows on their personal mobile devices. As one of our digital project managers noted: Cell phones have become the new cigarette, something to occupy your time while you are waiting at the airport, in line, on a bus, or wherever there is down time.
The Star Tribune has had a fledgling mobile site for a while, but earlier this year, we dispatched our continuous news editor, Terry Sauer, to learn everything he could about what other news businesses are doing on mobile. His charge was to come back with recommendations on what the content should look like and on how we had to change to incorporate mobile into our work in the newsroom. He has been collaborating with Roxanne Oswald in our digital department and has been talking with newspapers and digital services across the country.
Over the next few months, if you carry a smart mobile device -- one that provides text, Internet access and phone service -- you will be able to see the beginning of our work.
Earlier this week, we launched a redesigned mobile site -- at m.startribune.com -- for all of our readers who are on the go. In addition to the latest news developments, Star Tribune mobile will offer up-to-the-minute sports, local, business and entertainment news and features; current weather conditions and forecasts; Twin Cities movie times and locations, and the latest lottery numbers.
Coming in the next few weeks are other features: a finder for the lowest gas prices in your area; in-game updates from pro, college and high school sporting events; a restaurant finder for different types of foods and price points, and new shopping features. We'll also be adding the ability for you to receive text messages from us on everything from news alerts to other convenient ways to stay informed in your areas of interest. Eventually, we will add the video that is now available online.
Visits to our mobile site are small compared with those to our online site, which can draw more than 400,000 unique visitors on a good day. But the number is growing at a steady clip -- 75 percent since August -- a trend that reflects both the acceleration of the smart phones in the mass market and the availability of local information on our site. We are certain that growth has just begun to hit its potential.
We don't expect mobile devices to replace the newspaper tomorrow, but it is a key part of our overall plan to provide our customers access to news, information, entertainment and advertising wherever they are, whenever they want, and however they want to get it.