The first mobile purchase I can remember was a Tetris J2ME app from the Cingular Media Mall on my Motorola RAZR. Back then, the ecosystem was relatively primitive: consumers bought games and ringtones from a carrier deck. Prices were high, the user experience was horrible, and the market was not exactly liquid. Since those dark days, Apple and Google have revolutionized the mobile industry. Devices are beautiful, content is more accessible, and most folks don't mind that their phone can barely make phone calls. Unit sales and usage have grown tremendously, and that growth shows no signs of stopping.
Nevertheless, mobile still lags the web in some important respects. For example, when I worked at AdMob, a mobile advertising network, we spent a lot of time watching the price that advertisers were willing to pay per click for their ads. This price is driven by the value that advertisers receive from their ad purchases. On the web, "hotels", "car", "mortgage", and "refinance" are all bidded up to multiple dollars per click on AdWords because each sale generates hundreds of dollars in revenue for the advertiser. By contrast, the price per click for mobile ads is significantly less because most mobile purchases are much smaller: a consumer will purchase Angry Birds for $0.99, far less than a $200/night hotel room booked from your desktop. It's true that some transactions aren't well-suited for mobile, but many are, and enabling them has the potential to unlock a lot of revenue. Mobile commerce is still in its infancy.
Why is this the case? Because mobile payments are still a pain. It's easy to buy an app from the App Store or the Android Market, and some retailers like eBay and Amazon are seeing strong sales from their mobile apps, but for most physical goods and services, mobile purchases remain slow and frustrating. Mobile payments companies typically require consumer behavior change (using a new payment service), too much effort (typing in your credit card information on a tiny keyboard), or additional hardware (NFC support or a magnetic swipe reader).
Lumber Labs is working to solve these problems and make mobile payments easy and frictionless. Stay tuned; we'll have more details to report soon!