An 'iPhone Nano' on the Way?

As all rumors are these days, it's probably partly true and largely inaccurate. Yet, the UK's Daily Mail reports:

Apple is about to launch a 'nano' version of the hugely successful iPhone. It is expected to be in the shops in time for Christmas.

The product will be launched in the UK at up to £150 for pay-as-you-go customers by O2, the mobile phone group owned by Spain's Telefonica. 'This will be a big one,' said an industry source.

There's no detail generally beyond this and no identification of sources. It's intriguing to consider what an iPhone Nano might look like or how close it would be to the iPhone itself in terms of features, etc. Right now, however, it's just fun speculation.

SMS Volumes: Up, Up, Up

Text messaging is a medium that many in technology and advertising are looking "beyond" to a time when the mobile Internet is hits true critical mass. That's a mistake. Other than voice, it's where the bulk of mobile data usage is today. Text messaging is today a "mainstream channel." Take these statistics for example:

From the Mobiya blog:

The Mobile Data Association report that Britons are sending 1.4 billion text messages every week, according to the latest figures. MDA said the figure was 30 per cent higher than a year ago. Picture and video messaging is also 30 per cent higher than a year ago, with 10 million picture messages sent every week.

Verizon reported in February that there were 20 billion SMS messages sent/received on its US network in a single month:

Seven years after the launch of basic text messaging, Verizon Wireless customers sent and received more than 10 billion messages in a single month -- June 2007. Eight short months later, the number of text messages on the Verizon Wireless network in a month (Feb. 2008) doubled to nearly 20 billion.

According to CTIA, in 2007 there were 363 billion text messages exchanged in the U.S. Compare that to about 120 to 160+ billion annual search queries in the U.S. While that's not exactly an apples to apples comparison it gives you a sense of the massive scale of this medium.

WhitePages.com: From Directory to ‘Connectory’

At a WhitePages.com-sponsored “blogger day” last week, I and LMS colleague Pete Headrick, had a chance to hear about where the company’s been and where it’s going: interesting places. It was preceded by a Mike Arrington-moderated discussion about the iPhone and several iPhone apps (Urbanspoon, Jott, and WhitePages). The demos and initial discussion were interesting but the conversation ultimately devolved into an iPhone vs. Android debate. The Seattle PI covered it here.

WhitePages.com is a terrifically successful business, selling (mostly display) advertising against its huge traffic and network — the company has relationships with most U.S. yellow pages publishers and a range of others, including MSN. It also owns a range of brands/destinations in the U.S. and Canada, including Address.com, PhoneNumber.com and 411.com.

The company also claims roughly 40 million monthly uniques. The most recent comScore “Top 50″ U.S. sites shows WhitePages.com at 42. But comScore likely counts traffic to WhitePages lookups on partner sites as belonging to those partners (e.g., Superpages). WhitePages’ database of people listings (collected through various methodologies) now is roughly 180 million according to the company. WhitePages says this is orders of magnitude larger than anyone else.

If my notes are correct, CEO Alex Algard said the site made something approaching $70 million in 2007. It’s a very profitable but not too sexy businesses. Part of the reason for the blogger day was to announce the company’s new direction. Consistent with that new direction WhitePages recently bought voice platform Snapvine.

What was most interesting to me, beyond the impressive metrics was this conceptual shift from directory to what the company is calling a “connectory.” What does that mean? It means a medium or hub for direct communications between people. As opposed to simply looking up names — the company cited a range of data on usage frequency — soon users will be able to leave voicemail messages for one another or send text messages to registered users’ cellphones, all via the site.

The rest of this post is on Screenwerk.

Carriers Have Quick Decisions to Make

Sprint's recently announced "Sprint Web" combination of personalized homepage/home screen, Google search and other services is conceptually a model that other carriers will need to follow if they hope to remain relevant, amid smartphone growth and mobile Internet adoption. Carriers should reconceptualize their decks as "start pages" for the mobile Internet, which can be heavily customized by users. While customization of sites like MyYahoo! has historically been limited online my bet is that consumers will be much more willing do so in mobile, provided it's a relatively intuitive process.

Carriers need to provide consumers with access to the content and services they want or risk losing them as AOL lost its users over time. Verizon's pseudo openness moves are also something of a model. Carriers need to create or help facilitate software developer ecosystems like Apple, Blackberry and Android are doing or trying to do in an effort to built software that attracts their consumers.

Take the Samsung Instinct for example. The Instinct is a fine phone -- though no iPhone -- but it lacks software that would make it truly competitive. An Apple-like apps store of desireable software for the Instinct would make it "good enough" to compete effectively for those consumers who want to remain with Sprint. Right now, however, it's just a pretty good touch-screen piece of hardware with limited software. It has been selling relatively well as a kind of "poor-man's iPhone."

On the advertising side, Motricity's Brendan Benzing and I discussed the need for standards and metrics that help media buyers justify mobile ad buys, and how the carriers might participate in that process. Collectively they offer the greatest mobile ad reach in the US. However there's no easy way for marketers to buy across networks. And there are other problems with the execution of campaigns. However, the carriers can play a significant role in helping develop the mobile advertising ecosystem if they recognize the opportunity and can work together.

All these things will require cultural shifts at the carriers. They clearly need to make more money from data services as voice revenues growth flattens. But they also can diversify into other areas (mobile payments and commerce) and also help grow data revenues by making the mobile Internet more compelling and attractive for consumers to adopt. But that's not about the "walled garden."

What role the carriers are going to play and whether they're going to embrace the "mobile Internet" or remain quasi-walled gardens is the difference between being relevant to the future of mobile or simply being the ISP that provides access and little more.

Google Has Less 'splainin' to Do

In posting in its official blog promising "greater transparancy", Google provides some insight into how it will let searchers know when it is localizing or personalizing responses to queries. The company is very open to disclosing what it has inferred about your location and your interests based on past search activity. It will indicate as much with a notation that appears up-and-to-the-right on a response page.

Searchers can then receive more detail on the factors that are being taken into account as Google tailors its search results for each individual. In response to the drill-down, Google serves up a page that illustrates the last known location, the most recent search and what is known about the Web history. It also grants the ability for visitors to change their location and erase their Web history if they so desire.

This is a new feature and part of the company's "Commitment to Transparency." It is too early to know how many visitors will avail themselves of the service. It is also difficult to picture how it will be incorporated into mobile applications, but it seems like a ready made tool for individuals to refine their local searches.

Google Brings Public Transit Data to More Smartphones

Already available to Blackberry users, Google has extended its public transit information and directions to the Symbian and Windows Mobile platforms. The information is available via the Google Maps for Mobile client.

However, these advanced features and content are generally not available over WAP. But this is where the majority of the audience is (other than SMS). Metrics firm comScore recently reported that 73% of mobile subscribers accessing maps are doing so via the browser in the U.S. In Europe it's 57 percent. (Most people aren’t downloading mapping clients like Google Maps for Mobile or Live Search.)

Here's comScore data on mobile navigation and mapping market share in the U.S.:

comScore mapping market share

Source: comScore (July, 2008)

IDC: Smartphones Continue to Outpace Industry

IDC, which tracks global shipments of mobile handsets, said that smartphone growth was 40% YoY compared with 10% growth for so-called feature phones. But even feature phones are getting better and becoming more viable as mobile Internet access devices.

According to IDC here were the Q2 numbers for the top five global handset makers:

IDC Q2 handset numbers

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For those interested, here are the Motorola Q2 earnings.

Centro Selling Well Amid iPhone Frenzy

Unprofitable Palm is selling its $99 Centro phone, despite a big consumer push by Blackberry and the iPhone. The company reported (via Bloomberg) the sale of more than 2 million units in little under a year. The Centro is available from Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

Consumers are responding to the price of the full-featured phone, which is essentially a Palm Treo 755 with much lower margins. The company also just released an updated Treo, the 800.

Smartphone adoption drives much more data plan and mobile Internet usage. There's a direct correlation:

smartphone internet usage

Source: comScore/M:Metrics (2008)

iPhone Apps Cross 1K Mark

I'm not going back in and counting every day, but Fortune writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt now counts 1,001 iPhone applications, with more local apps added since I did my initial inventory.

By my count there are now only four free local apps in the top 25 (unless you count Google as one, making it five):

  1. Google
  2. Urbanspoon (boosted no doubt by NY Times coverage)
  3. BoxOffice
  4. WeatherBug
  5. Yelp

There are more in the top 50 and 100.

Like Facebook apps, the challenge will be to get exposure but over time the better apps should "out" or rise to the surface and get strong word of mouth.

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Yesterday Dan Miller published a client advisory on voice control coming to the iPhone and its apps.

Slifter Now on iPhone, Blackberry, Desktop

GPShopper's Slifter, a local shopping service, has launched for Blackbery devices. It's also on the iPhone. The site, which began as a mobile subscription offering on Sprint phones, has now moved onto the desktop as well.

Here's an example search for a GE Profile Range:

GE range search results

GE range 2

The site works on WAP, full HTML mobile browsers and offers a rich client application. The desktop-mobile crossover is increasingly important for sites to succeed in the long term in a competitive market. Brand strength carriers over into mobile, provided the mobile application is not poorly executed. And mobile-only site are moving onto the desktop for greater exposure and reach.

Other providers of local product inventory data for mobile devices include NearbyNow, TheFind, Krillion, Shopatron, Where2GetIt and ShopLocal.