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.

Quova Acquires Verifia; Poised to add More Metadata

Geotargeting specialist Quova has just purchased authentication and identification expert Verifia for an undisclosed sum. Both companies were founded in 2000. Over the years Quova has refined its core value proposition by creating a service that of pinpoints the location of Web users by gleaning the maximum amount of information about their location of their IP addresses and associating it with demographic data and other metadata. It provides its services to major e-retailers, ad networks, banks and government agencies who employ the data to geo-target  advertising and content, detect and prevent identify theft and credit card fraud, or comply with laws and regulations. 

Verifia's has two core products: NetGeo and TIP (Theft of Identity Protector). NetGeo, is a geolocation service that would augment Quova's core competency of pinpointing a user's location. TIP adds the dimension of fraud protection. The acquisition makes an explicit link between building incentives built around targeting of messages around geolocation, while at the same time erecting barriers against fraudulent activity by Web-based imposters and identity thiefs. This sort of secure geotargeting is designed to encourage more locally oriented activity among the company's clients. Verifia's clients (who will now be served by Quova) include American Express, Boots, and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation. They will join Quova's formidable roster of "thousands" of Web-based companies.

iPhone 3G Inspires Voice Application Demos

picture

Precis

Local Mobile Search Advisory
Application developers are packing the iPhone App Store with a wide variety of crowd pleasers and time-wasters that take advantage of the flat screen, multi-touch navigation and accelerometer. Automated speech processing is just beginning to enter the mix, but has a good deal of catching up to do.

Featured Research is available to registered users only.

For more information on becoming an I2G client, please contact Pete Headrick (pheadrick@opusresearch.net).


Is There an 'Internet Tablet' in Your Future?

The Kindle, the Nokia Internet Tablet, Dash Express and of course the iPod Touch are precursors to a forthcoming generation of IP-connected devices that are not phones, although they will certainly offer VoIP, but give users Internet connectivity on the go as their raison d'être.

The new class of so-called "netbooks" is also relevant and interesting to this discussion. Here's a prototype from Toshiba:

Toshiba UMPC

Image credit: Engadget

Once the connection problem is solved (e.g., WiMax), all manner of devices will emerge that offer larger screens and "full Internet browsing." On these devices there will be no difference between the "real Internet" and mobile -- including the ads. And it may be on this class of devices that Android's OS really shines.

Apple itself is rumored to be bringing out a Tablet PC.