Google Makes Bid for Broader Role in Mobile

Google is making a bid to be the "front door to the mobile Internet," at least on the iPhone, with the launch of a new Google Mobile App. It provides search suggestions and is positioned as a navigational tool on the iPhone, with one-click access to other Google products (e.g., GMail, Calendar, etc.). It also employs Google's "My Location" triangulation feature to enable faster results without the need to enter a geographic keyword/modifier.

In our recent report, Will Google Dominate the Mobile Web?, we speculated about whether Google and search would become central to the mobile Internet user experience or whether alternative experiences and applications would render search a "secondary tool."

Clients can see the report here.

Google Mobile App

LBS and Advertising: Big Challenges

There will be a ton of stories coming out about location-based applications and the iPhone over the next week. Beyond the privacy issues, the underlying question is: what's the business model and/or how will they be supported? The facile answer is "advertising."

There's a longer and more nuanced discussion called for, but at a crude level of generalization most marketers aren't yet set up to take advantage of the targeting precision that these apps may offer.

The iTunes store offers many iPhone apps for free but some cost money. But these are one-time purchases. That's a model that may be viable and sustainable over time:

http://www.pinchmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/iphone-price-chart.jpg

Chart and data analysis: Pinchmedia

By contrast carrier subscription products like VZ Navigator will fade over time, unless they're quite superior vs. free substitutes. I'm guessing that at best subscription apps like this will retain market share (or grow slightly) at worst they'll see their models almost completely undermined in a couple of years.

Yet it's going to be very hard -- absent a sophisticated ad network or networks with generous rev shares for developers and publishers -- to support mobile applications with advertising. A few users (even thousands) won't generate enough page views or clicks to trigger meaningful revenue. Thus I would lament the end of the subscription model as a revenue strategy for mobile.

We'll see what happens.

AdMob and the iPhone

AdMob, among others, has been reaping the benefits of iPhone usage growth. AdMob operates an iPhone specific ad network in addition to a more general mobile ad network. Here are some metrics and data provided by the company (which track general iPhone usage trends):

growth in AdMob network iPhone traffic

by country

Additional data from the company's release:

  • AdMob's iPhone network served 51.8 million ads in June Worldwide, a 32 percent increase from the 39.1 million ads served in May.
  • US served 34 million ads in June, up by 31 percent from the 25.9 million ads in May.

As recent Nielsen Mobile data reflect, the US has emerged as the top "mobile Internet" country:

The US, UK and Italy are leaders in mobile Internet penetration. 15.6 percent of mobile subscribers in the US, 12.9 percent of subscribers in the UK and 11.9 percent in Italy actively use the mobile Internet turning to mobile phones.

We believe mobile Internet has reached a critical mass as an advertising medium in the US. As of May 2008, there were 40 million active users of the mobile Internet in the US, with individual sites that attract millions of unique users. This provides scalable marketing potential with demographic breadth.

The AdMob metrics above reflect a medium with significant reach even though the iPhone is just a fraction of the installed base of cellphone users.

Here are screens from a Jaguar AdMob campaign:

AdMob banner

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YouTube Demo of Where iPhone App

Here's a demo of the Where iPhone app on YouTube.

Where on the iPhone

Where is just one of a growing number of applications with "friend finder" or awareness capability (Brightkite, Loopt, Whrrl, etc.). This capability will taking getting used to and raises privacy issues for consumers who will have to learn how to negotiate this new "cultural" arena.

The iPhone Apps Store Launches

The apps store has launched on the most recent version of iTunes. There are tons of apps (500 approx), most of which appear to be free. Here are some screen captures:

Itunes store 1

iPhone applications

iphone social apps

Eventful

Where

Yellowpages.com

Yelp

I haven't counted all the location-aware apps but there are a range of them.

As we've argued in the past its the applications and software that will ultimate distance the iPhone from capable imitators and would be "iPhone Killers." We'll see if Blackberry and Android can build up a similar developer ecosystem and set of applications.

Publishers are generally struggling with Apple's fetish for control. At the opposite end Android will exercise almost no control over apps developed for the platform, when it finally goes live.

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Here's a price distribution chart for the applications. Meanwhile, the Blackberry "iPhone Killer" falters?

AllTel Taps ChaCha for Mobile Answers

Alltel is going to be promoting ChaCha's mobile answers. Here's the press release:

Alltel customers need quick and concise answers to questions they may have while on the go, and we believe that ChaCha’s mobile answers services provides the right amount of information mobile users need,” said Craig Kirkland, vice president of messaging and voice services for Alltel Wireless. “We’re delighted to work with ChaCha, and our mobile users will be thrilled with the fun and user-friendly ChaCha mobile answers service.”

Verizon has acquired Alltel (for $28 billion). So that may lead to expansion of the deal to Verizon.

The Coming iPhone Apps Deluge

Out of a reported 25,000 requests about 4,000 developers were approved to build iPhone applications. Among the many location-based apps will be some from Yelp, Loopt, Pelago, uLocate/Where and Dial Directions. It will be interesting to start investigating the full range of LBS services when the apps store launches (tomorrow in all probability). ShoZu has also launched an app, which it previews in this mock movie trailer (again the movie analogy appears) on YouTube. ShoZu isn't a mobile social network but a way for users to manage media on the mobile devices across multiple networks.

Is Nielsen Credible on Mobile Video?

Yesterday, in an email to me, Yahoo assailed the credibility and methodology behind Nielsen's mobile search market share estimate. As I look at Nielsen's mobile video numbers reported earlier this week I'm lead to ask whether they're credible in this arena. In a report on TV/video viewing across screens, Nielsen found the following:

Nielsen's findings show that screen time of the average American continues to increase with TV users watching more TV than ever before (127 hrs, 15 min per month), while also spending 9% more time using the Internet (26 hrs, 26 min per month) from last year. At the same time, a small but growing number of Internet and mobile phone users are watching video online (2 hrs, 19 min per month), as well as using their cell phones to watch video (3 hrs, 15 min per month).

Here's more:

Nielsen

Source: Nielsen Mobile (5/08)

Regarding the mobile component of this research, I simply don't buy it. I know no one -- not one person -- who regularly watches mobile video, let alone more than three hours per month. Consistently, competing data indicate most U.S. consumers are at best ambivalent about mobile video at worst completely indifferent. Mobile TV subscriber numbers are basically tiny in the U.S., though larger in the EU and Asia.

iPhone video usage and viewing data reflect that with better handsets people will watch video. But pricing is arguably the biggest issue. Before mobile video/TV can really grow into a mainstream phenomenon prices will need to come down for a la carte subscribers or be bundled as an incentive to upgrade to "everything" plans, as with Sprint.

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Here's lots more Nielsen Mobile data, which argues that the US leads in terms of mobile Internet adoption. I'll do more analysis of the data later on.

Reviews Promote the Friday Opening of iPhone 3G: The Movie

The iPhone 3G launch this Friday parallels movie marketing. First come the generally enthusiastic reviews from USAToday, the NY Times and Wall Street Journal. USAToday even self-consciously uses the film analogy:

Extra, extra: iPhone 3G: The Sequel, is worth the wait. It's cheaper, faster and a lot friendlier for business. Apple's blockbuster smartphone already had nifty features such as visual voicemail, a splendid built-in video iPod and the best mobile Web browser I've ever used. With GPS newly added to the mix, this handheld marvel has no equal among consumer-oriented smartphones.

Most of the criticism is reserved for AT&T's 3G network (patchy) and pricing ($10 more expensive per month), although the iPhone battery life takes a hit from the WSJ/Mossberg review:

First, in my tests, the iPhone 3G’s battery was drained much more quickly in a typical day of use than the battery on the original iPhone, due to the higher power demands of 3G networks.

The NY Times' David Pogue lauds the software and applications coming with the new phone, which aren't limited to the new phone (they work with the original iPhone and the iPod Touch):

[T]he iPhone App Store [is] a central, complete, drop-dead simple online catalog of new programs for the iPhone. Hundreds will be available when the store opens Friday, with thousands to follow. You browse, download and install new programs directly on the iPhone; they don’t have to be transferred from a computer, and you don’t have to hack the phone to use them. Most of the programs will be free or cheap.

As we've argued before, its the software ecosystem and applications that will ultimately add distance between the iPhone and its challengers. Also among the new applications are a number that are local or leverage location:

One coming program, called iCall, will give you free phone calls when you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot. Another, called G-Park, exploits G.P.S. to help you find where you parked. Yet another, Urbanspoon, is “a cross between a magic eight ball and a slot machine:" you shake the phone, and it randomly displays the name of a good restaurant nearby, using the iPhone’s G.P.S. and motion sensor.

With the high pent up demand for the new phone and the generally favorable reviews coming out it's probable that iPhone 3G will have a strong opening weekend.

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Related: Here's a Forbes piece that argues not all developers are happy with the iPhone and its apps store. This is mostly about the apparent challenges of charging for applications:

Steve Andler, vice president of marketing at Networks In Motion . . . says the problem is that iTunes ties applications to a user's iTunes account, as opposed to a device. For instance, a customer could have "three iPhones synched to the same iTunes account, and thus would only be paying for one copy of the application, but using it on three devices," Andler says.

Sprint Tries to Sell Service, Change Culture

The NY Times has a good discussion of U.S. carrier Sprint's Churn crisis and how the carrier is trying to push its "Everything" plan, sell improved customer service and change its culture. According to Sprint's publicly reported data, the company lost roughly a million subscribers in Q1.

There is an opportunity to sell and succeed with improved service, but that service hasn't yet "trickled down" to the local store level. Bad, indifferent service still prevails at many Sprint stores. If that can be changed the carrier has an opportunity to compete on price/plans and to retain and even attract customers based on service.

Underdog status and the continuing need to compete aggressively will cause Sprint to publicize and popularize its Everything plan, keeping the heat on the other major carriers. These plans will help drive mobile Internet adoption. Price is the biggest single hurdle in that equation.

Sprint in many ways is the most progressive operator (including with advertising) and its WiMax/Clearwire initiative has the opportunity to shake up the marketplace if it can be rolled out efficiently and is priced correctly.

U.S. carrier numbers:

  • Verizon Wireless -- 80.4 million (+ AllTell)
  • AT&T -- 71.4 million
  • Sprint -- 52.8 million
  • T-Mobile USA -- 30.8 million
  • U.S. Cellular -- 6.2 million
  • MetroPCS -- 4.6 million

At one point Sprint was discussed as a takeover or merger candidate for T-Mobile. There will certainly be more consolidation in the market in the near term.

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BusinessWeek reports on MetroPCS enabling "unlocking."