Dizgo Brings Real-Time Offers to Local Mobile Users

Colorado-based Dizgo has quietly opened for business in the city of Boulder and the Denver, CO neighborhood of Cherry Creek. Dizgo is a mobile marketing platform ("mobile discounts on the go") that offers merchants the ability to tap local interest in offers and discounts. It's also a loyalty program. The company just launched but has already signed up many local merchants (mostly restaurants) who self-provision ads on the system.

The service was founded by Jeff Kohn, an ex-Dex (yellow pages) executive. He knows the challenges of trying to get local advertisers to self-provision campaigns. But he says there has been good uptake of Dizgo, which also has a small sales force calling on merchants. The value proposition isn't "mobile marketing," but "reach your customers with real-time offers that drive foot traffic in the store."

In order to set up a campaign merchants go to an administrative dashboard, name a campaign, indicate start and end dates, compose an offer and bid on a category. Ads get on the system in real time, so an ad placed this morning can be found in near real time (think: offers for lunch or dinner). They can also be pushed out to those who opt-in to receive email alerts:

Dizgo merchant list

There are a few ways to get information as a user:

  • Deal Search: Users send keywords/queries to short code Dizgo (34946)

  • Deal Alerts: Users opt-in to receive offers from merchants (see above)

  • Deal Syndication: Dizgo is building an ad network

As the company scales nationally it will also offer a "white label" platform for third party use (think: YP, newspapers, verticals, local portal sites, cityguides). Kohn and I discussed whether the bad economy was encouraging merchants to experiment with the system and he agreed that it probably was. Kohn said that merchants were using their existing email lists to try and get their customers onto the system.

There aren't a lot of tools out there right now that enable merchants to promote discounts or deals and have those distributed the same day. NearbyNow does this, TheStoreBook (newly launched) and one or two others seek to do it.

The highly focused, local nature of this site (Boulder) is helping adoption on the merchant side and probably will drive it on the consumer side as well. I asked Kohn for early consumer response data. However Dizgo hasn't officially launched yet to consumers so I'll have to wait for that.

OpenTable Intros Mobile "Beta"

At long last, a "mobile optimized" version of the venerable dining search site OpenTable has debuted at mobile.opentable.com. The company opted to take the WAP (wireless application protocol) route to support the mobile Web. It serves up screens to march users through a highly-structured process of finding a restaurant and making a reservation. At the highest level it offers the choice of specific metropolitan areas, followed by regions (within the metro area), neighborhoods and then specific restaurants. Once a choice is made, the service delivers a brief description of the restaurant along with links to specific times when there are open tables.

Users are prompted to enter their first and last name, email address and telephone number. There is no evidence that "secure browsing" is being initiated, nor are OpenTable "members" given th option to log in, so it will be interesting to see whether regular users of OpenTable on the desktop are dissuaded from using the mobile service.

My cursory evluation indicates that the mobile site may be a little too skinnied down. OpenTable on the desktop provides for much more serendipitous discovery. If a popular place is booked, it is much easier to navigate around and find viable alternatives. Also, in the mobile format, it is unclear whether it would be faster just to call a restaurant directly to make a reservation or find out specials, etc.

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See also, Greg's earlier post with some screens.

Yahoo! Launches Mobile Site for Olympics

Yahoo! is promoting a new Internet dedicated mobile site for the forthcoming Beijing summer Olympics:

Yahoo Olympics mobile

Presumably Yahoo! Sports advertisers on the desktop will also gain mobile distribution to those same audiences with this site.

Sprint's Instinct Has Real Limitations

While waiting a considerable length of time for the software upgrade to my HTC Windows Mobile phone in a local Sprint store, I had an opportunity yesterday to get "hands on" with the Sprint Instinct. After hearing all the hype and tales of sell-outs I was eager to see it.

I spent about 20 minutes with the o'er-hyped device. However my comments below don't rise to the level of a full-blown Walter Mossberg-like review:

I found its email system and Web browser to be less sophisticated than the iPhone's or the BlackBerry's. I also thought the phone's onscreen keyboard was harder to use than Apple's. It would flip unpredictably from landscape to portrait mode. The Instinct does allow handwriting recognition as an alternative, something the iPhone doesn't.

If you're a devoted Sprint customer, or want to avoid AT&T, the Instinct is an OK choice. But it's no iPhone.

I agree with the Mossberg review that it's a poor substitute for the iPhone. Had the iPhone not come along the standard of comparison would be quite different. However we can't turn back the clock and in that context it simply doesn't live up to the hype.

I didn't test the video and image aspects of the phone but I spent a fair amount of time on the Internet and playing with other features of the device. It can be customized and has a nice interface and look and feel but it's quite limited by comparison to the much more robust iPhone. Most importantly perhaps, it doesn't have a software ecosystem around it, as the iPhone now does.

Beyond core usability it's this ecosystem of developers that will likely separate the winners and losers in the smartphone market going forward. Blackberry knows this, Nokia knows this (hence Symbian open source), Microsoft knows this, Google and Yahoo do too. However there is a scenario where the ecosystem doesn't matter as much if next-generation mobile browsers make the entire Internet truly accessible on mobile devices. In that case phone (and camera) features could be quite competitive with the iPhone.

Skyhook Announces 'Hybrid Positioning System'

Skyhook wireless, which came to national attention through incorporation of its technology into the iPhone, is announcing a combined location-awareness technology that takes Wi-Fi positioning and combines it with GPS and cell tower triangulation (for mobile handsets):

Skyhook Wireless is delivering the most advanced positioning system in the world by combining ground breaking positioning algorithms along with comprehensive environment survey data. XPS builds on top of the revolutionary Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) that is already deployed on tens of millions of mobile devices worldwide. The original version of XPS delivered "multi-mode” location switching between WPS and GPS readings based on availability and error estimates. XPS 2.0 combines raw Wi-Fi, GPS and cell tower readings to produce a single hybrid calculation.

People often fail to understand the limitations of GPS, illustrated here by Nokia:

GPS 1

GPS 2

A hybrid system like this -- the only one in existence apparently -- will speed location detection and make it more reliable accordingly. This technology will be available on handsets that ship in 2009 and 2010 according to Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan.

OpenTable to Go

OpenTable has introduced -- no surprise here -- a mobile version for on-the-go bookings. Here are some screens:

Cities

OpenTable neighborhoods

OpenTable mobile reservations

The mobile site is stripped down version of the desktop version, without the reviews (diner's choice) or local popularity indexes. I would imagine a future iPhone version would reproduce more of the content of the full site. Of course you can use Opera Mini or Skyfire and get the full site from a mobile phone.

Virgin Confirms Helio Buy

In the end there are likely to be four carriers in the U.S. market that matter. Will Virgin be one of them? For the time being Virgin has decided in incrementally increase its share with the anticipated purchase of stuggling MVNO Helio.

According to the press release the terms and value of the deal are as follows:

  • Additional strategic investment totaling $50 million made by Virgin Group and SK Telecom at $8.50 per share
  • Improved capital structure through increased liquidity and $50 million paydown of senior secured credit facility
  • Incremental $60 million added to revolving credit facility - Maximum assumption of $10 million debt and $15 million net working capital liabilities - Net debt reduction of approximately $35 million upon closing
  • Approximately 170,000 Helio customers with approximately $80 ARPU
  • Entry into postpaid segment through acquisition of highly sophisticated customer platform supporting unique user applications
  • Improved network rates and ability to realize significant operational synergies

It's important to note that Virgin gets only 170K subscribers from this acquisition for a total of $39 million (in equity).

Handset Wars and Woes

But for the Centro Palm is failing:

Smartphone sell-through for the quarter reached a record high, totaling 968,000 units, up 29 percent year over year . . .

Revenue for the full fiscal year 2008 was $1.32 billion. Smartphone sell-through for the full year reached a record high, totaling 3.2 million units, up 19 percent year over year.

Net loss applicable to common shareholders for fiscal year 2008 was $110.9 million

This is the fourth loss in a row for Palm, who's Treo is all but dead, having ceded the market to Blackberry and Apple. The Centro is the one bright spot, but it's a very low margin product -- the guts of the 755 but without the profit.

Blackberry had strong sales and increased market share but just missed estimates (shares lost ground). According to Bloomberg:

The BlackBerry's share of the U.S. market for advanced handsets grew to 44.5 percent in the first calendar quarter, from 35.1 percent in the previous three months, according to Framingham, Massachusetts-based research firm IDC. Palm lifted its share to 13.4 percent from 7.9 percent. Apple's share fell to 19.2 percent from 26.7 percent.

And this morning Sony Ericsson issued a warning:

Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB ("Sony Ericsson") announces today that its net sales and net income before taxes in the second quarter of 2008 continue to be negatively affected by moderating demand of mid-to-high end mobile phones, in combination with a delay of new products shipped during the quarter.

All this comes as Apple prepares to release the 3G iPhone in the next two weeks. Do the high volume of searches indicate strong consumer interest will turn into strong sales? Search is always touted as a predictor of market outcomes, this will be an interesting test case.

1.3 Million Conducted 6.9 Million iPhone Searches in April

According to comScore, just over a million people conducted almost 7 million searches for iPhone-related terms in April.

Top search terms:

searches

Top search engines and CTRs:

engines

Compare search engine market share for the same period:

search market share april

Do iPhone buyers demographically over index for Google usage or are the iPhone numbers more reflective of Google's actual share of the search market?

Top destinations for iPhone related searches:

destinations

According to comScore, in the chart above, AT&T paid for most of its clicks. In my mind this indicates a weak association of the iPhone with the AT&T brand.

Wired on Android

Wired Magazine goes long (as in long article) on Android. There's nothing new in the article but it's all in one place for those who want the history and speculative outlook for the platform.

Google has sought to keep its brand somewhat at arms length from Android. The Google brand is both an asset and a liability for the initiative; it creates credibility but also inspires fear. It appears, however, that Google may not need Android to succeed in mobile (if these Nielsen numbers are accurate).

But like the iPhone, Android is helping accelerate the development of the mobile Internet by affecting and motivating competitors (see Nokia's acquisition and open-sourcing of Symbian). This ultimately, potentially plays into Google's hand because of the brand equity that Google enjoys.

When they start showing up, theoretically in Q4 of this year, the first Android phones will almost certainly not be as "good" as the iPhone. Over time they may equal the device (or beat it) in selected ways. But Android is a long term play and it will almost certainly pay dividends for Google.

The only question is how much?