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?

Sprint Had a Good Instinct

The Samsung Instinct has apparently been selling extremely well for the company, even leading to shortages. According to a press release:

Just a few days after hitting store shelves, Samsung Instinct has become the fastest-selling EVDO handset in Sprint history. Instinct was first available exclusively to current Sprint customers on June 19 breaking records for the initial launch of any Sprint product. Instinct became available to all customers on June 20; sales continued to be brisk with Instinct breaking Sprint's record for the first week of sales for any device.

The record pace of Instinct sales has led to temporary shortages of the device at some locations across the United States. Sprint and Samsung are diligently working around the clock to increase inventory in all sales channels. Samsung has increased efforts to deliver new supplies of Instinct on a daily basis and manufacturing plants are operating at full capacity to keep up with the demand.

The brisk sales reflect the touch-screen iPhone-like appeal and the growing demand for access to the mobile Internet, which is how the device is positioned. (Sprint is paying people $20 to put the phone in "home movies" that they upload to YouTube.)

Meanwhile over at Verizon yet another touch-screen, iPhone clone (the LG "Dare") is being released. It's claim to fame is video but it lags in other areas.

Jingle Achieves 'Per Call Profitability'

Some in the industry thought the day would never come. However, Jingle has announced that 1-800-Free-411 has achieved "per call profitability":

Since the companys launch in September 2005, Jingle has become the countrys largest provider of free directory assistance and has amassed a base of more than 130,000 paying advertisers. Jingles advertisers include hundreds of major household names like McDonalds, WalMart, Ford and Radio Shack as well as tens of thousands of small independent retailers in virtually every Yellow Pages category and local market. In the quarter ahead, Jingle expects to pass two other key milestones -- answering its 500 millionth phone call and serving over 1 billion in call advertisements.

There's also be an executive shake up:

Jingle also announced today the relocation of their corporate headquarters from Menlo Park, Calif. to Bedford, Mass. In conjunction with this relocation, the company is also announcing the promotion of two key executives. John Roswech, formerly SVP of Sales and Business Development, will now be joining the Board of Directors and will serve as the companys President. Scott Kliger, the companys founder, will now assume the CEO role. George Garrick, Jingles former CEO remains on Jingles Board as a key strategic advisor to the company.

This milestone is significant for the company as it faces intensifying competition from a range of well-heeled advertisers such as Google, AT&T and Verizon among others. Free DA also faces competition from the mobile Internet itself as it becomes more mainstream over time.

Jingle not long ago did a deal with Dial Directions to add text-based directions to any listing provided to users. It remains a differentiated feature among free DA providers.

Yahoo!-Publicis Deal Includes Mobile

Yahoo! yesterday announced a big new partnership with Publicis Group, which includes a significant emphasis on mobile:

The two companies mobile initiative is the initial showcase for a relationship focusing on technology integration and openness to help brands tailor their messaging and make it possible for them to reach their target customers on both the PC and the mobile telephone.

Phonevalley, Publicis Groupes mobile marketing agency, will be the first global agency to integrate Blueprint, Yahoo!s leading-edge mobile developer platform language, as a tool to help its clients scale brand messages globally, speed their time to market and remove traditional barriers of scarce development resources and high costs.

In addition, Yahoo! and Publicis Groupe will work to enable brands to tailor their message in a more relevant way to the unique consumer, given the hyper-personalized nature of the mobile device. Specifically, Yahoo! will leverage its Smart Ads technology for the mobile platform to enable numerous permutations of a given brands message, and Publicis Groupe will tap into this system to develop correlating, personal microsites relevant to these smart mobile ads."

Mobile advertising needs "validation" at the agency level and this type of high-profile relationship goes a long way toward that end.

One of the things that Yahoo is doing is bringing its Blueprint authoring tools for mobile and its SmartAds dynamic delivery capability to Publicis and its client base. It's a fact that agencies and advertisers don't have the sophistication or capability to take advantage of all the targeting that mobile devices permit. Yahoo is bridging that gap with dynamic ad assembly that will take data/content feeds and creative and combine them to optimize the ad experience for (and potential response from) the end user.

Blyk Making Move into Europe

Fresh off it's apparent success in the UK, ad-subsidized MVNO Blyk is moving into other Western European countries, including Germany, Spain, Belgium and The Netherlands. It will have different network partners in many of these countries but the model remains the same: users receive 217 free SMS messages and 43 free minutes in exchange for viewing ads.

The company explicitly describes itself as "the new mobile network for 16-24 year olds." Indeed, it's positioning itself vis-a-vis advertisers more like Facebook than a mobile operator. It also claims 29% response rates to campaigns on average.

A particular MMS campaign for L'Oreal (aimed at males) saw 40% and higher response rates (massive). Blyk subscribers seem very willing to receive and respond to ads accordingly. The company's success would thus seem to put to rest the concept that people (at least budget-conscious younger users) are resistant to mobile advertising.

U.S. Carmaker Turning 2009 Models into Hotspots

According to an AP article, buyers of most 2009 Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models in the U.S. will have to option to purchase (at an as yet undetermined monthly fee) access to the company's new UConnect system. It operates on the mobile telephone infrastructure and will compete with Ford's (Microsoft's) "Sync" telematics system.

According to the article:

The uconnect system will link cellular telephones and personal music players to the car's onboard electronics, with the ability to control an Apple iPod with radio and steering wheel controls. The system also has navigation and real-time traffic features, controlled by voice recognition or a touch screen.

It also includes the company's in-car 30-gigabyte hard drive, with options for three-channel satellite television service and satellite radio.

More and more car makers are mainstreaming in-car IP-connected screens and voice control (e.g., 2009 Honda Pilot). These systems will eventually offer full Internet access or comparable information (POIs). And if they become truly affordable they will squeeze and put pressure on PNDs. (The churn rate for OnStar is very high after the complementary subscription expires.)

In-car IP connectivity is interesting for many reasons. The uses cases are like mobile but the "form factor" may be much more like the conventional desktop Internet. Certainly that's true for a passenger on a laptop using UConnect.

Report: Virgin to Buy Helio

As expected, the Financial Times is reporting that Virgin Mobile USA will acquire struggling MVNO Helio (both are actually):
Virgin Mobile USA is to acquire the US mobile phone operation controlled by SK Telecom of South Korea, after each side decided to combine their struggling businesses to build scale in the fast-maturing market.

One person with knowledge of the matter said that the sides had agreed a deal in principle and that an announcement could be made as early as this week.

SK Telecom yesterday declined to comment.

The agreement will see Helio, the US mobile business of SK Telecom, injected into Virgin Mobile USA. The better-recognised Virgin brand will be retained.

In return, Virgin Mobile, which listed in New York last October, will issue new shares, leaving SK Telecom holding close to 20 per cent of the equity of the enlarged business, which will be worth about $50m.
Accordingly, the Helio brand will disappear.

Multipled Getting Good Reviews of Mobile Poynt

Multiplied Media's Poynt local search product was just released for Blackberry. Not being a crackberry user I haven't been "hands on" with the service, but it's received some good reviews:

Pros

  • use with gps/ non-gps enabled berry
  • quick easy access to what you're looking for
  • movie reviews, details and ticket purchase
  • uses BB maps and your phone to go further

Cons

  • None
  • Currently only works in the USA and Canada

The company recently announced that it had crossed 50,000 users on the desktop. It may yet turn out that the mobile app is where Poynt really takes off, much like ChaCha's experience.

Vlingo Now on Blackberry Devices

Vlingo, which came out of the gate with a high visibility deal with Yahoo, is now independently expanding. Today's announcement is about the availability of Vlingo for Blackberry devices. It must be downloaded but allows the following:

  • Voice Dial. Initiate calls to anyone in your address book.
  • Text Message. Send text messages without typing.
  • Email. Simply speak "Email John Smith" to start an email on-the-go, and you can speak the body of the message as well.
  • Applications. Open calendar, maps, etc.
  • Address Book. Search for contacts without typing.
  • Web Search. Look up anything online in one step. Just say, "Web search: concert tickets in Boston," and the results are displayed.
  • Note2Self. Send yourself a reminder in the form of an email, task or text message.

You can see a short video demo here. The company also has a deal with CallGenie.

We believe that speech/voice control is a killer app for mobile and will (together with cheaper data plans) dramatically broaden the usage frequency of the mobile Internet and mobile search.

Before we changed the name to Local Mobile Search we were calling this service, Speech-Enabled Mobile Search.

Loopt Now on All Major U.S. Carriers, ShoZu Expands

According to the Loopt press release:

Loopt is available today on select Verizon Wireless phones for $3.99 monthly access in the Tools on the Go, Featured Applications and Community shopping aisles in the Get It Now(R) virtual store. Customers need a Get It Now-enabled handset and Verizon Wireless digital service to access the Get It Now virtual store.

Loopt is now on all the major U.S. carriers, which makes it truly "interoperable" and an eventual acquisition target. Mobile social networking (Loopt calls itself a "social mapping" service), is a little like online video. There were lots of startups in the space and then winners started to emerge. The same is true for this market.

We have lots of startup competitors and, eventually, a few winners will start to become clear. Some companies will be acquired to add their capabilities to a larger portfolio (as with Nokia and Zyb and Plazes).

Mobile social media service ShoZu has broadened its network to include Snapfish, Ovi and SnapMyLife. In addition:

ShoZu users can now upload images to and exchange content with a total of 46 Web 2.0 properties from a single screen on their mobile device for fast and easy mobile social networking - including the ability to mass-publish any photo or video to multiple sites and/or email addresses simultaneously from the handset.

Other destination options added in ShoZus latest round of integrations include AOLs new BlueString media sharing and Xdrive file storage sites, photo/video sharing communities DivShare and Smugmug, Web creation and hosting site Free Webs, and citizen journalism site Reuters You Witness News.

The additions mark ShoZus third major expansion in seven weeks. In May, ShoZu added support for Twitter, Photobucket, Dailymotion, Friendster and five other community sites. Earlier this month, the company upgraded its Facebook services to enable Facebook status updates from ShoZu as well as delivery of new Facebook photos, event listings and other friends posts directly to the phone.

ShoZu also supports communities ranging from YouTube, Flickr, Google Picasa, Kodak Easy Share Gallery and Webshots to personal blogging sites and news desks such as Google Blogger, LiveJournal, Textamerica, TypePad, Vox, WordPress, MetaWeblog, CNN, the BBC and Scoopt.

ShoZu isn't trying to be a social network per se but rather an umbrella media sharing service that helps users manage mobile media across services.