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?

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.