iPhone PR: Money Can't Buy That Kind of Publicity

One of the things that put Skyhook Wireless on the map from a PR perspective was Apple CEO Steve Jobs' mention of the company on stage earlier this year, discussing the iPhone SDK. Money can't buy that kind of publicity, to paraphrase Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan.

Also in that camp today is Loopt, the mobile social network and friend finder. The company's CEO Sam Altman did an iPhone demo on stage in San Francisco. We'll see if Whrrl gets a mention as well.

A range of apps, from SEGA, to eBay, Loopt, AP and TypePad have shared the stage so far . . .

Jobs: 98% of iPhone users are doing mobile browsing (of the Internet). He confirms the 3G iPhone. Says iPhone 3G is faster than other 3G phones, cites Nokia and Palm. Jobs says "3G speeds approach WiFi."

He also confirms the price cut and GPS (combined with WiFi and cell tower triangulation). There's also extended battery life beyond iPhone 1.0. Jobs touts location-based services and content on iPhone 2.0.

Jobs says they're will be distribution in 70 countries around the globe for iPhone 2.0.

Jobs announces the new price: $199 for 8G with a 16G model for $299. That's going to drive huge sales globally. Release date is July 11 in 22 countries.

iPhone price cut

image credit: Engadget

iPhone 3G: Game Changer Part Deux

The first iPhone changed the mobile Internet and mobile hardware forever; the new 3G GPS $199 iPhone will cause more consumer gain, competitor pain. The combination of ingredients here makes this device all but unbeatable, especially given the third party applications that nobody else currently has -- although Blackberry and Android are working on it.

In the end, it may be the apps that really make the iPhone desirable to users even more than the device itself.

But for the AT&T exclusivity, the iPhone would be the iPod of phones (meaning a brand that overshadows others). Let's see what the response is from other carriers and handset makers. Suddenly the HTC and Samsung devices (Touch Diamond, Instinct) look relatively pale by comparison.

Here's the AT&T press release just out a few minutes ago.

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UK carrier O2 makes the new iPhone "free" for "selected tariffs," meaning those in particular higher-cost plan categories.

Get Ready for iPhone Week

Now that speculation and anticipation are at a fever pitch among iPhone watchers, the Financial Times all but confirms the 3G iPhone will be subsidized like conventional mobile phones:

Apple has bowed to pressure from mobile phone operators and agreed they can subsidise the latest iPhone, expected to be unveiled by Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, on Monday.

The subsidy arrangements should increase Apple’s chances of hitting its target of selling 10m iPhones during 2008. The target has been made challenging by the global downturn. Apple has reported selling 1.7m iPhones so far this year.

Apple has accepted that the new iPhone should be subsidized in the US and western Europe by the mobile operators who sell it to consumers, according to people familiar with the matter.

A subsidy will broaden the appeal of the device in the US and internationally. However, the exclusive relationship with AT&T in the U.S. still represents a significant barrier for many people who would otherwise buy the iPhone. Reportedly 47% of iPhone buyers in the U.S. changed carriers to get access to the device.

Some additional recent facts about iPhone user behavior from Nielsen Mobile:

  • 25- to 34-year-olds are the largest group (1/3) of iPhone users
  • A quarter of iPhone buyers use their iPhones for "business," indicating strong enterprise potential
  • The iPhone's iPod function is the most popular
  • 76% of users send e-mail with their iPhones; 33% use IM on the phone
  • 68% use the WiFi capability of the device, indicating people are seeking greater speed
  • 37% of iPhone owners watch video, dramatically higher than the general mobile average

Here's previous information about iPhone user behavior and habits.

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Yet another touch screen iPhone competitor: the Samsung Omnia.

Google Maps for Mobile Adds Transit Data

The new version of Google Maps for Mobile has added public transit data to mirror what's available on the desktop:

Enter the new version of Google Maps for mobile. This version (2.2) allows you to get transit directions in all the same places as the web version of Google Maps, including Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Vancouver, and over 40 other cities in North America.

The "MyLocation" (cell tower triangulation) feature assists with the nearest public transit location (helpful in a city like New York or Europe).

Google is also mapping WiFi locations to improve this non-GPS location awareness capability for various devices.

Consolidation in the U.S. Carrier Market

Verizon Wireless is reportedly trying to buy Alltel for $27 billion. If it were to succeed in acquiring the debt-ridden company Verizon would become the U.S.'s largest carrier with more than 80 million subscribers, beating AT&T Wireless, currently the largest with about 71 million.

T-Mobile has explored a Sprint takeover and Virgin Mobile and Helio have discussed a merger. Anti-trust issues aside, which are not insignificant, there will only be room for about five major players in the U.S. market, which means more consolidation.

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How does that impact the mobile Internet, data plans and pricing and consumers? T-Mobile recently lowered the cost of adding family members to unlimited plans to $49. We'll see if the others do so.

Competition might increase but there's also a danger is that you'll have an airline-like cartel that will exacerbate the challenges and problems that the carriers present to the market currently. However, the iPhone, Android and other competitive pressures on carriers (i.e., the potential for free or low-cost nationwide WiFi) could mitigate the impact of consolidation.

We'll see.

Yelp iPhone Widget and Lo-Mo-So Applications

Tons of new iPhone applications will seek to tap the forthcoming location-awareness capabilities of the device through the SDK. Yelp is one of them. I wrote about the forthcoming Yelp iPhone application on Screenwerk.

It's not yet clear whether there's any "friend finding" layer in the Yelp application. Many would-be Yelp dethroners (if I can create a word) seek to combine entertainment content with friend finding and some set of communication tools.

One of the big questions in Local Mobile Search and/or mobile social networking is whether new companies in mobile can and will take the place of companies that currently dominate those functions on the desktop. Our preliminary research on mobile social networking with Multiplied Media indicates that the desktop "brands" in social networking have a significant head start vs. mobile-only networks because of the existing investment users have made and a much higher level of awareness.

But there's also demand and opportunity for applications that can elegantly bring location-specific content and friend finding together in mobile:

Interest in mobile social capabilities

Source: LMS/Multiplied Media (n=862)

What that means is that a better mousetrap on a high visibility platform (e.g., the iPhone) could enable a few of these mobile-only networking applications to break out over time.

Zumobi Vies for Visibility

Zumobi was originally spun out of Microsoft as Zenzui. But I'm guessing that eventually the company will be "reacquired" by its old parent.

The company recently released a new version of its software for Windows Mobile, with a Blackberry version in the works. (An iPhone version, which probably should be built would probably be strangely redundant.) There's now more content and a "tile wizard" that enables users to create their own tiles. This latter feature is most interesting and gives the company a chance to really break out and differentiate.

uLocate's Where is very similar in concept (but with carrier relationships that provide GPS access to widget developers) although different in presentation.

But Zumobi must compete with all the other "platforms" out there, including some that are much more visible than it is: iPhone, Android, etc. In some ways it would be better to call it a content gateway or widget aggregator than a platform (that's my term not theirs).

In the end, Microsoft might see what Zumobi has built as a user-friendly mobile interface that it might want to integrate into Windows Mobile or have access to as a stand-alone mobile application or "platform."

It's far from perfect as a user experience, but it's improving and it's interesting.

Verizon Buys Alltel for $28 Billion

According to the release that just came out:

Verizon Wireless has entered into an agreement with Alltel Corporation and Atlantis Holdings LLC, an affiliate of private investment firm TPG Capital and GS Capital Partners, to acquire Alltel Corporation in a cash merger. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone.

Under the terms of the agreement, Verizon Wireless will acquire the equity of Alltel for approximately $5.9 billion. Based on Alltel’s projected net debt at closing of $22.2 billion, the aggregate value of the transaction is $28.1 billion.

The parties are targeting completion of the merger by the end of the year, subject to obtaining regulatory approvals.

Here's our earlier post on the acquisition.

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Will Verizon, if the acquisition passes regulatory muster, maintain innovative programs like MyCircle and the Alltel Celltop? The widget-based Celltop is Verizon's potential doorway into longer term relevance to consumers by providing a customized experience and a true "platform" for mobile developers.

Alltel Celltop

ChaCha's Mobile Search Volumes

ChaCha struggled on the desktop but seems to really be taking off with its Mobile Answers service. Given that the common mobile search frequency is around nine (9) per month, I was struck by the statement in a press release that ChaCha was “seeing usage rates that exceed 40 queries per month. Our most active users are tapping ChaCha multiple times per day resulting in over 150 questions per month.”

That compares favorably with desktop search and seems to outstrip what I've heard and seen in most of the mobile ecosystem.

I spoke with the company's co-founder, Brad Bostic, today to get more insight into the numbers. Most of what he shared with me he didn't want to share publicly but the growth was impressive. (Also the categories of queries are broader than one might expect to find in a conventional DA service.)

One of the advantages of a voice-based (or SMS) system is that it can attract the market of non-smartphone users, which still represent more than 90% of mobile subscribers today in the US. However, smarthphones are growing much faster than feature phones in terms of sales.

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The NY Times' David Pogue favorably covers ChaCha.

Nokia Promotes MOSH, "Mobile Sharing Community"

Nokia is promoting MOSH as both a mobile social network of sorts and as a platform for third parties to reach Nokia users:

On this site users can upload, browse, search, and download all types of content for mobile devices. A completely open platform, MOSH offers content for all mobile devices, not just ones made by Nokia, and is an innovative, easy way to distribute mobile content to the masses.

To enhance the service, Nokia is also offering a new way for companies to connect with the global community of MOSH. The program is called Spotlight and helps content creators elevate their brands and distribute mobile content through sponsored placement on MOSH. With over 300,000 registered users worldwide, MOSH currently receives hundreds of thousands of page views and downloads a day.

Spotlight is an ad program for third parties that offers "premium placement" or "contextual placement." The service claims nearly 50 million downloads since launch.

Nokia MOSH