Dial Directions has expanded its service nationally. That means users can now theoretically get directions to and from any address or intersection in the US and some chain stores and selected other locations. (The company still needs to add a "points of interest" or other local database to round out the service.)
But far more interesting is another feature -- somewhat buried in the service -- that was introduced last night: Meet Me. Dial Directions continues to be one of the more clever and creative mobile startups out there. Previously the company added the ability to get directions to events simply by saying the name of the event.
The new "invitations" service, Meet Me, allows anyone to record a greeting (e.g., "We're all headed to the hotel for a drink") and then send that to friends via text, together with directions to the location. What's delivered is a text message with a prompt for a call, which plays back the greeting and provides directions to the intended location again via text. Messages can be forwarded to one or many an unlimited number of times.
There's an interesting marketing or promotional opportunity here for bars, clubs and restaurants around offers or mobile coupons. But that's not the intention of the service -- at least right now.
Meet Me is a creative, but also very useful, feature of Dial Directions that will likely have uptake among younger users. And not to be underestimated is the value of the recorded message that allows people to customize Meet Me with a personalized greeting, jokes, etc.
Whether it's regulators or Google or somebody else, the U.S. wireless industry is going to be opened up eventually. This NY Times article explores the dynamics forcing change in the U.S. cellphone industry and speculates about the future. If nothing else the cat and mouse game surrounding unlocking the iPhone is an indication that people want access to better devices and better mobile Internet experiences.
The power is ultimately going to shift from carriers in the U.S. to device makers, content producers, search engines and others as the "mobile Internet" becomes a reality. What carriers must do to remain relevant is partner and create useful experiences and features (including heavy personalization and social elements) that provide positive incentives (including attractive pricing) for users to remain with them.
Disney's U.S. MVNO (on Sprint) is shutting down as a failed experiment. However, the company is launching a Disney branded cellphone service in Japan, with Softbank as a partner. Softbank acquired Vodafone's mobile phone business in Japan last year for roughly US$15 billion. The new Disney MVNO will run on the Softbank network.
While Disney's "cute factor" (what might be called the "Hello Kitty aesthetic") might win the company some converts, it could easily face the same unsuccessful outcome there as in this country.
Disney's other MVNO venture, mobile ESPN also shut down.
Google today announced the Android Developer Challenge, which will provide $10 million to developers who build mobile applications for Android, the first complete, open, and free mobile platform. The Challenge is designed to support the developer community and spark innovation on the Android platform by awarding cash prizes ranging from $25,000 to $275,000 to developers whose applications are picked by a panel of judges.
Here's a new blog on Android and a, most interesting, is a video that shows the interface and the functionality of Android on various prototype phones. It's quite impressive and looks like a cross between Yahoo Go and the iPhone, but with extras like Google StreetView and 3-D rendering (e.g., for games).
Like the Opera Mini, the iPhone's Safari and the forthcoming Mozilla mobile browser, it renders the Internet as a whole. This interface will get people excited about the possibilities.
I encourage you to watch the video in particular.
In a report by Amol Sharma in the Wall Street Journal, Medio's chief executive Brian Lent let on that he expect his firm to play an important role in aggregating Web search through T-Mobile phones even after the entry of Google's open handset. T-Mobile, which is a business unit of Germany's Deutsche Telekom, already has a history with key personnel at Google's Android subsidiary. Android's co-founder Andy Rubin developed the hip-top messaging platform Sidekick while working for mobile platform specialist Danger, Inc.
T-Mobile has a lot of incentive to innovate. With about 28 million subscribers, it is half the size of AT&T Mobility, which has had tremendous success attracting and locking in new subscribers with Apple's iPhone. Likewise it is less than half the size of Verizon Wireless, which is gradually introducing a number of iPhone-like feature phones while showing no inclination towards openness.
Medio was first-in with a mobile search service offered under terms for division of revenue that T-Mobile found acceptable. Although its name has become the generic term for Web-based search, Google would enter T-Mobile's territory as the provider of mobile middleware, not as a search service provider. Ideally it would be enhancing revenue generating prospects for both Medio and T-Mobile while creating a richer set of experiences and applications for T-Mobile subscribers.
Under the agreement, Medio and mInfo will work together on both technical and business levels to develop a flexible mobile search, advertising and content delivery platform for the Chinese market. The partnership will combine the technical and operational strengths of both companies to deliver unsurpassed value for Chinese operators, advertisers and over 520 million mobile subscribers in the world's fastest growing market.
Medio is wise to quickly diversify and expand beyond the U.S. and European carrier markets. The Android open source platform creates a kind of unpredicted uncertainty in the market that may directly impact the company's ability to broaden it carrier relationships over time.
Medio's value proposition is that it offers white label search and monetization that rival or best desktop search engines. The company also has "off deck" relationships with publishers and is building a mobile ad network.
The iAnywhere subsidiary of Sybase has teamed up with a division of automobile giant Toyota to win a couple of patents in the mobile voice search domain. According to a press release issued today (November 12, 2007), "Sybase iAnywhere and Toyota InfoTechnology Center Co., LTD. ... have been awarded joint U.S. patents (number 7,228,275 and 7,292,978) on techniques to significantly improve open conversational speech-recognition-based interfaces."
The patents arise from development work that the two companies conducted to support speech recognition in cars. iAnywhere Solutions, Inc., is the subsidiary of database management specialist, Sybase, that was chartered in 2000 to support wireless products and services. Toyota ITC is a research and development lab located within Toyota's corporate structure but funded, in part, by parts maker Denso, telecom carrier KDDI and others.
The technology is already in use as part of its embedded AnswersAnywhere (eAA) platform, which enables mobile subscribers to ask questions in "natural language" through text messaging (SMS) or voice entry. It takes into account the context of each query and has has the ability to render responses in a number of wireless formats (text, speech or graphics).
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has not forsaken the mobile search field. But the team of Toyota and Sybase are not saber rattling here. Both are profitable companies taking the opportunity to draw attention to an enabling platform for mobile search that has already achieved a modicum of success in cars and handsets around the world. It is an enabling technology that, according to a company issued White Paper is compatible with embedded renditions of both the IBM ViaVoice and Nuance Mobile speech engines.
Forbes reports on Google CEO Eric Schmidt saying, for the first time, that the company would "definitely" participate in the forthcoming 700 MHZ wireless spectrum auction to be held in January. Google had said it would potentially bid nearly $5 billion for the spectrum licenses, which the FCC has repeatedly described as "beach front property."
The article speculates about potential partners that Google might join with to bid on the licenses, effectively making Google into a wireless carrier/ISP. Two of the potential partners mentioned are Sprint and T-Mobile, both of which are part of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) associated with the Android open mobile platform. I had previously thought that Verizon was nearly ready to join the OHA but any move by Google on spectrum licenses would probably be seen as threatening and might mean Verizon would hold out in protest or retribution. It's extremely unlikely that AT&T would join the OHA.
Going in with an existing wireless carrier might give Google some political cover in some quarters. But now that it appears definite -- it remains to be seen whether Google and its partner or partners win of course -- it's a gutsy move to open up the U.S. mobile market. Go back to the Internet circa 1999, when AOL is the dominant site and is a closed system. That's what we essentially have now in the U.S. mobile market, except that there are a number of AOLs. Google is intent it appears on opening up the current market in several ways: Android is one and bidding on wireless spectrum licenses is another.
In addition, Google and a group of other companies including Dell, EarthLink, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft had been trying to gain access to television spectrum licenses, so-called "white space" licenses, as another way to provide (fixed and mobile) Internet access.
Many people might argue that to achieve its mobile objectives, Google doesn't need the wireless licenses. Indeed, one could argue that the Android initiative and the bid for wireless spectrum are at cross purposes. For Android to succeed fully it has to be as widely adopted as possible, and the spectrum bidding potentially alienates Verizon, the largest US carrier. But Google has apparently made its decision and "crossed the Rubicon."
Here's a write up in the Wall Street Journal:
Customers in Germany and Britain lined up to buy Apple Inc.'s iPhone as it made its European debut Friday, with the company hoping to replicate the success the combination phone, music player and mobile Web browser has seen in the U.S.
Apple hopes to sell 10 million iPhones in 2008, helped by the launch of the iPhone in Europe, then in Asia next year. The company has already sold more than 1.39 million since it debuted in the U.S. on June 29
T-Mobile, the mobile services arm of Deutsche Telekom AG, said Friday it had sold more than 10,000 iPhones by 5 p.m. local time. Telefoncia SA's O2, which is providing cell service for iPhones in Britain, said it would not release the number of handsets sold Friday.
Coming back to town last Friday after being at a conference in Europe, I was on the train and a woman next to me had an iPhone. Another woman standing above us looked at it and said, "I want that phone, I've got to get that phone." That may sound like marketing copy, but it's a verbatim quote.
What emerged and was also striking as I spoke to her is that she was unaware that the device was an iPod in addition to being a phone and had never used or even held one. I was struck by how successful the buzz and the marketing has been in that moment.
Nobody is coveting a Blackberry or Treo or anything else like that -- at least that I've seen.
Sprint and Clearwire have ended their joint bid to build out a nationwide WiMax network. Sprint says the network will go on but there's plenty of pressure from investors to scrap it, given that it won't immediately generate any revenue for the troubled wireless carrier.
Google was a partner with Sprint and was going to provide certain kinds of services to the network: Web search, Google Talk and a range of other potential services. Who knows what will happen at this point.
Yet one scenario is that Google and Sprint could come in and buy wireless spectrum when the 700MHZ auction happens in January and that might substitute for the WiMax initiative. A national WiFi/WiMax capability would allow people, for example, to buy the iPhone or future Android, WiFi-enabled phones or the Nokia 810 and use them potentially as mobile Internet devices without a specific carrier relationship (although you'd have to pay Sprint/Google).
Here's a piece that speculates Clearwire would be the potential Google partner and not Sprint, now that Spint and Clearwire have parted ways.