Jingle Networks Inc., a
Menlo Park, Calif. based operator of a national consumer telephone directory assistance service, has raised nearly $13 million in Series C-1 funding, according to a regulatory filing. Listed shareholders include Goldman Sachs, IDG Ventures Boston, Liberty Associated Partners and First Round Capital. The company had closed on a $30 million Series C round last October, with the aforementioned investors, plus Comcast Interactive Capital, Hearst Corp. and Lead Dog Ventures.
Through three financing rounds, Jingle has now raised more than $70 million.
We're not at CES but the news coming out of the show is sort of unrelenting. There are scores of announcements daily, most of which will not translate into real-world experiences or products that consumers actually use. For that reason, we've refrained from blogging most of the announcements. The mobile TV announcements are interesting, but we're really at the level of standards right now and far from general consumer adoption.
But the BBC writes up Intel CEO Paul Otellini's keynote remarks about mobile and ubiquitous connectivity:
He said the industry was on the verge of creating a "new level of capability and usefulness to the internet."
"It's an internet that is proactive, predictive and context-aware."
Explaining that devices would be location-aware, and would access the internet over Wimax wireless connections, he said: "Instead of going to the internet, the internet comes to us.
"We need a ubiquitous, wireless broadband infrastructure. Eventually we will blanket the globe in wireless broadband connectivity."
One of the challenges for mobile is uneven or limited connectivity. And Otellini's vision of a ubiquitous, wireless broadband infrastructure is right. One day (the question is how soon) there will be wireless connectivity that people can tap into at will, whether on a subscription basis or ad supported, almost anywhere (there are numerous security problems that go with that of course). That infrastructure will support a range of mobile devices other than phones.
What also struck me about the remarks is that they point to a time, probably within the next decade or so, where mobile devices become the primary Internet access point for many people, facilitating all sorts of interaction and research via the Internet "in the real world."
The desktop will become a utility that people use at work and often at home. It will also be a tool that people use to manage the content that they access through mobile devices. But it will no longer be the central device of the Internet -- and no longer the preferred device for a generation of people. Indeed, the modes of wireless Internet access will undoubtedly diversify and multiply beyond phones (e.g., smart appliances, kioks, etc.).
I disagree, however, with Otellini's vision of a "push" world, that realizes some of the old location-based services fantasies ("As you're walking by the restaurant, they beam you a coupon). Everything will need to be explicit, consensual and opt-in (push after opt-in is okay). However, near-ubiquitous location awareness will facilitate hyper-relevant mobile search and discovery of local information (products and services) -- and highly targeted advertising in both display and search contexts.
Yahoo! Go 3.0 and the new mobile homepage aren't live yet -- we're eagerly waiting for them -- but we were able to discuss the changes and upgrades with Yahoo! yesterday briefly from CES. From a consumer standpoint, the things that are most tantalizing and promising are the personalization features that Yahoo! has built into the new homepage and Go application.
In addition, the company is bringing the mobile homepage and Go application much closer together. The new mobile homepage will work with any mobile browser and offers a range of customization options that are tied to My Yahoo (as are those in Go). Smartly, Yahoo! appears to be starting to integrate the desktop and mobile experiences, which is a strategic necessity.
Go will offer a richer version of the mobile browser experience but with identical customization capabilities. The mobile widgets will work equally on the WAP site or in Go. The widgets also offer intriguing possibilities for advertisers, who can use them to build applications or rich landing pages.
We'll write more about all this once we get a chance to download Go.
Yahoo! has much at stake in the success of its mobile efforts and the company is being about as aggressive as possible in this arena, building numerous OEM and carrier relationships on a global basis. Now Yahoo! has announced that it's releasing Go 3.0 (not live), a new mobile homepage that emphasizes personalization and, most importantly, that it is now opening up to third-party publishers and developers as a (widget) platform.
Partners at launch are eBay, MTV and MySpace. Here's how Yahoo! PR has summarized the chief features and improvements of Go, the widget platform and the new mobile WAP site/homepage:
Yahoo! Go 3.0 beta:
New features include:
Enhanced user interface, optimized for the mobile phone.
For the first time, consumers will have access to third-party widgets from leading publishers through Yahoo! Go.
Yahoo! Go 3.0 also includes display advertising from Yahoo!â€™s major global advertisers. Consumers will be able to interact with these ads by clicking to call the advertiser directly or to learn more about the offer.
Mobile Widget Platform:
The platform is an open environment for developers to create mobile Widgets for instant access by millions of consumers.
Widgets created on the Mobile Widget Platform will be available to consumers from various starting points, including Yahoo! Go 3.0 and Yahoo!'s new mobile homepage.
The platform will enable developers to write code once and publish their content across Yahoo!'s mobile network, allowing accelerated delivery of a feature-rich mobile experience.
The platform will enable consumers more control over their experience, as well, by providing the functionality to add and delete Widgets at any time.
Full-featured SDK for developers to be introduced over the coming weeks.
Third-party Widget launch partners include, eBay, MySpace, and MTV.
Completely redesigned and engineered mobile interface from the ground up.
Homepage centers around intuitive navigational structure where consumers can tailor content according to needs, interests and location.
Available to consumers in the
United States on high-end mobile browsers, which are included in devices such as the Apple iPhone, sever Nokia Series 60 devices, including the N95, and select Windows Mobile devices. Availability across additional devices and countries to come in the near future.
Personal Vitality and Status Updates: Provides an at-a-glance update of what's new since the last visit -- including recent emails, Flickr photos from your friends, upcoming calendar appointments and status of Messenger contacts -- without moving away from the home screen or logging into a separate application.
Customizable Content: Offers a collection of mobile content modules - or Snippets - that provide previews of the user's favorite content - news headlines, weather conditions, etc -- whatever the user wants. In many cases, Snippets are extensions of mobile widgets and can be used to launch a full-featured widget built on Yahoo!'s Mobile Widget Platform.
Quick Links: Customizable links at the bottom of the page, providing fast access to the Yahoo! features or sites across the Internet that consumers use the most. Consumers can easily add and remove Quick Links as they desire.
Now Yahoo! goes head-to-head as a platform with Google's Android, Windows Mobile and the iPhone, even as it's optimizing its WAP site for iPhones. With its widget approach Yahoo! competes with uLocate's Where and Microsoft-backed Zumobi, which both see themselves as platforms for third parties.
The bottom line, as always, is about the user experience. Neither the new WAP site nor Go 3.0 are live yet. We'll write more as we get a chance to have some "face time" with these apps.
Here's a very long and detailed (and somewhat technical) post about Microsoft's intriguing plans for Windows Mobile 7. From our point of view, and according to the post, many of the design and functionality upgrades are responses to the sensation caused by the iPhone and the fact that the latter has quickly overtaken Windows Mobile in terms of market share.
The improved user experience reflected in the post is good for users, as desktop titans, carriers and OEMs such as Nokia engage in an intensifying battle for mobile consumers.
The Wi-Fi-enabled personal navigation device Dash Express offers content from Yahoo! Local, as well as other content providers (e.g., Zillow). Dash sees itself as an "open platform" that will continue to add content and features over time, transcending the "personal navigation" category as a non-phone mobile Internet and content device. More established competitor TomTom offers "points of interest" and local content from a range of companies; Garmin's devices also have much of this same information.
But Magellan Navigation will be the second company, after Dash, to partner with a search engine to offer local content on a device with real-time wireless connectivity. (TomTom has a deal with Google, where one can send maps to a TomTom device.) The forthcoming Magellan Maestro Elite 5340+GPRS is being introduced at CES next week and will become available in March. The cost is an unfortunate $1,300, which all-but-prevents it from having mainstream appeal.
The Dash device is less than half that price at $599, which is still too expensive for most people. TomTom devices range in price from $199 to over $1,000. The iPhone, by contrast, is $399.
Price is a huge factor in this market -- perhaps the factor. The Telematics Research Group (TRG) has projected that mobile phone makers will overtake TomTom, et al. in the next 5-7 years in the personal navigation market, as phones increasingly double as navigation devices. As TRG also correctly points out, non-phone personal nav devices will need to be connected and loaded up with local (and other) content to be competitive with smartphones going forward. In other words, maps and GPS navigation by themselves are no longer enough. (Ads on these devices is the topic of another conversation.)
As an HTC 6800, Windows Mobile 6.0 user (with Live Search, Google Maps, Yahoo! Go and the Opera Mini loaded), I already have no reason to buy one of these personal nav devices. As also mentioned, prices will have to be aggressively lowered for these devices to be competitive longer term. Current, relatively high price points make them highly unattractive vs. smartphones, which are now almost as good.
Years ago Apple was way ahead its time with the failed Newton. The iPhone and iPod Touch are successor devices that point to mobile computers with somewhat larger screens but that are more portable than traditional notebooks. A better designed and perhaps smaller version of the Amazon Kindle would be such a device.
I believe there is a market for an Internet-enabled, touch-screen tablet device (with some sort of virtual keyboard or slide-out keyboard) that offers a mobile Internet experience more like the desktop but small enough to be truly mobile.
Opus Capital (not affiliated in any way with Opus Research) and BRM Capital (an Israeli company that invests in early stage companies) are providing $8 million in series A funding to Pudding Media. Recall that Pudding Media burst on the ad-supported phone call scene last September. It demonstrated how its brand of voice over IP (VoIP) supports origination of free phone calls from Web browsers that then scroll advertising messages, links and other content based on the content of the phone conversation.
Pudding Media's founders highlighted their view that the approach does not differ ostensibly from Google's GMail, with its habit of lining an individual's inbox with tile ads that key off of the content of received messages. They also observe that by visually scrolling content (which can include Web pages, video and other information) during phone conversation has a direct impact on the dialogue. People change what they're saying based on the messages the see on the screen.
It's about promoting serendipity. Though it is not well-suited for mobile subscribers, the founders see an important role for Pudding to play for individuals who are discussing dining plans or other local activities. They have observed first-hand the influence that material on the screen has on real time conversation.
They are correct to observe that people tend to multi-task while carrying on phone conversations. Nonetheless, my friends, family and business associations can always tell when I'm reading e-mail or otherwise distracted while I'm talking on the phone. We're also unclear about how Pudding intends to build advertising inventory that guarantees both local and immediate relevance. Now the question is whether $8 million will provide enough runway to see if this proposed change in common VoIP user protocol will fly.
Ask has tapped Dial Directions to offer a voice interface for obtaining driving directions. Beside the "Directions" link on the mobile Ask (WAP) site there's a new "Voice Entry" link. That sends users to the Dial Directions phone number (347-328-4667) or initiates a phone call from the device. Users hear "Mobile Ask powered by Dial Directions" and the service basically works exactly as Dial Directions does, except that results are returned on a WAP page with a map vs. in text messaging form.
Ask is the first of the major engines to offer WAP-based voice-search for directions. Live Search for mobile (the downloadable application) offers embedded voice for local search, but not for directions. InfoSpace FindIt (now part of Superpages) has voice output for turn-by-turn directions; so does the Mapquest Navigator client.
I would expect Dial Directions to attempt to "white label" its service more broadly to others in the future.
I've written up today's release in some detail at Search Engine Land.
The service allows users to text ChaCha (242242) and to essentially ask any question about any subject, which makes it more flexible that the current crop of free DA services. ChaCha's many human guides respond in the same way that they do on the desktop. However, in mobile, you get a single answer (via text).
I asked the following questions in testing out the new service:
Overall it performed generally well in response to these questions. There will be a client advisory coming out shortly with more detail.