Intelligence on Windows Mobile 7

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.

Magellan Device Adds Google Local Listings

Magellan Elite

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.

Apple and the Return of the Newton?

Apple Tablet

There are many rumors of a forthcoming Apple "sub-notebook," small laptop. And an independent company created a keyboard-less Mac-based tablet computer, the ModBook (with GPS).

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.

Venture Firms Put $8 Million into Pudding Media

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.

Dial Directions White Labels Service to Ask Mobile

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.

Currently the new Ask service doesn't include some of the other Dial Directions features such as "meet me" or directions to events.

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.

ChaCha Goes Mobile with Text-Based Answers Service

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:

  • What are the hours of the Getty Center museum (Los Angeles)?
  • How far from LA to SF?
  • Who won the 2006 Oscar for best actress?
  • What's the highest rated Sushi place in SF?
  • How do I get from 91306 to Palo Alto, CA?

Overall it performed generally well in response to these questions. There will be a client advisory coming out shortly with more detail.

TextChaCha Transcends Deskbound Search

picture

Precis

Local Mobile Search Advisory
Amid the fanfare surrounding various efforts to improve algorithmic search with human input, Indiana-based ChaCha launched with the promise of "human-guided search." At the time, September 2006, the site provided both conventional search and the ability to interact with one of the company's numerous "guides" who performed searches on behalf of users, making it a cross between Yahoo! Answers and About.com. Today, the company introduces a mobile variant (textChaCha) in an arena far less entrenched than desktop search with the opportunity to exceed what's offered through enhanced DA.

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Thomson/GE Speed Dials GOOG411 at CES

One of the featured products at this year's Consumer Electronics Show introduces simplified access to free directory assistance from a fixed line telephone. A GE-branded cordless home phone (model # DECT 6.0) features single-button, speed-dial access to GOOG-411 (normally accessed by dialing 1-800-GOOG411). This is a hardware-based, preemptive strike resulting from a partnership between one of the leading providers of cordless phones and the undisputed leader in Web-based search.

Google introduced GOOG411 roughly a year ago as its brand of speech-enabled mobile search. It has not yet added the sorts of audio-based advertising that provide an obvious revenue model around category search and location-based marketing. Instead, Google is still in development mode, introducing a trialling a multiplicity of access methodologies for its local search service. The button is hard-wired into the GE handset, but it could just as easily be rendered as a soft-key or widget on the touch-sensitive screens of forthcoming smartphones.

Meanwhile, because automatic connection is baked into GOOG411, it should not be long before DECT 6.0 owners begin to use the button as an intelligent speed dialer. The good news is that the original query is through a tool free number and, thanks to IP connectivity, Google provides call completion for free.

Single button access, offered by Google and others, are poised to change long established user behaviors, like dialing 411 or longer, toll-free access numbers. This is a major threat to incumbent, fixed line DA providers that generated something like $3.5 billion in highly profitable revenue from roughly 4 billion calls last year. Meanwhile, thanks largely to the fact that Google has yet to attach either connection fees nor promotional charges to its service, advertiser supported, "free" DA services generated less than $20 million in top line revenue.

The partnership with Thomson/GE shows that Google will pursue a number of avenues to generate more call origination. No firm has been better at converting activity to revenue and profits.

Two Views of the Coming Year

I've posted an outlook on 2008 as a "CAT Scan" for the Opus Research's Conversational Access Technology program. It's called "Get Ready for Vox Ex Machina" as we all look for that unexpected factor that will meld voice processing, mobility, advertising support and open networks/devices into viable service offerings.

Meanwhile, Greg has published his expectations for 2008 at Screenwerk. You will note that we have decidedly different views (not to mention writing styles), but expect the year to bring more multimedia mobile services thanks to the expansion of broadband wireless and more cooperation up-and-down the solutions stack.

Happy New Year!

Nokia Siemens Puts a Price on Fixed/Mobile Convergence

By agreeing to by subscriber data specialist Apertio for $205 million, Nokia/Siemens highlights the importance of real-time access to a flexible database of subscriber data to telephone carriers introduce and support services that cross customary boundaries between fixed line and mobile communications. Red Herring considers the price to be a hefty premium over previous assessments of the firm's value.

A Spokesperson for Nokia/Siemens noted that the companies have already worked together for a number of years and that Apertio already has Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, and O2 as customers and is testing Apertio's technology with at least three U.S. carriers