In the Future GPS Is Everywhere

People often talk about GPS or cell/WiFi triangulation being the "killer app" for mobile. That's not entirely true but these technologies do potentially improve the user experience and provide for better ad targeting to boot. However, GPS on consumer devices isn't limited to cellphones.

The in-car and personal navigation systems offer it. There's also an interesting device is from a company called Zoombak. The Zoombak device enables you to track a pet or your kids. These technologies are sold to people on the basis of "safety" but there are many interesting applications beyond safety per se. Sprint Family Locator is another such system being sold on the same general basis (using mobile phones).

The eventual ubiqutiy or near-ubiquity of location aware technologies on phones, personal nav devices and other portable techologies will create the infrastructure for "friend finding" and one flavor of mobile social networking. Of course, it could also be used to support nefarious government domestic surveillance and spying. (Merry Xmas.)

Lots and Lots of Bidders for 700MHz Spectrum

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the FCC has released the list of bidders for the 700MHz spectrum auction set to begin next month. Beyond the handful of players (AT&T, Verizon, Google, et al.) already reported, the list includes a whopping 266 firms or investors (96 of those applications were actually accepted.)

That number of bidders almost guarantees that the winning bid will exceed the $4.6 billion that Google said it was willing to put up (presumably that's not the ceiling for Google).

The WSJ speculates that the auction might fetch up to $15 billion for the spectrum licenses. Here's more from BusinessWeek.

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Related: Forbes reports on a further release and auction of wireless spectrum in the UK.

Retail Queries Popular on Mobile 411

Mobile search and DA provider V-Enable released data gathered from carrier partners between 11/23 and 12/7 about mobile 411 search activity in major U.S. metro areas (LA, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco and Dallas). Here are the "top retail searches" according to the company:

  1. Wal-Mart
  2. Target
  3. Game Stop
  4. Best Buy
  5. Walgreens
  6. Publix
  7. AutoZone
  8. KMart
  9. Toys R Us
  10. Blockbuster Video
  11. CVS
  12. Circuit City
  13. Home Depot
  14. Radio Shack
  15. Sears

What it shows in part is the power of these brands and the opportunity to bridge between the Internet and physical stores, using mobile, in terms of promotions and product inventory information.

4G Standards Battle Brewing, Will Consumers Care?

Fortune writes about the brewing 4G wireless standards battle. It's an interesting piece but the issue, as the article points out in the end, is about consumer demand for services like mobile video.

One of the top consumer complaints about the "mobile Internet" is that network speeds are too slow. Advanced mobile networks will help address that but there's also a very mundane issue here in the form of pricing. Many people currently do not have a mobile Internet plan. One reason is that they don't perceive a need, another is price.

Carriers and other content producers should not expect consumers to fork over money for premium services too much beyond what they're paying for mobile voice and data now. For example, people will NOT be willing to pay for voice, text messaging, mobile Internet -- and mobile TV. These services will all need to be bundled in a relatively affordable package to get consumers to bite, otherwise they'll just avoid things like mobile video or go to where they can get it for free.

Z2: Another Interesting Non-Phone Device

Z2

The new Z2 from Zipit Wireless allows users to send and receive text messages (connectivity not included) as well as store and view photos and play music. There's no browser that I'm aware of, but that would theoretically be possible. Relying on the popularity of IM with its target youth market, the company plans to charge $4.99 per month for roughly 3K messages, undercutting the text plans of wireless carriers.

I'm skeptical that the device has the right combination of features (it needs Internet, which could include VoIP) to gain broad adoption (cost: $149) but it's another interesting wireless device that has potential.

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The Kindle has reportedly sold out but the Internet browsing experience is apparently quite poor. I think that version 2.0 with a better Internet experience (and slightly different positioning) could make this device a mainstream success. The Internet is included (based on Sprint's 3G network), which is the most compelling part of the whole thing.

CallGenie in DA 'Category Search' Deal with AT&T

Here's the news from the release that went out this a.m.:

CallGenie, a leading provider of localized, voice-enabled search solutions to Yellow Pages publishers, directory assistance providers and wireless carriers, today announced that it has entered into an agreement with AT&T, in which Call Genie will provide its EVD (Enhanced Voice Directory) business category search product and related services to support the AT&T business category search feature. This feature will give users of AT&T directory assistance the opportunity to search by type of business in addition to searching by business name in the 9 Southeastern states.

CallGenie recently acquired mobile content provider and ad exchange PhoneSpots, as well as EU-based DA services provider BTSLogic.

Sprint Names New CEO

Number three U.S. wireless carrier Sprint has named Daniel Hesse the new CEO of the embattled company. Hesse was formerly the CEO of Embarq, a local phone company that was spun out of Sprint after the Nextel merger. The Wall Street Journal explains the rationale behind the appointment:

One reason Mr. Hesse was attractive to Sprint Nextel's board -- beyond his telecom industry experience -- was that he was not a longtime employee of either Sprint or Nextel. The two companies merged in 2005 but their cultures have never really integrated. Many Sprint employees say Nextel's poor network infrastructure was the root of the combined companies' recent turmoil, while Nextel views Sprint as overly bureaucratic and slow-moving. Since he joined the company after the Sprint-Nextel merger, Mr. Hesse isn't infected by the bitterness of the merger and is less likely to be perceived as biased to either camp.

One outstanding question is whether Sprint will go through with its planned build out of a national WiMax network, estimated to cost more than $5 billion. Sprint's mobile data service operates on a 3G network and it's behind most of the MVNO services in the US, including Helio (partly), VirginMobile and the connectivity behind Amazon's novel Kindle eBook reader and service.

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The Register reports on WiMax rumors surrounding former Sprint partner Clearwire.

'Trillions' of Text Messages

Gartner has published its text messaging forecast for 2008 (via Mobiya's blog). The forecast says that there will be "2.3 trillion" SMS messages sent globally in 2008. That number is so large as to be almost meaningless. North America will reportedly see roughly 300 billion messages in 2008 vs. 189 billion this year.

Between 70% and 90% of US mobile users (between 175 and 225 million people) send and receive text message with varying degrees of frequency. However, there is comparatively little effort going toward monetization of that segment vs. the less widely used "mobile Web," which has between 35 and 50 million users in the US (with varying degrees of frequency).

MSFT Live Offers Upgrades for Local WAP Search

LiveSearch

Microsoft has added new content and some upgraded features to Live Search for WAP. The Virtual Earth blog explains the new features:

  • 1-click directions for all businesses and street addresses in U.S.
  • Additional details for U.S. businesses, including neighborhood, business category, cuisine (restaurants) and hours of operation
  • Photos and reviews for U.S. businesses
  • Improved movie show times Instant Answers (we now show critics rating)
  • Added interactivity to all maps (clicking on maps now zooms in/out to predefined levels, or advanced to the next waypoint for routing maps)
  • Traffic & map Instant Answers
  • Mobile search for the China market. Scopes offered are local (no maps, but coming soon), web, images, news and Spaces.

The VE blog post has a range of nice screenshots of the new features. I may not have noticed it before but the WAP site promotes the free DA service 1-800-Call-411, as well as the Live Search client application (which offers embedded voice search).

All the major search engines on their WAP sites are now offering blended or federated search, which was initially introduced by Yahoo with oneSearch.

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I provided some additional detail in my post on this for Search Engine Land.

Dash Express Finally Arrives (Almost)

The much anticipated competitor to TomTom and Garmin personal navigation devices, Dash Express, is almost in the market. Engadget has a "hands on" look at the beta product. The review is highly favorable.

While most of these devices have "points of interest" and local business information, Dash goes further with a range of content deals that include ratings and reviews from Yahoo! Local and real estate listings from Zillow. Indeed, it calls itself an "open content platform," which suggests many more such deals to come. Dash also offers personalization and Web-based customization (MyDash), which, together with its other content, represents a competitive advantage over similar devices.

The device is GPS-enabled, and connects via WiFi or cell network. The WiFi and GPS make the local data better and more accurate in terms of what's "near me." In addition to purchasing the device for $599.99 (probably too high), consumers will need to subscribe (Think TiVo). There's a two year pre-pay plan or a one year plan, making the ongoing cost of the device either $9.99 per month or $10.99 per month to connect to the Internet. You can also pay month-to-month for $12.99. Retail distribution will begin in Q2 2008.

There is no advertising on these products yet but they will become ad and mobile commerce vehicles (so to speak) eventually. Expect search and search advertising to eventually make its way into these devices and into cars.

These devices also play into the "two device" scenario I've written about, where people have a small phone for voice and another device (with a larger screen) for mobile Internet access.

Here's a YouTube video that shows the Dash Express pitch from the Web 2.0 conference. And here's a review from Yahoo! Tech.