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.
According to the tech-gossip site Valleywag, the first Android mobile app has allegedly arrived at least six months ahead of the launch of the phones themselves. Fittingly for us it's a local app that seems to combine fairly traditional local search and mapping functionality with a hint of social networking.
The site is What's Open. There's nothing particularly striking about the site's value proposition (telling consumers whether local businesses are in fact open) -- these data are publicly available and could be widely disseminated today. But the fact that it's on a mobile device -- or will be -- is the novel part.
Another striking fact is that the app is here before the SDK is officially out. This suggests to me that there will be a competitive marketplace of apps developed for Android, not unlike what happened after Facebook released its platform. If there are a good many apps developed it will suggest momentum that will motivate carriers and OEMs to accelerate their efforts as well.
However, this CNET piece discusses Android with a number of mobile developers and they conclude, without more than what has so far been described, Android will be "just another platform" they have to support. That's the paradox: to achieve its lofty goal of overcoming fragmentation rather than simply contributing to it, Android has to become a very widely adopted mobile platform.
The San Francisco Business Times reports that Gilbarco Veeder-Root, one of the largest manufacturers of gasoline pumps will put the video displays on its new units to use to display Google Maps. Motorists can use the time it takes to fill-up to get driving directions at some 3,500 pumps starting next months.
The same printer that provides receipts will be available to print out turn-by-turn directions and coupons. There was no explicit mention of advertiser support, but one can imagine many scenarios: from coupons (as suggested by the image, to paid links and sponsorships to display ads, including video).
Here's more detail from the Google Lat-Long Blog.
Greg adds: kiosks like this bridge the worlds of the desktop PC and mobile devices, by providing "mobile" access to Internet content but with the broader capabilities of the PC generally speaking. There are many other interesting kiosk opportunities out there and we may see other such deals that put local search out in the world in fixed locations.
eMarketer offers a bunch of local ad spending data today (compiled from third-party sources):
And from Jupiter (2006):
The context of the piece in which these charts appear is that some of these local dollars will translate into mobile. We agree, one of the primary use cases of mobile today involves finding local information, hence the name of this program. While brand advertisers are the first in (with some exceptions like Jingle and Google), eventually advertising will adapt more directly to the medium and dominant use cases and offer more geotargeted and locally targeted ads.
We've forecast a $5.08 billion mobile ad market (North American and EU) by 2012. While the use cases in mobile are more often than not geographically specific, the ads won't always line up with those use cases -- just like online today. Roughly 30% or more of search involves local intent, but the actual local/geotargeted paid search ad spend isn't commensurate with that consumer behavior.
Somewhat ironically mobile advertising will be easer than online, because it will build on the online ad infrastructure and won't have to establish credibility with marketers. For example, local advertisers won't necessarily even know their ads are being distributed onto mobile devices because that will simply be part of the overall value proposition of advertising online (as with Google or Superpages/ServiceMagic).
Yahoo! has an impressive array of carrier and OEM partners for Go and mobile distribution in Asia and Europe. But now it confronts a potential challenge from Google's open source mobile initiative Android. Reuters' Eric Auchard has a fairly extensive interview with the head of Yahoo! Connected Life Marco Boerries, who is in charge of mobile for the company and expressed interesting ambivalence about Google's Android/OHA announcement:
"The race is going to be who builds the biggest arsenal of partners and numbers of page views," said Boerries, executive vice president of Yahoo's Connected Life division. Page views are the way advertisers count online audience ad consumption...
Google risks being distracted by technology rather than being focused on advertising revenue, the lifeblood of both Internet players, Boerries said.
Later the article says:
If Google were to succeed in its mission to make a truly open phone that other Internet services can run on, Boerries said there is nothing stopping Yahoo from using Google phones to push its own services.
"If 'Android' is truly open source, we can take everything out there," Boerries said of the outside possibility Yahoo might use Google phone software and run Yahoo services over the devices. "Nothing prevents me from taking it," he said.
Indeed, "Nothing prevents ME from taking it." I find that line to be quite strange.
The key questions for Yahoo! ultimately will not be how many direct OEM and carrier relationships the company has for Go, but how good is Go itself (and oneSearch) and whether they are substantially better than offerings from Yahoo!'s rivals. One could argue that the best mobile client today is not Go but AOL's MyMobile. In fairness, I've only seen MyMobile demo'd and haven't yet "lived with it" in the way I have with Go. But MyMobile has personalization features that Go has yet to introduce, but presumably will.
Yahoo!'s strategy to gain broad distribution is a smart one, but it won't prevent end-users from going directly to Google if Google is perceived to be better on mobile devices. Yahoo! must simply offer the best, most user-friendly mobile experience it can -- partly to combat Google's brand strength in search. Otherwise no mountain of business development deals with handset makers and carriers will win the hearts and minds of users.
I just downloaded the Opera Mini 4 on my Windows Mobile 6 HTC smartphone. Here's a real/live demo of how it works so you can play with it yourself. It offers full Web pages and you can pan and zoom, like the iPhone.
The resolution and rendering is not quite as a good as the iPhone, however, but it's much better than a conventional WAP browser like mobile IE -- and it offers the full Internet on your mobile phone.
A day after Google's Android, uLocate's Where, which is characterizing itself as "the world's first mobile GPS widget platform," announced that AOL has released AIM Buddy Finder for Where (previously announced by AOL) and StubHub has a created a widget on the platform.
Here are our previous posts on Where.
Android could turn out to be a boon to companies like Where or Mobile People, for example, by accelerating mobile adoption by publishers that now believe the mobile Internet is "for real" and they've got to get moving, so to speak. But it could wind up marginalizing the platform if Where (and others similarly situated) don't act and gain partners and keep innovating.