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.

1-800-YellowPages Goes National

AT&T's 1-800-YellowPages ad-supported directory assistance service has now "gone national." Here's the press release. Ad support is provided by Apptera.

"Yellow pages" benefits from associated brand strength, with "1-800-YellowPages" scoring pretty well in several user surveys. In other words, more people are acknowledging and recognizing the service than we believe have actually used it. That speaks to the strength of the yellow pages brand, which AT&T now owns effectively.

In our forthcoming DA survey for example, it scored slightly better than GOOG411 with users, even though GOOG411 has been national for some time, while 800-YellowPages was only in selected markets until now. In the recent comScore-Jingle survey work it also did well.

YellowPages.com has a WAP site and YP411 SMS service, in addition to the voice search product.

YellowPages.com competes with GOOG411, Microsoft's 1-800-Call-411, Microsoft's Tellme (800-555-Tell) and the segment leader 800-Free-411.

U.S. Carrier Alltel Offers Voice2TXT

For $4.99 per month (for 20 messages) Alltell subscribers can now receive voicemail messages as text. The service is provided by SpinVox, which converts speech to text messaging. It costs $19.99 monthly for 100 "conversations."

Price is an issue here. Even though text messaging is a convenient way to receive voicemail messages and corresponds to the way that messages can be consumed in VoIP systems on the desktop, the additional $5-$20 a month may not seem "worth it" to many mobile users.

However, the service will likely be coming to more carriers in the future.

BuzzD: Part Cityguide, Part Social Network

New mobile "city guide" and social network BuzzD has launched. The text-messaging based system is aimed squarely at a youth audience. It combines elements of local search and social networking.

The site also seems to be offering a technology back end that turns more traditional publishers into local mobile search sites and social networks.

The combination of local search on mobile devices, with one-to-many social networking elements could become a kind of "killer app" for mobile. There will be many companies eventually in this segment, trying to combine community and local search -- for example, Mosio and Whrrl, among others, as well as more traditional desktop companies, such as Yelp.

Here's some additional information from RCR Wireless News.

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With its acquisition of Ingenio, including the Keen part of the business (minus the adult content), there's an interesting opportunity for YellowPages.com to create a new type of mobile Q&A or distributed directory assistance style business along the lines of AQA or Texperts.

Android Prototype Spotted

From Gizmodo, with screenshot:

Our source, a Giz reader, had some feedback to add to the prototype, which he used for a day: Even in early form, it's light and fast, much faster than the desktop emulator at times. And as a longtime programmer, he thinks it's a lot more put together than Window Mobile 5 on the back side of things.

We'll see how quickly these phones (or a phone) makes it to commercial release. HTC will likely be first to market with a working device. As some of the comments in the Gizmodo post suggest, the handset leaves quite a bit to be desired aesthetically.

'Point and Shop' With Nokia

Nokia phone

The U.K.'s Sun covers a plan by Nokia to use camera phones -- Nokia is the largest digital camera seller in the world (via phones) -- to allow consumers to take pictures of items in the real world and immediately find the same item online for the best price, etc. (As an aside, Nokia may want to buy a shopping engine to really indulge this plan.)

The article says "a prototype is being kept under wraps and will not be launched for about three years, according to the firm." Why? This technology has been around for some time and is already in use in Japan.

Expect similar camera-phone shopping to be introduced in the U.S. next year. Companies such as GeoVector, NeoMedia, Mobot, SnapTell and a couple of others already have this capability in market to varying degrees. It's just a question of introducing it to mainstream U.S. and EU consumers. (Phones with cameras will represent 40% of the digital camera market worldwide, next year, according to LGERI.)

One of the interesting things to contemplate about camera-phone "point and search" or "point and shop" scenarios is that they're like voice search in a way: potentially mass market tools that don't require much in the way of behavioral change from users. As such, this camera-phone technology represents something of a wild card in the market in terms of potential consumer adoption.