There's no mystery regarding the attention paid to mobile search, or mobile services in general. It reflects an effort to capture a growing market. Of an estimated 4 billion telephones around the world at the end of 2006, more than half were wireless according to a report just issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Ten years ago the ITU reported a grand total of 1 billion phones (both fixed line and wireless) in service. At the end of 2006, there were 1.27 billion fixed line and 2.68 billion wireless phones.
The greatest growth was in areas that the ITU (and its parent organization, the United Nations) refer to as "developing countries." As a result, a little more than 60% of mobile subscribers reside in areas where phones are more of a basic necessity and less of a fashion statement or advertising medium. That said, even the least expensive handsets are likely to serve as terminals for rudimentary text-messaging as an introduction to ancillary or enhanced mobile services.
The Boston Globe site seems to confirm -- it's the latest in a long line now -- that Google has prototyped (at least) a mobile handset. Many reports and rumors have lead people to believe that a Google Phone or mobile OS announcement are imminent.
Google is aggressively seeking to accelerate development of the mobile market and is taking a "diversified" approach. A mobile handset may ultimately be a component of that strategy but the company is not banking on that one variable to break open (literally and figuratively) the mobile market.
Enough speculation, I'm eager to see what actually emerges.
More facts and tidbits on the GPhone from Om Malik.
According to iSuppli, the iPhone outsold all other smartphones in July:
Apple Inc.'s iPhone became the biggest-selling smart phone in the U.S. in July, according to iSuppli Corp.
The iPhone accounted for 1.8% of all mobile handset sales to U.S. consumers that month -- the first full month in which the iPhone was available.
Apple's device outsold the BlackBerry series, the entire Palm portfolio, and any individual Motorola, Nokia, Samsung or other smart phone model.
This is validation of both the fashion/buzz value of the phone but more importantly the perceived usability of the device even vs. other other popular smartphones and most notably the Blackberry.
The iPhone represents a bid to recreate the desktop Internet in mobile, something that a fair number of people appear to want. It remains a minority device unless or until it's untethered from AT&T, however. Yet, despite this minority status, it will continue to influence the design of competitors' products and in that way have a continuing ripple effect on the broader market.
Related: AppleInsider has more on the data:
iSuppli's consumer panel survey revealed that approximately 57 percent of iPhones bought in July were purchased by U.S. consumers 35 years of age or younger. The majority of those iPhone buyers were men, with 52 percent of purchasers being male and 48 percent female.
Additionally, the firm's survey revealed that nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, of iPhone buyers in July had a four-college degree or more education, and one quarter of consumers who bought iPhones switched to AT&T service in order to do so.
This suggests that people are now not simply buying for the novelty of having an iPhone, given on the product information and reviews in the market, but see the device as a superior product that has real utility.
For the frequent traveler, the most useful information is local, personal and mobile. Internet travel specialist Orbitz has launched Traveler Update, a web-based mash-up that includes flight information from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and security information from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) as well as user-generated content, called "travelers' tips" regarding such things as nearby traffic conditions, weather, wait-times for check-in and even the state of free access to Wi-Fi. Information is organized by "airport" and made available to mobile phones through via the wireless web @ http://mobile.orbitz.com.
The good and bad of the wireless Web is on display. Because the site is updated frequently with live data from several sources, it stays fresh. Travelers can get general advisories on flight delays or search for the status of a specific flight by carrier and flight number. So-called "Travelers Tips" is a nice touch and appears to be pre-populated with information about such things as the location of full-service banks (as opposed to ATMs) or where one can get breakfast 24-hours a day. The social element is "Travleer Updates", which contains postings from other (usually disgruntled) airline passengers logging words of advice to others.
The lay-out is pretty much text-laden to suit the small displays that characterize wireless handsets. With screens that are two inches in width or less, the print can be pretty small.
There are no banner ads on the landing page, but it is easy to see where they would fit. Traveler Updates (E.g. "arrived 30 minutes ago, still waiting for luggage" or "The line for arrivals at American terminal is a mess....") are less likely to be adds, but "Traveler Tips" appear well-suited to be sponsored links (E.g. "Cereality Cereal Bar has locations in Terminals A and B"). Online travel companies have, to date, confined their mobile offers to promotional messages (fare alerts) that are delivered as automated voice phone calls or SMS/text messages. In the wake of Orbitz' IPO last month, this is a great way to draw attention to the beginnings of what could be a well-populated local mobile social site.
Other mobile travel sites (courtesy of ResourceShelf's Gary Price):
An article in today's MediaPost, "The Parallel Universe of Mobile Search," discusses the impending yet uncertain development of mobile marketing and local mobile search. The author Steve Smith ruminates on the now-familiar challenges of selling online to "Mom & Pop" small businesses and suggests: if it ain't happening online it sure as heck ain't going to happen in mobile:
And that local economy is one of the key challenges for mobile search. If the platform does become more about nearby services than global information, then publishers face the same sales hurdle that has bedeviled local search for a decade on the Web. How do you activate the small and medium businesses that make up the neighborhood economy and get them to buy digital? If AAAA Plumbing and Sal's Pizza aren't included in Yahoo, Google or Microsoft's local listings yet, then what will it take to spur them to purchase mobile search listings? And what sales force on the ground gets to that market first? Yahoo? The Yellow Pages? Newspapers? "I don't think anyone has cracked the code on how to make that happen," says Hancock.
But this view is quite incorrect.
Mobile is actually going to be much easier than online. Why? Because the online sales and fulfillment infrastructure being completed right now will be the onramp into mobile. All the work is being done now to enable mobile distribution to take place later.
A case-in-point is Superpages' PPCall program and distribution via Free411. All its 5K advertisers are being ported to 1-800-Free411 (Jingle Networks). All the complexity goes on behind the scenes; the advertiser gets a call and that's all he/she cares about. She may not even know that her ads are appearing in Free411. Another: Yell.com in the UK pushed all its advertisers into mobile and will potentially seek to eventually charge for mobile after traffic grows and value is proven.
The yellow pages, the newspapers, the webhosts, the verticals and local search marketing agencies will send their clients into mobile, as an extension of their online services, and the local advertisers won't need to do anything -- and may not even know they're getting mobile distribution. The only question is whether mobile can be an upsell or positioned as a separate/premium buy, or whether (as with Superpages) it's just another source of traffic.
All the "heavy lifting" is going on now with the development of the ecosystem, sales channels and networks that will enable local SMBs to be distributed and found online. Mobile will ultimately just be an extension of all that.
Among the latest of the iPhone-influenced phones is Nokia's iPhone clone, which has a large viewing screen that operates almost exactly like the iPhone. See the Engadget video.
Photo source: Engadget/Nokia
This is further proof of how the iPhone has continued to shake up the handset market and stimulate further design innovation. In this particular case it's about fashion more than usability for Nokia . . .
FAST Search & Transfer has entered into a joint venture in Japan with Rakuten Inc. (a diversified Internet services company) to develop mobile search and advertising services in Japan. The new venture will be equally owned by the two companies and is funded at a level of $6.9 million US dollars. The published reports and press release discuss the Japanese market only but it's a safe bet that any technology that emerges from this effort will make its way to other markets.
Earlier this year, FAST and InfoSpace announced a similar partnership to provide "white label" services to mobile carriers in the US and Europe. The offering combines InfoSpace's carrier relationships and content expertise with FAST's search technology and PPC platform. The combined InfoSpace-FAST effort is competition for JumpTap and Medio Systems, which are also offering similar services.
Yes, again. This time, according to Engadget, it's not hardware but a mobile OS slated for a post US Labor Day release:
Google's mobile device platform is well on its way, and will be announced in the very near future.
We understand that the "Gphone OS" (our name for it, not theirs) began development after Google's very quiet 2005 acquisition of mobile software company Android, started by Danger cofounder and former-prez / CEO Andy Rubin. At Google, Andy's team has developed a Linux-based mobile device OS (no surprise) which they're currently shopping around to handset makers and carriers on the premise of providing a flexible, customizable system -- with really great Google integration, of course.
As for the timeframe on this thing, we keep hearing Google will announce its mobile plans some time post-Labor Day (September 3rd); from what we've heard Google isn't necessarily working on hardware of its own, but is definitely working with OEMs and ODMs to get them to put the Gphone OS on upcoming devices. Think of it more in terms of Windows Mobile or Palm OS (in the early days) -- Google wants to supply the platform, but we don't think they want to sell hardware. Still, don't entirely rule out the idea.
I agree that hardware is much less likely than software. Regardless, it's very clear that Google will be doing dramatically more than it is now because of the emphasis it's placing on mobile and how strategic the category is for the company.
V-Enable and the recently IPO'd mobile carrier MetroPCS announced a deal for enhanced directory assistance that offers an innovative pricing dimension. MetroPCS users receive access to "unlimited," enhanced DA at certain "premium," monthly spending levels (there are no contracts for MetroPCS): $45 and $50:
Ask all you want with Metro411 Unlimited Directory Assistance. You will hear the number, AND you will receive a text message containing the name and phone number you requested. Receive residential, business and government phone listings for anywhere in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico when you dial 411 from your MetroPCS phone.
While those "premium" spending levels are generally easy to hit in normal carrier service plans, the "unlimited local and long distance" nature of MetroPCS means that the company has to provide other reasons to bump up to higher-priced plans. (MetroPCS offers all-you-can-eat plans at $30, $35, $40, $45 or $50, with different options and services.)
I also recently received an interesting direct mail piece with my Sprint bill promoting enhanced DA (range of services including local mobile search) and up to three queries per $1.79 call. An interesting gambit is their exposure of the price point; historically unknown to callers expect those who scrutinize their phone bills (fewer than you think). Sprint is betting it can create a perception of value: "all these services only cost $1.79!" But the company may also be sending people out the door to free alternatives by educating its subscribers.
I've already abandoned traditional, consumer-pays mobile DA so it won't affect me and I won't use it, but it may boost volumes for some Sprint users currently unaware of of 800-Free411, Goog411, Tellme, Dial Directions and others.
In the long run, there's no way for mobile carriers to prevent consumers from learning about these free alternatives to their mobile DA services. So in order to survive they'll either have to be very innovative on the services side (reflected in the Sprint attempt) and provide something obviously and measurably better than the free options, or engage in pricing innovation (like MetroPCS above).
Some number of business users and younger users who don't pay their own phone bills and are thus not price sensitive may continue to use traditional mobile 411. However, most will not absent some of the innovations suggested.
Expectations of mobile search and local mobile search in particular are rising. As mobile ad networks form, mobile M&A activity heats up and the search engines pour greater attention and resources into their mobile offerings one could say we're on the cusp of a new mobile era. Indeed, as much as I'm reluctant to use the term, one could dub the forthcoming mobile Internet "Web 3.0."
Of course people have been saying and predicting the emergence of the mobile Internet for almost 10 years. Forecasts and predictions rarely come true in their original time frames, but they typically do come true eventually. And today, the resources, infrastructure and consumer demand make a mobile Internet more tangible and much closer to reality.
What took the desktop Internet roughly a decade to develop is happening in a much more condensed period of time in mobile. And for all its complexity and fragmentation, there are numerous companies working to make content access and delivery on mobile devices a much more intuitive and user-friendly experience. That's the key in my view: the user experience. Because once users adopt the mobile Internet (or variations thereof) in meaningful numbers, which is starting to happen, the ad dollars will flow and real money will be made.
Right now what I'm calling the "mobile Internet" is really four separate silos that will eventually blend to varying degrees.
Nouveau Directory Assistance & Voice Search
This category grows out of tried and true "directory assistance," the original form of local mobile search. In 2006 there were roughly 6.5 billion calls to 411 in the United States and many more billions around the world. Because of the Internet and other factors (e.g., corporations blocking 411), directory assistance continues to shift to mobile phones.
So-called "operator assisted yellow pages" (live agents helping users finding listings and other information) were repeatedly tried and failed. However, today, ad-supported directory assistance appears here to stay. Companies in this segment include (partial list):
The rest of this post is at Search Engine Land.