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.
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).
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.
I provided some additional detail in my post on this for Search Engine Land.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I received an email from Jingle CEO George Garrick criticizing my recent survey post about mobile usage and 411 as misleading because of the tiny sample involved, despite my disclaimers and qualifying remarks. (Accordingly, I want to reiterate that the survey was totally informal and cannot be generalized to any larger population.)
Garrick supplied me with comScore survey data, commissioned by Jingle Networks, on free 411 awareness and usage. The research was conducted this year in three waves. In each wave there were 1,000 respondents representing a cross section of online users (striving to be a surrogate for the US population more broadly). I'll report only most recent data ("wave 3"); the waves are all fairly consistent and responses are within a couple of points of one another:
Have you called 411 directory assistance at least once in the last 30 days?
Are you aware of any "free directory assistance" services where you get 411 for free by dialing an 800 number?
Have you actually called any "free directory assistance" services in the last 30 days?
1-800-GOOG411 -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.
1-800-FREE411 -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.
1-800-555-TELL -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.
1-800-YELLOWPAGES -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.
When calling a "free directory assistance" service rather than a standard service where you pay a fee, how important is it to you that a live operator be available if the automated system is unable to answer your request?
When calling a "free directory assistance" service rather than a standard service where you pay a fee, how important is it to you that the system be able to give you residential numbers rather than just business numbers that you are looking for?
1-800-Free-411 (Jingle) is clearly the market leader in this segment, but interestingly 1-800-Yellowpages benefits from the "brand equity" of yellow pages. I don't believe the high number of people who indicate awareness of the offering, which isn't yet nationwide. I would guess the number "seems" familiar and people are responding to that perceived familiarity.
We've just conducted an online survey with Greenfield Online about 411 user behavior (n=671) and Jingle's 1-800-Free-411 is by far and away the most used among the free 411 alternatives. Jingle received a 66% response when consumers were asked which service they'd actually used. All the others were in the low single digits.
Clearly awareness is the challenge for all these services. But it's our belief that once consumers become aware and try them they don't return to traditional 411.