Can Apple Save Palm, And Will Motorola Break Up?

Jon Rubinstein, Apple's former head of hardware engineering, often dubbed the "Podfather" because of his early shepherding of the iPod, is now in charge of Palm. The question is can he revive the sinking fortunes of the company?

As this WSJ article points out, the company is banking on the low-end Palm Centro to become popular and gain market share among younger users. However, despite widespread marketing and an aggressive price point, the Centro is not likely to be the hit Palm had hoped. And product development cycles are such that it may be a couple of years before any Rubinstein-inspired handsets make it to market.

Over at Motorola, the WSJ speculates, the company may be preparing for a sale of its troubled handset division, which hasn't had a hit since the wildly popular Razr. But the market is fickle and the Razr was "yesterday's handset." Motorola's CEO Ed Zander was bounced in an effort to inject new blood and energy into the company. He is being succeeded by company president Greg Brown.

Worldwide market share of smartphones, based on Q2 shipments of approximately 30 million units:

  1. Nokia -- 46%
  2. "Others" -- 29%
  3. RIM -- 9%
  4. Sharp -- 8%
  5. Fujitsu -- 5%
  6. Palm -- 4%

Source: Garnter (numbers are rounded and so exceed 100%)

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Related: CNET reports on forthcoming layoffs at Palm. Silicon Alley Insider suggests that Palm could create a great user experience and revive by adopting Flash as a developer platform.

Mobile Ad Forecasts Too Rosy?

BusinessWeek offers a broad look at the mobile ad environment and climate for acquisitions of startups in mobile. The article is measured but bearish in tone, arguing that the mobile forecasts in the market, specifically Gartner and Strategy Analytics, are too aggressive at $11 billion and $14 billion by 2011, respectively.

The article cites low consumer adoption of the mobile Internet to date and the challenges of the US mobile marketplace more generally as being a drag on ad growth.

The article quotes Nokia VP Mike Baker as saying "it will take at least five years for the industry to surpass $10 billion in annual revenue." It's not entirely clear what is meant by "revenue," presumably advertising on a global basis.

Our forecast is $5.08 billion in mobile ad revenues by 2012 in North America and Europe.

Google Upgrades Picasa for iPhone

Google has launched an upgraded version of its Picasa photo album/sharing site for the iPhone. This is just the latest in the "iPhonification" of Google applications.

You can search Yahoo!'s Flickr on the iPhone with iPhlickr.

Google's Sacca, Wireless Head, Leaves to Become an Angel Investor

VentureBeat is reporting that Google's head of special initiatives and wireless, Chris Sacca, is leaving to become an angel investor. Apparently, Sacca has the personal wealth to make this a viable decision.

Sacca was instrumental in leading the 700MHz spectrum charge. There's no named replacement right now. How much impact this will have on Google or its mobile efforts is not clear. However, it will likely have a minimal impact on the consumer facing side of mobile at Google.

Helio Launches a Better YouTube App for Ocean

This morning youth-oriented MVNO Helio announced a new YouTube application for its popular Ocean ("don't call it a phone") device. CrunchGear thinks it bests the iPhone in this category (see screenshots).

The free application is intended to fully replicate the YouTube experience in mobile and expand beyond simply watching videos to video capture and upload (with GPS tagging). It also provides access to YouTube's full range of community features.

Mobile video is an area of much hype and anticipation but one that is still way too complicated for most people. It will be a popular use case once network speeds an usability issues get solved. Helio operates on the Sprint 3G network.

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Related: The Google Mobile Blog explains more about how it works.

CallGenie Buys PhoneSpots for $5.75 Million

CallGenie

Voice services and platform provider CallGenie announced that it has acquired mobile ad exchange and directory assistance content provider PhoneSpots, which was formerly PocketThis. The announced acquisition price was $5.75 million (mostly stock). The acquisition is expected to close in early 2008 and gives CallGenie additional partner relationships and a powerful ad platform to offer a much more comprehensive solution to the marketplace.

PhoneSpots has been around since 1999 and pioneered the "send to mobile" feature now in widespread use on local search sites. PhoneSpots originally offered enhanced results (additional content and links) from directory assistance queries when users opted to receive them as text messages. Its relationships were primarily in Europe. Most recently PhoneSpots announced its first US customer relationship with AT&T, to power the YellowPages.com "send to mobile" feature and the company's YP411 SMS platform.

PhoneSpots built a sophisticated platform that is compatible with a wide range of phones and mobile "modalities." The company can deliver enhanced content and ads in text messages or to mobile browsers and can support local search ads/content that originate via voice search/directory assistance, text queries or WAP search. In addition, as a mobile ad exchange, PhoneSpots will seek to provide enhanced local search content and geotargeted advertisers to mobile publishers that want to monetize their lookups and content and don't have direct advertiser relationships.

The customer base of CallGenie, after the acquisition, includes:

  • North America: 1-800inAcity, 1800SanDiego, CellWand, HSN / IAC, Ingenio, RHDonnelley, Say Hello, Telus, Verizon, Verizon Livesource, Yellowpages.com, Yellow Pages Group
  • Europe: Eniro, Opplysningen, Orange, Ahhaaa AB, SNT Trefzeker, Telegate, TeleGreenland, Le Numero
  • Rest of World: Batelco, Du, Etisalat, Newsphone, Omantel, Telecom Egypt

Mobile User Survey Results

Over at Search Engine Land, I conducted an informal mobile user survey a couple of weeks ago on a range of high-level topics. The findings, based on 75 responses, can't be generalized to a larger population and probably represent a group of "early adopters," but they're interesting. (I also posted the survey link here and may have received a few responses from readers of this blog.)

Here are the survey questions and the responses:

What sort of mobile phone do you currently own?

  • Conventional cell phone -- 58.7%
  • Traditional smartphone (e.g., BlackBerry, Treo) -- 30.7%
  • iPhone -- 10.7%

Indicate how many of the following you do with your mobile phone (multiple answers permitted):

  • Send and receive text/SMS messages -- 97.2%
  • Access the mobile Internet -- 56.9%
  • Use downloaded applications (e.g., Mapquest Navigator, Google Maps for Mobile) -- 36.1%

How frequently do you access the mobile Internet?

  • Never -- 33.8%
  • Once a month or less -- 13.5%
  • Two-three times a month -- 5.4%
  • More than once a week -- 21.6%
  • At least once daily -- 25.7%

If you don't access the Internet on your mobile phone, why not (multiple answers permitted)?

  • Keying in queries is frustrating -- 45%
  • The network is too slow -- 52.5%
  • The screen on my phone is too small -- 57.5%
  • I don't have a mobile Internet plan -- 45%

Which of the following mobile search engines/sites do you use (multiple answers permitted)?

  • Ask -- 8%
  • AOL -- 0%
  • Google -- 90%
  • Microsoft Live Search/MSN -- 8%
  • Yahoo oneSearch/Go -- 20%

Do you use any of the free directory assistance options?

  • Yes -- 29%
  • No -- 71%

If you use any of the free directory assistance options, which one(s):

  • Goog411 -- 73.9%
  • 1-800-YellowPages (AT&T) -- 8.7%
  • 1-800-Call-411 (Microsoft) -- 8.7%
  • 1-800-Free-411 -- 21.7%

Indicate your gender

  • Female -- 24%
  • Male -- 76%

Indicate your age

  • 18-24 -- 17.3%
  • 25-30 -- 25.3%
  • 31-40 -- 41.3%
  • 41-50 -- 12%
  • 51-60 -- 4%

Where do you reside?

  • US/North America -- 65.3%
  • Europe -- 25.3%
  • Asia -- 9.3%

Camera Phones and GeoVector's Mobile Patent

San Francisco-based GeoVector is a company doing lots of interesting things in mobile -- most of them in Asia -- with "point and search" technology that leverages ubiquitous camera phones. The company just announced a new patent:

US Patent 7301536 better enables mobile phones or other devices to display stored digital images which are linked to real-world objects or places.

"Imagine pointing a mobile device down a city street and seeing a digital image of how that street looked a century ago, or might look a century from now. Imagine pointing at a new car billboard and seeing the car in any color you want, then downloading a video clip," explained John Ellenby, GeoVector's CEO. "GeoVector's technology enables countless possibilities for entertainment, advertising or e-commerce applications."

GeoVector currently enables mobile devices to access data on points of interest using a unique combination of GPS and a built-in compass. The new patent builds upon that capability, allowing users to interact with stored images based on their surroundings.

The company currently provides products and services which significantly simplify local searches, allowing users to point their mobile device toward objects of interest to access information about them. Users can "point and click" with their mobile phone the way a computer user navigates using a mouse.

Other companies in this segment include NeoMedia, Mobot, SnapTell and, soon, others. This next year will be one where this technology starts to make its appearance in North America. We'll see how consumers respond, but there are lots of interesting applications.

In addition, mobile phones are emerging as a way to bridge the digital and real worlds for consumers and as a tracking mechanism for advertisers.

Specifics on iPhone Users

In the informal mobile user survey posted below, almost 11% of respondents (8 out of 75) had an iPhone. Here are some interesting differences and observations about their behavior vs. the larger group:

  • 100% of iPhone respondents access the mobile Internet (vs. 56.9% of the overall sample)
  • 75% of iPhone respondents accessed the mobile Internet at least once daily (vs. 25% of the overall sample)
  • Interestingly, 62.5% of iPhone respondents use the free DA services (compared with 29% of the overall sample). That usage is split equally between 1-800-Free-411 and GOOG411 (vs. 21% and 74% respectively in the overall sample)
  • 100% of users were men (vs. 76% of the overall sample)

Again, these numbers have to be taken with a heavy dose caution because the sample size is extremely small. But the iPhone sub-sample shows interesting differences with the larger population of respondents.

Will Dell Develop an Android Phone?

This CNET article argues that PC maker Dell needs to offer a new "handheld device" to regain momentum and transcend its status as slumping PC maker and become a more well-rounded consumer products company. To that end, a smartphone is one of the suggested devices Dell should/could put out.

It would be interesting if Dell, a Google partner, jumped on the Android bandwagon and created a handset.