Europe

Facebook the King of UK Mobile Media

Metrics firm comScore and the GSMA last week reported figures for UK mobile Internet visits, time on site and so on. Consistent with some of the other data in the market, Facebook is the winner across categories, followed by Google.

As you can see from the chart below, and unlike in the US, the carrier portals have a presence in the top 10:

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Compare the Nielsen "top 10" US mobile sites, which put Facebook at number five:

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See related post: Facebook's 100 Million Mobile Users.

Microsoft Shows Zune-Like Windows (7) Phone

Microsoft has just unveiled its Windows 7 Phone. It "disses" apps, relies more heavily on widgets and promises a more integrated experience -- a "new beginning" in the smartphone story. It borrows elements from both the iPhone and Android but combines them in a new, visually distinctive way (kudos to Microsoft on interface design, except for the homepage, which I don't particularly like).

I don't have one in my hand so I'll rely on third parties and the press materials. It offers a very Zune-like interface (with Xbox Live integrated) and is a complete redesign vs. 6.5.

From the press release:

With Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft takes a fundamentally different approach to phone software. Smart design begins with a new, holistic design system that informs every aspect of the phone, from its visually appealing layout and motion to its function and hardware integration. On the Start screen, dynamically updated “live tiles” show users real-time content directly, breaking the mold of static icons that serve as an intermediate step on the way to an application. Create a tile of a friend, and the user gains a readable, up-to-date view of a friend’s latest pictures and posts, just by glancing at Start.

Every Windows Phone 7 Series phone will come with a dedicated hardware button for Bing, providing one-click access to search from anywhere on the phone, while a special implementation of Bing search provides intent-specific results, delivering the most relevant Web or local results, depending on the type of query.

Here's the Ballmer GSM keynote replay; here are Windows (7) Phone screens. Here are some first impressions (with a lot of blanks) from:

Ballmer is still on stage as I write this, promising this as a next generation device and user experience. He envisions lots of Windows Phones but wants more consistency in the user experience and says that Microsoft will work more closely with operators than it has in the past. Here's is the initial partner list:

Mobile operators AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, and manufacturers Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC Corp., HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Qualcomm Inc.

Microsoft is trying to position itself as more operator-friendly (vs. RIM, Android, Apple), "They're not just dumb pipes," says Microsoft's Andy Lees who shared the stage with Ballmer. Two key operator partners will be Orange and AT&T. This is a jab at Apple and AT&T asserting its independence a bit too. 

It won't be available apparently until "holiday 2010." We'll need to hold one and use it before any assessments can be made about its competitiveness. It does look much better than 6.5 however. There's no way this is an "iPhone killer," the question is whether it can compete with Android handsets. Regardless, it's good for everyone if Microsoft is more competitive in the smartphone market. 

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Related: See Bloomberg video/interview with Steve Ballmer (Windows Media only)

Carriers Unite in Launch Long-Shot Apps Bid

Everybody's got an apps store, including many carriers. But the carriers increasingly see themselves becoming marginal players, ISPs providing the data connection while software and hardware providers take their place at the center of the mobile universe. Today at GSM a consortium of global operators announced an initiative aimed at creating an open apps ecosystem to bolster and improve their "relevance" to end users.

Called the Wholesale Applications Community, it consists of the following carriers to start:

América Móvil, AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT, mobilkom austria group, MTN Group, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, Softbank Mobile, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, SingTel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, VimpelCom, Vodafone and Wind

A selection of these companies are also part of the Google-led Android Open Handset Alliance

The stated objective of the group is the following:

The alliance's stated goal is to create a wholesale applications ecosystem that – from day one – will establish a simple route to market for developers to deliver the latest innovative applications and services to the widest possible base of customers around the world. In the immediate future the alliance will seek to unite members' developer communities and create a single, harmonised point of entry to make it easy for developers to join.

This makes sense and may work for feature phones and in-between devices that are not feature phones but not quite smartphones. However it's unlikely to have much impact on smartphone users/owners. With moves like allowing VoIP over 3G (see Verizon and Skype's anticipated announcement), carriers are becoming less and less central to the user experience. (Indeed, they will likely see the erosion of voice revenues in the near-term.) They provide the pipe and not much else. 

Vodafone has perhaps been the most aggressive of the carriers in offering cross-platform social tools in Vodafone 360 and a range of developer APIs. The company is also getting more involved with mobile advertising. Location and demographic targeting data can be offered to third party networks with a revenue share to the carrier. 

Apple changed the mobile landscape and smartphones forever by making the device and platform more important than the data/voice provider. Carriers are reacting and struggling to play catch-up with moves like this, as ambitious as it sounds.

Notwithstanding this impressive lineup, it's very unlikely that the operators will have much success with consumer services/software for smartphone owners. However I believe there's still a massive feature-phone opportunity that's largely being neglected -- and that's where their efforts should be concentrated. That's where this consortium and its developer community can really play and potentially succeed. 

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Related: Google reportedly believes the effort won't succeed.

And speaking of carriers and advertising . . . Orange is rolling out ambitious MMS/SMS marketing throughout its European and some Middle Eastern markets: 

Building on its UK success, Orange is sharing innovation across its footprint, starting in Spain this month with new interactive ad-supported service, Mio. Orange is taking a different approach with Mio, offering all mobile customers in Spain the chance to opt-in, reaching beyond youth audiences. Mio customers will receive gifts, content and the opportunity to win monthly and annual prizes. Interactive SMS and MMS advertising campaigns will roll-out to other Orange markets in 2010. Other mobile advertising trials are also taking place in Egypt and Jordan in the first half of this year, allowing for expansion into emerging markets, as well as mature markets.

The operator has partnered with Blyk in the UK and Velti in Spain, as part of the program. 

IDC Contradicts Nokia's Smartphone Claims

IDC has released its smartphone numbers and marketshare data for Q4 and FY 2009. After last week's discussion about whether Android had "tarnished" or slowed Apple's iPhone, these IDC numbers show strength for the Apple handset (growth outpaces competitors). Nokia remains number one followed by RIM and then Apple.

Here's what Nokia said about its own estimated marketshare in its most recent earnings release:

  • Nokia estimated mobile device market share of 39% in Q4 2009, up from an estimated 37% in Q4 2008 and 38% in Q3 2009. The full year 2009 estimated market share was 38%, down from 39% in 2008.
  • Nokia grew its converged device market share to an estimated 40%, from an estimated 35% in Q3 2009.

IDC contradicts that assertion with its own data and estimates, saying that the device maker's smartphone share is 38.9%, down from 40% a year ago. Here they are:

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The smartest thing that Nokia can do in the near term to restore growth is to cut prices, which it is doing. It has also made its Navteq-supported mapping and navigation software free, prompting a huge number of downloads (one per second) since the announcement.

Orange-T-Mobile UK Merger Hiccup, Carrier Consolidation in the US

In the UK, the proposed merger between the UK unit of France Telecom/Orange and T-Mobile hit a bit of a snag. According to Bloomberg the UK Office of Fair Trading wants to take over review of the deal from the EU. If that regulatory transfer should occur, it could delay or even thwart the ultimate completion of the merger. If concluded the combined operation would represent the UK's single largest operator with roughly 43% of UK mobile subscribers.

Back in the US market tier-two carrier Leap Wireless, which operates Cricket wireless, is seeking a buyer. According to a report earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal:

Cellular provider Leap Wireless International Inc. has hired advisers and formed a special board committee to look into selling the company or merging with rivals, several people familiar with the matter said . . . 

While some bankers consider rival MetroPCS Communications Inc. as the most likely partner for Leap, the company's advisers have in recent weeks been feeling out larger wireless carriers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless to see if they would be interested in acquiring Leap, these people said . . .

One indicator of the change in prepaid operators' fortunes: Leap in late 2007 spurned an unsolicited all-stock offer from MetroPCS initially valued at $5.5 billion, about five times Leap's current market value.

The company has just under 5 million customers, most of whom are "underserved" by the broader market: 

  • 60% are from "ethnic groups"
  • 55% are under 35 years old
  • 50% earn less than $35,000 per year 

The prepaid carrier offers a $45 monthly unlimited plan. Most of its customers, however, don't use the mobile Internet but are heavy SMS users. The impetus behind Leap's search for a merger or buyer is pressure from "above," in the form of major carriers encroaching on the prepaid carrier domain. In particular Sprint with Boost and Virgin is making significant gains among Cricket's prospect base, which it identifies as "91 million" people in the US.

Another thing to contemplate is whether Sprint itself and T-Mobile in the US will be compelled to do some sort of deal like the Orange-T-Mobile proposed merger in the UK in order to compete against larger rivals AT&T and Verizon. Sprint's WiMax/4G advantage may be very short lived as Verizon and AT&T push LTE aggressively. Reportedly those rollouts are on schedule.

Sprint doesn't seem to be able to do much to grow its post-paid business and T-Mobile is in roughly the same boat. The market will put pressure on both to do . . . something. We'll see whether that pushes them together. 

Opera: State of the Mobile Web for December

Opera released its December "State of the Mobile Web" report, which is based on user behavior from its installed base of Opera Mobile/Mini users globally. The latest report focuses in some depth on Southeast Asia. But there's also interesting full year data on social network site visits.

I'll focus and present the data from the US, UK and Chinese markets. That's followed by the full-year, fastest-growing social sites (among Opera users). I posted about the Opera November data here, for comparison.

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 Again, compare the GroundTruth top sites in the US (presumably from a mix of feature phones and smartphones). 

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Presumably we won't be seeing Google on the list immediately above in the near future as the company pulls its Chinese search engine (unless the Chinese government relents and allows Google to operate without censorship, which it won't do). 

Below are the global, fastest growing social networks for 2009 among Opera Mini/Mobile users:

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Matching Google Nokia Ovi Maps Offer Free Navigation on Handsets

In late 2007 Nokia bought Navteq for approximately $8.1 billion (EUR 5.7 billion). But since that time the GPS/PND market that Navteq serves has seen its fortunes decline with the rise of smartphones. When Google introduced free navigation and turn-by-turn directions on Android 2.0 devices that market was further threatened. Now Nokia itself is offering free navigation (via Ovi Maps) in a bid to stop its smartphone slide vs. Apple and Google. 

Nokia sees Ovi Maps as a platform on which third parties will develop (there's an API and SDK) and which can integrate local content from various sources as well as social networks such as Facebook. In a month Ovi Maps users will be able to get content and data from Lonely Planet and Michelin.

According to the press release:

Nokia has today announced plans to release a new version of Ovi Maps for its smartphones that includes high-end walk and drive navigation at no extra cost, available for download at www.nokia.com/maps. This move has the potential to nearly double the size of the current mobile navigation market.The new version of Ovi Maps includes high-end car and pedestrian navigation features, such as turn-by-turn voice guidance for 74 countries, in 46 languages, and traffic information for more than 10 countries, as well as detailed maps for more than 180 countries.

There are also plans to eventually integrate ads onto the map. Navteq has been experimenting with advertising for over a year and last year acquired Acuity Mobile for LBS ads.

Nokia claims that its maps are more detailed, have better data and will work more often than Google's. While Google Maps requires a data connection, Nokia's do not because they're downloaded onto the handset. 

Two observations:

  • This probably does make Nokia handsets more interesting and competitive for some buyers; however it will be unlikely to stop the iPhone and Android's momentum in Europe (RIM is also growing partly at Nokia's expense outside the US.)
  • This further accelarates the decline of subscription-based navigation services and PNDs

Smaato Publishes Handset CTRs, Mobile Network Fill Rates

Mobile ad network platform/network Smaato has published some very interesting data on mobile ad click-through rates (CTR) by handset. The company also offers "fill rates" for ad networks globally as well as those in the US. It proclaims Quattro Wireless (Apple) and Millennial Media as the "top performing mobile ad networks" in the US (as measured by fill rates).

Most curious, however, is the handset CTR data, which shows Symbian owners over-indexing vs other handsets in terms of ad response rates/clicks. There's no explanation offered for why Symbian users CTRs are much higher. There's also no discussion about the ad units themselves; are these display units? One assumes so. But there could be SMS messages/ads in there as well (at least on the Symbian handsets, most are not smartphones); it's not entirely clear. 

Symbian has almost no presence in the US at this point (at the high end) and so these CTRs are likely coming from Europe, Asia and "ROW." 

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 Ad network fill rates worldwide:

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 Ad network fill rates US:

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It's also interesting to note that, according to these data, ad network fill rates are much higher in the US market than worldwide. In another way of thinking this makes sense. While Asian and Western European markets may be slightly more "mature" in some respects than the US, "ROW" is going to be far less developed from an ad infrastructure perspective. 

These extremely high fill rates are striking, assuming their accuracy, because it wasn't long ago that US ad network fill rates were well below 50%. 

Nuance Buys SpinVox for $66 million in Cash (Plus Stock)

Nuance has acquired SpinVox to "accelarate its voice to text business." According to the release the transaction was worth $102 million with a third of that coming in Nuance common stock. From the release:

As the estimated number of operational voicemail boxes in the world has passed one billion, and consumer and corporate activity now generate over 150 billion voicemails a year, Nuance and SpinVox have experienced strong interest in voice-to-text automation. The two companies helped pioneer solutions that utilize speech recognition and transcription workflow solutions to convert voicemails into text that can be sent to users as SMS or email messages. This transaction marries innovative speech solutions and robust carrier-grade infrastructure to accelerate innovation, and deliver these voice-to-text services to global subscribers.

And from the SpinVox blog:

Okay, so what does this mean? Without question there is an accelerating demand from carriers, consumers and enterprises for robust speech-enabled services and automated voice-to-text platforms – in fact, SpinVox already services nearly 100 million users worldwide. With that in mind, Nuance will leverage SpinVox’s carrier-grade voice-to-text infrastructure, network product portfolio, multi-language support and experienced UK-based development teams to further drive and accelerate adoption of voice-to-text around the world.

This is great news for customers who will benefit from both the technology strength and superior product and services delivery. There will be more services, more applications, highly accurate voice-to-text transcription and the best delivery platform available – no matter where you are in the world!

SpinVox a year ago in March obtained $100 million in a massive funding round and more than $200 million in total. The company was rocked by scandal when it appeared that most of the speech-to-text transcription was done by humans and not by machine, as had been claimed. 

The company had an outstanding £30m ($48.2 million) loan that it was having difficulty repaying. 

While this is obviously not the outcome SpinVox envisioned a couple of years ago, Nuance picks up a valuable addition to its suite of enterprise and consumer voice applications, a range of existing clients and a large installed base of users. 

Dan Miller's comments:

I had povided my thoughts on the SpinVox acquisition last week. I called it a coup for Nuance, but I also see it as an important development for incumbent telcos. Transcription of voice messages extends the life of existing voicemail platforms and is the missing link in the evolution messaging services that prove their value to end-users by going well-beyond simple “message waiting” notifications to the delivery of complete messages as email or SMS texts. This breaks down long-standing boundaries between voicemail and email, and transforms the telephones role in message origination.

SpinVox had taken considerable heat for its decision to involve live agents in the “disambiguation process” required for accurate rendering of spoken words. Yet, to me, this is yet another flavor of the high-tech-plus-high-touch combination that make real-time services truly useful. Both Nuance and SpinVox have placed a premium on accurately rendering voicemail messages. It was a tactical choice and a differentiator, especially against Google Voice (which is thought to be 100% automated).

As I say repeatedly (often with accurate rendering) 100% accuracy in transcribing voicemail is a pipe dream. Both human-aided and totally automated systems are notorious for their failures to recognize such things as street names and other proper nouns, and that situation is unlikely to improve. But this failure, in and of itself, creates the seeds for stronger bonds between people who send or receive messages from one another.

Admittedly, this is not like cracking “The Da Vinci Code”, but there are game like qualities to figuring out some of the messages that are received as spoken words and rendered as text messages. In most cases, the meaning comes across loud and clear. Besides, as is true with applications from Nuance (Voicemail2Text) and SpinVox (in many flavors) recipients can listen to MP3 files of the messages as attachments to the email or links to the SMS text. The value of text-based delivery is undeniable, as is the high probability that at least one of the words or phrases will be inaccurate [I'm going to address this phenomenon in a CATScan called "The end of 5 Nines... Hallalujah!"].

Combine the factors mentioned above and you’ll understand why it is more important than ever for Nuance to expand the potential user base for its voicemail-to-text services. Google has gone full-speed ahead with notoriously inaccurate voicemail-to-text rendering deeply embedded in its Google Voice services. At this point, accuracy is not the issue (though it is important to be as accurate as possible); global reach is the objective. SpinVox’s contracts with global carriers is very important to both Nuance and the carriers, themselves, as they prepare to compete with Ma Google (the Search Giant as Telco).

It’s also a potential win for end-users. As Google has so often proven, accurate treatment (of search queries or spoken utterances) improves with volume. The combination of Nuance and SpinVox can create the critical mass of users required to result in a highly-accurate service while, at the same time, posing formidable competition to Google Voice.

AdMob Also Sees iPod Touch Growth

Mobile analytics company Flurry saw app downloads on iPod Touch devices far exceed those on iPhones on Xmas day, suggesting that there were a lot of new iPod Touch owners out there. This would also be suggested by Amazon's electronics bestsellers list, which featured two iPod Touch devices in the top five.

Now AdMob has posted data that seem to argue the same thing: there were a lot of iPod Touches given this holiday season as gifts:

In terms of actual devices, there was a 57% increase in the number of iPod touch devices used on December 26th compared to average daily usage of the week before Christmas.  Device growth was strong across the top markets, particularly in the UK.  

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To the extent the iPod Touch is received as a gift by a minor, the argument goes, this is conditioning that person to become a later iPhone buyer. 

Apple Not Nokia's Only EU Challenger: RIM Ascending

I'm always surprised a bit by RIM's success; the company sold 10 million devices in Q3 (37% growth outside the US). I'm not a BlackBerry user and so I've never fallen under the spell of the device. Others around me however love them.

But let's be frank, most RIM devices are not optimal for the Internet -- not yet at least -- and I don't think the keyboard is necessary. Many RIM "legacy" users will violently disagree with that assertion.

I understand all the enterprise IT love it gets and I now understand, I think, its consumer appeal -- with youth in particular.

Most younger users are still not as concerned about the Internet as they are about SMS and the RIM keyboard has tremendous appeal for them. (There's also been aggressive discounting in many cases with some of RIM's handsets.) Along those lines, this Tweet came from Simon Baptist in response to mine about the impressive quarterly sales:

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But apparently RIM is gaining not just with youth but across the board in Europe according to The Street, which asserts that it's outselling Nokia handsets there now. As the market shifts from feature phones to smartphones, the problems that Nokia has had competing in the US start to become a challenge on its home turf as well.

Opera State of Mobile Web for November

This month Opera is focusing on Africa. I'm not going to elaborate on the findings there except to point out that Opera says:

Facebook has taken the lead in Africa; it is the most popular site visited by Opera Mini users in 6 out of 10 countries and the #2 site in three of the countries where it is not #1. Google is also very popular, and is ahead of Facebook in a few of the top 10 African countries. Yahoo and Wikipedia are also ubiquitous in the top 10 lists of the various African countries.

Here are the top lists for the US, UK and China:

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As with all other such data (e.g., from AdMob, Millennial Media) it's important to note that these data are from handsets where Opera Mini is installed and not necessarily representative of the mobile Internet as a whole. However these data are going to be broadly consistent with trends among other users.

Android Way Up in November AdMob Report

The latest mobile metrics report from AdMob shows the growth of Android devices and the increase in WiFi mobile Internet access. It also shows where in the world the now almost 80 million iPhone OS devices reside. Here are the top-level data and some of the familiar charts:

  • In the US, smartphones generated 48% of mobile Web and application traffic  . . . up from 30% a year ago.
  • The percentage of requests over WiFi in the US tripled in the past year . . .
  • 50% of the unique iPhone and iPod touch devices that requested at least one ad from AdMob in November 2009 were located in the US . . .
  • Japan, France, and Australia were the fastest growing of the Top 10 countries for Apple devices in 2009 . . . 
  • The growth of traffic from Android devices has been fueled by the release of new devices . . . 

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Finally, in the US market  -- at least on the AdMob network -- it's really shaping up to be a contest between the iPhone, Android and RIM; the other operating systems are really shrinking or being squeezed out. 

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All of these data are qualified by the fact that this is a reflection of AdMob's network and not the "mobile Internet" as a whole; however the trends are going to be consistent with the broader mobile Internet.

Morgan: Mobile Internet to Be 2X the PC Internet

Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker gave a mobile-centric Web 2.0 conference presentation that everyone was talking about several months ago. From our point of view there wasn't anything particularly new in her remarks but she put everything together into historical context. And the crowd there, which may not have seen mobile as "distruptive," was paying attention.

Now comes hundreds of pages and slides that everyone can download here

  1. “The Mobile Internet Report Setup” – a 92-slide presentation that excerpts highlights of the key themes from the report.
  2. “The Mobile Internet Report Key Themes” – a 659-slide presentation that drills down on thoughts covered in “The Mobile Internet Report.”
  3. “The Mobile Internet Report” – a 424 page report which explores 8 major themes in depth and includes the two aforementioned slide presentations + related overview text.

There's a ton of data and projections in these documents. Read them over the holiday or before bedtime. Perhaps the most interesting part (I haven't been through everything) is the historical analysis that talks about previous disruption cycles and predicts winners and losers in the future accordingly. 

The big themes are that the mobile Internet will be "at least" 2X the size of the PC Internet and that the whole thing is "ramping" much faster than the desktop did. The latter point we've made many times in the past. 

We are clearly in a kind of double-transition period: traditional media are contending with the fruits of massive consumer Internet adoption but the transition to mobile is happening simultaneously and perhaps a bit obscured as a result. But just as the Internet is "disruptive" of traditional media, mobile is also potentially disruptive of aspects of the Internet. Google has seen that perhaps better than any of its competitors and moved very aggressively as a result.

Many companies, analyst firms and media outlets tend to focus on ad revenues as a measure of whether a medium has "arrived." For example, many of the articles and even forecasts about mobile ad revenues tend to talk about how small they are relative to traditional Internet advertising. And when, oh when, will it be "the year of mobile"?

Dude this year already was. We're here. 

Whether ad networks and publishers can efficiently and effectively monetize the mobile Internet is not going to matter to consumers -- not going to matter. Consumers will be using the mobile Internet more and more and as a primary access point in an increasing number of situations. It will be preferred in a large number of cases. 

The smartphone is going to become "the remote control for your life," in the way that the iPhone or iPod Touch can literally become a remote control device for TV. People will want to access content that they've researched, saved, collected online (i.e., in the cloud) from the mobile device. But the future is not just about phones; it's about myriad mobile devices and Internet access points in the world against near-ubiquitous connectivity. 

The mobile Internet -- from a consumer perspective -- will get larger and larger. Ad revenues will come but consumers are way ahead. Millennial Media predicted that we'd see 100 million mobile Internet users in the US next year. I think that's nearly a slam dunk prediction. Frequency is another matter of course but it too will go up over time. Voice search on my handset may mean that I do as many or more searches there than on my PC.

I'm sitting on the couch and I want to know the answer to trivia question X. Do I get up and go into the other room? No, I take out the smartphone and speak the query: "Who was the 17th president of the US?" Done. Now back to the movie. 

Advertisers, agencies and publishers ignore the mobile Internet at their own peril.

If you thought that the PC Internet gave people control over which ads they consumed, you ain't seen nothing yet. Less inventory and consumer ambivalence about ads on their handsets means that advertising will really need to turn into "content" or be so viral or targeted that people will be motivated to respond. This despite the fact that mobile response rates are much higher than on the PC.

That's a bit of a paradox, I realize. 

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Source: Morgan Stanely research

Will 'Point & Find' Get Nokia Back in the Game?

There's a long NY Times article that discusses the current competitive predicament of Nokia, the leading handset maker in the world. At the high end the OEM is losing the battle against the RIM, Android and the iPhone. Of course Apple and Nokia have recently sued each other. Nokia sued Apple after not being able to gain licensing deals (and access to Apple IP) on its terms; Apple counter sued saying, in paragraph 3 of the cross-complaint:

In dealing with Apple, Nokia has sought to gain an unjust competitive advantage over Apple by charging unwarranted fees to use patents that alleged cover industry compatibility standards and by seeking to obtain access to Apple's intellectual property. Nokia needs access to Apple's intellectual proety because Nokia has copied and is now using that patented technology.

While the company still maintains control of 37% of the global handset market, that share will continue to decline as more users adopt smartphones and Nokia offers weak handsets at the high end. The company maintains that its devices are more advanced than the iPhone but that it misjudged the market. In a statement that sounds very much like a rationalization (and one that's factually inaccurate to boot) Nokia's Anssi Vanjoki tells the NY Times:

“We didn’t execute; we were aiming at too geeky a community,” he says. “Apple is made for the common man. It’s more for Joe Six-Pack than techno-geeks. But we understand Joe Six-Pack too.”

I've argued in the past that to gain re-entry to the US market, Nokia should make high-functioning cheap devices for those people transitioning from the lowest end of the handset market. It can then re-establish the brand as it brings out better smartphones. Next year is supposed to see a refresh of the Symbian UI and UX; however there are doubts about whether the OS can compete long term with the iPhone OS and Android. 

There has been repeated speculation about whether Nokia was going to abandon Symbian in favor of Maemo. But recently Nokia said it was still very committed to Symbian. It issued the following statement about how it sees the two in its portfolio:

“While it is our policy not to disclose details of our product roadmap, we’d like to explicitly communicate that we remain firmly committed to Symbian as our smartphone platform of choice. Any speculation on what our 2012 roadmap, including operating systems and product branding, are completely premature.

As we have stated earlier, Nokia has multiple platforms to serve different purposes and address different markets. Symbian is more successful than ever in bringing smartphones to the masses. Maemo is our software of choice for devices based on technology that you’d typically find inside a desktop computer. It delivers a different user experience and enables us to widen the market we can address.”

Nokia, whose brand is strong outside the US but weak inside, must do some practical and splashy things to revitalize. One of those could be "Point & Find." Announced at the CTIA trade show in April, it's a visual search technology that uses the camera to obtain information by taking pictures of objects, images and places in the physical world. Conceptually this is identical to what Google demonstrated with Google Goggles

There are a range of companies that offer similar technology or "visual search" capabilities but only handset OEMs such as Nokia or Apple, or major Internet companies such as Google and Amazon, have the power and visibility to drive mainstream adoption. But the strategy that Nokia is pursuing with Point & Find may limit adoption: it relies on third parties to buy in/implement and it's charging them to become a part of the program. 

Point & Find is a next-generation capability that could generate excitement around Nokia handsets but it needs to be pushed aggressively. Nokia should go buy up all the "visual search" companies out there and make that experience a centerpiece of a new UX on its handsets. You can't beat Apple by trying to play the iPhone game; you need to change the rules.

Point & Find would be largely differentiated from everything else (especially if the company could do this aggressively across its product lines). In addition, given the installed base of Nokia users it could create an entire ecosystem around Point & Find that could rival the iPhone app store in one way of thinking. However I'm not sure that Nokia sees the opportunity clearly. 

Opera Moves to Shore Up Mobile Position

Opera announced yesterday that it was releasing Opera Mobile 10 to carriers and device OEMs. According to the company's blog post:

This direct-to-distributor version is available on Android, BREW, Windows Mobile and Symbian/S60 smartphones and includes Opera’s new, cross-platform UI framework. As a part of Opera’s shift to unify the look and feel of its mobile browsers, the cross-platform UI framework allows operators and OEMs to implement the same user experience quickly and cost-effectively across their entire range of handsets.

Opera says it's already on 135 millionn handsets globally. While there are no other browsers on the iPhone (yet) Opera is available for Android, Windows Mobile, RIM and Nokia smartphones.

Mobile has been much more successful for Opera than the PC. In mobile the company has a leadership position in terms of number of installs. 

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BlackBerry, which the browser is already on but not part of the 10 release, is another key platform for Opera in the US and beyond.

Aggressive moves are necessary if the company wants to maintain its share and stay ahead of competitors. Android has its own browser for example. Users must be shown that using Opera offers a superior experience on those handsets. Window Mobile's browser is improving too. Eventually I believe Apple will allow other browsers into the App Store.

Firefox also has yet to show up in mobile in a big way. But the company promises to give Opera a run for its money as it expands out from this early beta stage.

Opera's October State of the Mobile Web Report

The following charts are from the Opera "State of the Mobile Web" report for October. They represent the top sites and other data from Opera users in the countries represented below. More countries' data are available via the Opera site.

Although there is some slight movement among sites, the "top 10" are fairly consistent over time. For example, Facebook and Google vie for the top spot in the UK and US month after month. The recent strong showing of Yahoo! (no. 3 and 4 in the US and UK) can likely be attributed to the company's improved mobile homepage/portal. 

You can check any month this year by going here and then changing the final number to the desired month. 

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AdMob: RIM, Droid Show Gains on Network

The October AdMob metrics report is out (based on behavior and traffic on its network, rather than the mobile Internet as a whole). Here are some highlights:

  • Worldwide requests from RIM devices increased 44% over the last six months in the AdMob network . . . The recently launched RIM devices that are gaining traction are the Tour and new versions of the Curve (8900 and 8520).  
  • Worldwide requests from Android devices increased 5.8 times since April 2009 in the AdMob network . . . In the US, the Motorola Droid launched on November 6 with a big marketing push from Verizon and two weeks after launch it already represented 24% of all Android requests in AdMob's network worldwide. The Motorola CLIQ has also seen fast pickup since its launch at T-Mobile in the US and generated 6% of Android traffic worldwide on November 18th.
  • In October 2009, 70 percent of iPhone OS requests came from the iPhone while the remaining 30 percent came from the iPod touch.
  • The top Symbian and Windows Mobile devices have not changed in 2009 and both platforms have lost smartphone share. One of Nokia's first touchscreen models, the 5800 XpressMusic, is the one of the few newcomers to the list of Top 20 Symbian devices in 2009.

(emphasis added)

Here are some charts from the report:

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What Do They Do with Smartphones in the UK?

Nielsen offers some interesting data on UK smartphone owners and what they're doing online with their devices. First the penetration numbers:

  • UK population: 61.4 million (world bank)
  • UK mobile subscribers: 75.75 million (more than 100%)
  • UK smartphone owners (per Nielsen): 6.2 million 

So the smartphone penetration rate in the UK is less than in the US and just over 4% if the numbers above are accurate.

Here's what Nielsen says smartphone/mobile users in the UK are doing -- a leading indicator of broader behavior later for the mainstream users as they upgrade:

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Here's what Opera says are the most visited sites among its user base in the UK (September data):

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More Visibility on Samsung Strategy

Over the past 24 or so hours there has been a great deal of news and speculation around Samsung, the number two handset maker and number three or four smartphone maker depending on the numbers you consult. Earlier the company said it would introduce "bada" ("ocean" in Korean) as a new mobile OS. Then there were rumors that the company was going to boost Android at the expense of the Windows Mobile and Symbian operating systems.

Apparently Samsung will retain WinMo for enterprise-oriented handsets and dump Symbian entirely. Today the Register UK provides some more dirt and visibility on the developments:

Samsung phones won't be Symbian based: they'll be using Android for high-end consumers and retaining Windows Mobile as it still has the edge in the enterprise, while the new Bada platform will fill that mid-range feature-phone market.

But for Nokia's footprint as the largest mobile handset maker in the world it would be time to say Symbian is dying. Indeed, the latest Nokia "flagship" handset, the N900 uses Maemo instead of Symbian, which is a statement in and of itself. 

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Update: Samsung reverses or corrects itself, now saying that it will continue to support Symbian. While this saves face for Symbian/Nokia it ultimately doesn't matter because the user experience is no longer competitive.