Hardware

Pre Embraced by Google, 'Dissed' by Apps Developers?

While there are lists circulating that show which Best Buy retail stores will carry the Palm Pre, the Best Buy website shows that it's not yet available and will carry an $800+ price tag without a two-year contract with Sprint. That will effectively kill all non-Sprint related buys. Meanwhile the Google Mobile Blog reflects that Google will have a very prominent place on the Pre:

Palm Pre phone's webOS works great with Google Search, Google Maps, and YouTube, which are built into the device. You can also easily sync your Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts to Palm Pre.

We're big fans of Palm Pre phone's universal search feature. Just start typing a query from the home screen (no need to launch the browser). If your query doesn’t match any contact info or the name of an application on your phone, you’ll be prompted to search either the web with Google, local places on Google Maps, articles on Wikipedia, or Twitter.

But the Pre apps store apparently is quite limited right now in its offerings. This was a point of negative criticism among otherwise generally positive reviews from several device pundits over the past couple of days. Sprint and Palm are apparently not concerned believing that now that they have built it the developers will come. (If it sells the developers will probably come.) Yet there's still reason to question that assumption. Recall Skyhook's developer survey:

56% of all developers surveyed will port their app to other platforms. Developers are most interested in Android. 58% of non-Android developers plan to port to that platform, while 40% of non-iPhone developers plan to port an app to that platform. 26% will port to RIM, and 20% will port to Windows Mobile.

Developers are least interested in Palm and Symbian, with only 8% and 9% of developers planning to port their applications to those platforms, respectively.

And CNET offers more anecdotal evidence of the same attitude: 

"My sense is that this will lead to Apple increasing their lead in the market even more," said Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, a small developer that creates applications exclusively for the iPhone. "It will be a tremendous challenge for Apple's competitors that are trying to build their own application stores to get traction with developers, because we're in no rush to work on other platforms."

Pre at Best Buy

Without a healthy selection of apps the Pre probably cannot be competitive with the iPhone long term.

The Pre Gets a 'B+'

If we had to assign a letter grade to the early reviews of the Pre, it would be a strong "B" or "B+". The early Boy Genius review, the David Pogue (NYT) review and now the Walt Mossberg (WSJ) review published today all offer good and bad. Mossberg and Pogue are mostly positive, saying the Pre is a "credible challenger" to the iPhone and and "elegant contender." In fact, Mossberg blesses the device as the "best competitor" to the iPhone that he's seen so far.

The Palm app store is a weak link that Mossberg focuses on especially as a deficiency vs. the iPhone. But the Pre is unique among iPhone challengers in that it has the same "multitouch" on screen experience, which could violate Apple's IP/patent (but that's a decision for others). 

Much is made by keyboard lovers of the Pre's physical QWERTY keyboard. However, what's interesting is that the same was said of the G1 and now the HTC G2/Ion/Magic, which is an advance but still no iPhone, has eliminated the physical keyboard. I too was a virtual keyboard detractor until I lived with the iPhone Touch for awhile. Now I wouldn't go back to a phone with a physical one. 

But wait, I will be going back . . .  I'm going to try and get a Pre as a Sprint customer. Indeed, the Pre has keep me from jumping ship to AT&T for the iPhone. I hope that Sprint's strategy to create fake scarcity (to build buzz and demand) doesn't prevent me from getting my hands on one in the next couple weeks. My loyalty to Sprint is thin. 

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USAToday's Ed Baig offers another positive review of the Pre. 

Nokia N97 Goes on Sale in US without Carrier Subsidies

The much touted Nokia response to the iPhone, the N97, went on sale (pre-order) today in the US market -- without a carrier and the all important carrier subsidy. The phone, which costs more than $700, has received high marks, lots of horsepower (32GB) and functionality. But without a carrier subsidy it's pretty much DOA as a mainstream device.

I've argued in the past that no subsidized smartphone can consider pricing itself above $200 given:

  • iPhone: $199 with cheaper models rumored
  • Android/G1: $179
  • Palm Pre: $199 
  • BlackBerry Storm: $199 

While all these devices would cost much more if purchased without a contract and carrier subsidy, almost nobody will be doing that. Consequently, you're not going to see people buy the N97 when so many other strong choices exist -- and are much cheaper.

Rather than a super high-end phone as a way back into the US market, a better strategy for Nokia is to sell cheaper smartphones that offer good user experiences for less. It has toyed with this idea. Nokia could potentially own the lower end of the market and better compete that way. 

Projections for a Verizon iPhone & Comparing the G2/Ion

In one sense Apple is in a race against time, as well as competitors such as Android, BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile. If it retains its exclusive deal with AT&T it maxes out its addressable market -- those AT&T subscribers willing to upgrade to the iPhone and those non AT&T subscribers willing to switch for the iPhone. Meanwhile those other competitors continue to improve their products and push more devices into the market. There's a point at which they become good enough or better in specific areas to preempt potential iPhone demand. 

Bernstein Research analysts have issued a note that argues that addressable market would expand dramatically (double) if Verizon were to get access to the iPhone or some similar Apple-made handset in the future. This is what I argued some time ago in less precise terms. However Apple has reaffirmed its near-term commitment to AT&T (but there are suggestions of talks between Verizon and Apple).

Since Google's developer conference I've been using the G2/Ion they gave away. It's a significant (hardware and software) improvement over the G1. Here's a preliminary mostly postive review from Wired.  

I'm not doing any systematic testing, rather just using it in my daily life. What I've found so far is that the virtual keyboard is considerably harder to use (for me) than the iPhone's. And the screen and Internet experience are not as "crisp" as on the iPhone. Still, in the absence of the iPhone it would be very impressive and probably the best handheld Internet device in the market. 

I would put the G2/Ion in the good enough category. And the Storm 2 will probably satisfy some of that iPhone envy (that the Storm did not) among Verizon users. Finally the Pre has already prevented me from switching to AT&T to get the iPhone. We'll see once I get my hands on one whether it keeps me there. 

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Related: ZDNet compares the Pre to the G1. 

Acer Announces Q3 Android-Based Netbook

Acer, maker of the popular Aspire netbook, has said it will release an Android-powered netbook in the US in Q3. According to Reuters:

Acer was the first PC vendor to officially announce that it was making Android PCs, weeks after it said it planned to launch smartphones -- mobile phones packed with advanced computer-like capabilities -- on the same platform later this year.

There's already a Chinese Android netbook apparently. But this would be the first major OEM to offer one and in a Western market. The fact that Android is open-source means that the computer could be cheaper than comparable Windows XP-based netbook. However, carrier subsidies (AT&T and Verizon) are driving down the cost of netbooks to $99. In the UK mobile operator O2 offered a netbook for free with a service contract.

We'll have to wait and see how it stacks up performance-wise against Windows. If it does it will represent a strong challenge to Microsoft in this emerging and fast-growing segment of the market. As the conventional laptop and PC desktop markets have suffered in the recession so have Microsoft's profits. However the company says that it today owns about 90% of the netbook market, which is actually more than its PC OS share according to Net Applications

In the context of discussing a range of "major announcements" that we would be hearing about this year involving Android devices, Google CEO Eric Schmidt previously said (during the Google Q1 earnings call): 

On the netbook side, there are a number of people who have actually taken Android and ported it over to netbook or netbook-similar devices. So we think that’s another one of the great benefits of the open source model that we’ve used. We’re excited that that investment is occurring. And again, largely outside of Google, which we think is great.

Google is banking on the browser and The Cloud as a replacement for desktop software. At the Google I/O event last week the company talked at length about HTML 5 and the impressive capabilities it brought to the browser. 

ChangeWave: iPhone a Big Success Factor for AT&T

Research firm ChangeWave has done an analysis that shows the iPhone to be a critical factor in AT&T's success and in its ongoing battle with Verizon. Absent the iPhone AT&T would probably not be holding up quite as well. Below are some charts supporting the thesis. Look at the higher future intent to switch to AT&T in the first chart compared with lower customer satisfaction for AT&T in the second (vs. Verizon): 

Picture 12

Picture 13

Part of the explanation may reside in the difference between populations answering the questions (existing customers who have experience with the carrier vs non-customers who do not). But it's got to be about the iPhone.

In contrast to AT&T's satisfaction numbers, among so-called smartphones the iPhone is highest rated according to JD Power & Associates. Here's what ChangeWave has to say:

Note that dating back to the period just before the original Apple (AAPL) iPhone rollout, AT&T has managed to stay in first place in terms of future demand.

A coincidence? Not likely.

But the big question going forward is how long can AT&T keep its exclusivity agreement with Apple and ride the iPhone’s coattails? While the current deal is set to expire next year, AT&T is in talks with Apple to extend it until 2011.

Apple has affirmed its relationship with AT&T publicly. However there are also suggestions promoted by Verizon itself that the iPhone or an Apple handset might make its way to the carrier in the next year or so. 

Verizon is fighting back with the BlackBerry Storm (and within six months the Pre). 

Nokia Wants to Emphasize LBS As Differentiator

Nokia spent over $8 billion for Navteq so it should want to leverage LBS. According to the WSJ:

Nokia Corp. is striving to integrate location-based functionalities with other services and social applications available through its handsets, Chief Executive Officer Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said Wednesday.

"The phone knows where you are. It might know where you're going or what you're going to do," said Kallasvuo at the All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, California.

However Nokia won't have any real advantage with LBS given the general emphasis on location across mobile platforms. So it won't materialize as a differentiator in fact. At the D event Kallasvuo also demonstrated the N97, not yet in the US market. Here's how Barrons summarized the demo:

He’s going to do a Demo of their newest handheld computer, the N97, not in the marketplace yet, but coming soon. Will be in the U.S. 5MP autofocus camera. Home screen has collection of widgets. With weather info. Uses GPS to pick out where it is. Facebook feed real time. Email. AP news ticker. Widgets on the Ovi store, their version of the App Stpre. Can post photos, tag them, upload them to Facebook or Twitter or Flickr. Has 32 GB internal, plus micro SD card. Plays MP3s, AAC music tracks. Stereo speakers. Has built in FM transmitter, so works on any radio. In email, there is text to speech. Can read one email, or all of them. Also speech to text to respond. Maps functionality includes 3D, and turn by turn directions. Ovi store will recommend appropriate applications based on relevancy from data on SIM card. Twitter client. And full QWERTY physical keyboard. Browser plays Flash natively on the Web. Can play video in most formats. Can do video chat, with video camera on the front.

Here's our earlier post on the N97

Despite the fact that Nokia is the leading handset maker in the world and continues to enjoy strength in markets outside the US it's in trouble. A range of rivals continue to attack its position with increasing success. It has talked about re-entering the US market with cheap smartphones (not the N97) and that's a good strategy in my view. By contrast the N97 is not a low-end device; the unsubsidized price is apparently a whopping €550 ($695).

Unless carriers are willing to subsidize the N97 and bring the cost down to less than $200 it won't have a chance regardless of its features and capabilities. 

Palm Pre Coming to Verizon

Verizon has announced that it will be selling the Palm Pre within the "next six months." The company also said that the BlackBerry Storm 2 will be released in a similar time frame. This is bad news for Sprint and takes some of the wind out of the carrier's promotional sails (and perhaps Pre sales too).

Boy Genius Report has some first "hands on" impressions of the Pre (which are mixed). 

Like others at the Google developer event yesterday I got my hands on an HTC "Magic," coming to T-Mobile in the US later this year (the company gave them away). It's currently available through Vodafone in the UK. The Magic has a virtual keyboard, which isn't as good as the iPhone's. However the phone is otherwise impressive. Here's a more complete review from PC World

Meanwhile Google's Andy Rubin has said that by the end of this year there will be 18 and possibly 20 Android handsets in the market globally. According to Google there are almost 5,000 Android apps (compared with nearly 50K on the iPhone). 

AdMob: Comparing Smartphone Share with Web Usage

The latest Mobile Metrics report from AdMob (reflecting usage across its network) features a comparison of smartphone handset share vs mobile Internet browsing and usage. Here are the top-level data:

  • While Gartner estimated global smartphone sales represented 12% of total device sales in 2008, 35% of AdMob’s worldwide ad requests in April 2009 came from smartphones. This means that smartphones accounted for nearly 3 times more mobile Web usage than their device market share.
  • Smartphones running the Symbian, RIM, and Windows Mobile OS are the top 3 by handset sales; however, mobile Web usage on those devices lags their market share. The Symbian OS had 52% market share of handset sales, but generated only 36% share of mobile Web requests in April 2009.
  • The iPhone OS had 8% market share of handset sales in 2008, but generated 43% share of mobile Web requests in April 2009. Ad requests from applications contributed to this heavy usage.
  • Android also generated a higher percentage of mobile Web requests than its share of handsets sold. While Android had less than 1% of smartphones sold in 2008, it generated 3% of mobile Web usage.

In other words, the iPhone and Android represent much more mobile Internet activity on the AdMob network than their respective handset shares, while Symbian, RIM, and Windows Mobile under-index relative to their shares in the handset market.

Here are some of the charts in the report: 

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Picture 3

The following includes HTML browsing (per Net Applications) from mobile handsets:

Picture 4

Putting aside the specific definitions of the categories in the chart above (Mobile Web vs. HTML), we can see how users are interacting with their devices and the mobile Internet. Clearly iPhone and Android owners are more engaged vs others. Some of this is self-selection and some of this is about the usability of the Internet on these devices. As an aside, it would be interesting to see the Storm broken out within the BlackBerry data to determine whether that device in particular was showing usage patterns different than other RIM handsets.

While the AdMob network is not synonymous with the mobile Internet it is directionally consistent with usage trends more broadly. 

The Rise of the Connected Tablets

Nokia's N810 Tablet was too expensive and ahead of its time. And from what I can tell the device was not a commercial success (I might be wrong). But a purported successor (the "Rover") may gain traction. We're entering an era of mobile tablets, or at least a period where consumers will have lots of options for mobile IP-connected devices. There are all kinds of rumors of Apple developing a tablet and Android tablet rumors abound as well. 

Mobile tablets will sit between smartphones and netbooks and may be sold like mobile phones with data contracts. This is the key: the connection. 

After the demise of my Windows Mobile phone, I opted for a cheap Sanyo candy bar phone (as I await the Pre) and an iPod Touch for mobile Internet access. I have to rely on WiFi, which isn't as much of a problem as I initially thought. But the two devices are acceptable to me and I don't have to deal with the problemmatic iPhone phone. 

As I wrote on Screenwerk in late 2006:

While there’s no single scenario for mobile, many people are operating under the assumption that people want an all-in-one device. Some people certainly do and will. But seeing the new Sony VAIO UX mobile PC made me think again about a “two device” world in which people use “Device A” for browsing the mobile Internet and a phone for conventional voice communication.

There’s something enormously challenging about getting the form factor right for an all-in-one device: the right-sized screen, a full keyboard, as well as a phone that works and is comfortable to use. There are probably a range of devices and mobile tablets coming (e.g., Sony Reader) that will be preferable as mobile Internet devices vs. a Treo or Blackberry. Some of them will undoubtedly be phones as well or have WiFi calling capabilities.

Tablets will be more like netbooks than smartphones in terms of the Internet experience. However tablets may bring the apps stores onto a larger screen (e.g., the rumored Apple tablet). The Nokia tablets are like big smartphones with a slide-out keyboard and will undoubtedly access the Ovi store. As an aside, it will be interesting to see how some of the next-generation tablets will address the keyboard/data entry challenge. Obviously they'll have touch screens. The Kindles for example have a physical keyboard on the device. 

All these devices will also operate as phones (via Skype or equivalents). These connected, non-smartphone devices are thus something of an unanticipated "end-around" around voice fees in some sense.

I suspect within three to five years the mobile market will look like this:

  • Conventional laptops with dongles (business owners will also have smartphones)
  • Netbooks sold like subsidized mobile phones (may replace conventional laptops for some business users)
  • Smartphones (business users and increasing numbers of consumers)
  • Tablets with mobile contracts (more expensive than netbooks)
  • Better feature phones that operate more like smartphones, with larger screens
  • Free or low-cost phones that offer a poor mobile Internet experience and are used for voice and SMS only

Sprint Plans to Sell Pre on Price of Data

Owning the iPhone is expensive and Sprint is planning to exploit its competitive advantage around data pricing (apparently) as one of the key marketing angles for the new Pre, due out June 6 in the US. As an aside, I'm generally annoyed by the faux shortages that Sprint hopes will boost demand and buzz for the device.

According to Engadget, which got a copy of an internal Sprint Pre launch guide the relative pricing of competitors' data plans is one of the key points. Of course Sprint has been pushing this angle more broadly for some time.

Pre launch doc

Source: Sprint/Engadget

The hardware and software comparison points in the table above (i.e., layered contacts, NASCAR content) are unlikely to win converts. Indeed the Pre may stop the post-paid subscriber bleeding (as will a Samsung Android phone expected later this year) but I don't believe you're going to see any big defection from AT&T and Verizon to Sprint to get the Pre. Sprint and Palm are hoping that such predictions are proven to be wrong. 

However the cost of data-plans will get attention and may be a successful hook for those contemplating upgrading from a feature phone and considering one of the other carriers for a G1 or iPhone. 

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Related: O2 will distribute the Pre in the UK. And the WebOS Palm EOS (Centro successor) is reportedly coming to AT&T in the second half of 2009. Getting this device to market quickly will help Palm if early Pre sales fail to live up to the hype.

Scoot Launches iPhone App in UK

UK directory and local search site Scoot, which embraced Twitter recently on behalf of its local advertisers, has added an iPhone site. It uses icons and location-awareness to find the nearest business in the given category. From the release:

Scoot uses the iPhone’s GPS capability to locate the user, then find the nearest cafe, bank, restaurant, petrol station and much more. “It’s so quick and easy to use when you’re on the move”, said Sue Barnes, Scoot’s managing director. “There’s no need to type anything in: you just open the app and tap the relevant icon – cafe, for example. Scoot will then show your nearest cafes with name, address, phone number and distance from your current location.

The mobile user can tap the ‘More’ button on each business listed to see further information such as descriptions, opening times, payment methods, special offers/coupons, pictures and even videos. They can see the business on a map, get directions, click to call or view their website. Your browser may not support display of this image.

The application includes a number of standard icons as the default, representing some of the more popular business categories within the Scoot UK business directory. These include banks, cafes, car repairs, chemists, dentists, doctors, drinks, estate agents, food, hospitals, hotels, newsagents, petrol stations, post offices, supermarkets, special offers and favourites. However, the user can easily customise the application by using the simple on/off toggle button to add search icons for more categories or even their favourite brands. Scoot will be adding more categories and brands in future releases of the application.

scoot

Gartner: Smartphones Continue Their Climb

Earlier this week Gartner released its Q1 handset numbers. What they show is that conventional mobile phones are off almost 9% YoY and smartphones are up almost 13% YoY:

Worldwide mobile phone sales totalled 269.1 million units in the first quarter of 2009, a 8.6 per cent decrease from the first quarter of 2008, according to Gartner, Inc. Smartphone sales surpassed 36.4 million units, a 12.7 per cent increase from the same period last year.

Nokia continues to feel pressure and lose share in a much more competitive environment:

Global handset sales

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Smartphone sales

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Source: Gartner

If smartphones are 13% - 14% of the market today, we can expect them (depending on pricing) to become 20% - 25% in five or six years. That will mean much more mobile Internet engagment. But it also means that 75%+ of the market will still be on lower-end phones. Lots will happen in the next five years in the mobile market, including the introduction of new tablets, continued growth of netbooks and other IP-connected devices. So it's very difficult to predict mobile user behavior. 

But it's safe to say that most people will not be on these high end devices. Marketers and publishers should be mindful of that. 


Palm Pre Coming on June 6 for $199

So it's official: The Palm Pre will be available on June 6 and cost $199 with a two-year service agreement and rebate. Here's the Palm statement:

Sprint has announced today that the Palm Pre will be available on June 6. Sprint announced that it will be available nationwide in Sprint stores, as well as at Best Buy, Radio Shack, and select Wal-Mart stores. The webOS-based phone will retail for $199.99 (after rebate and service agreement).

The Palm Pre will provide access to all of the exclusive content on the Sprint Now Network, including Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile Live. More details about Sprint’s service plans and retail channels can be found on the company’s website.

There had been speculation that the Pre might be more aggessively priced to boost demand. But, disappointingly, not so. 

It's very unlikely that the Pre, despite its appeal and buzz, will win many converts to Sprint, which has been losing roughly a million subscribers a quarter. More likely it will prevent some defections to Verizon and AT&T. By contrast Sprint's pre-paid unit Boost Mobile's $50 unlimited plan has proven enormously successful and may be the growth engine for the company in the near term -- so much so that it's opening 50 new retail locations in 2009. 

With other carriers such as MetroPCS and Virgin Mobile trying to go head to head with Boost in pre-paid, that price war threatens to bleed over to the post-paid market. We can only hope so.

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Sprint is very bullish on the Pre:

“It’s the highest confidence I’ve ever had going into a device launch that this is going to be a blockbuster,” said Kevin Packingham, senior vice president for product and technology development at Sprint. He noted that he expects to know quickly whether the device has captured consumer enthusiasm. “I’m pretty sure we’ll know within the first week.”

For Sprint's sake -- but especially for Palm's -- I hope he's right that it will sell well. 

Netbooks, Smartphones and MiFi

What's very clear is that the Internet is fast being "mobilized." What's not as clear is how the various competing devices will fare over the long term. Right now both smartphones and netbooks are hot. Netbooks are slightly hotter than smartphones, because they seem really cheap by comparison to conventional laptops. And now netbooks are being sold like phones. 

Verizon joined AT&T recently in offering a smartphone-like deal to potential subscribers. It's selling the new HP Mini for $199 (after a rebate) with a two-year agreement that costs $40 per month for the IP connection. Yet RIM Co-CEO Jim Balsillie believes that despite the rise of netbooks smartphones will win because of their form factor: 

“Form factor is a personal preference but it’s got to be something that lasts the better part of the day and you can hold up to your ear and clip onto your belt,” he said  in response to our question about his vision for future products. “Those are a very tight systems constraints for a netbook.” 

And, if a phone’s dimensions seems too cramped for the increasingly sophisticated media, entertainment and business services offered, Balsillie said this: “If you want richer keyboards and richer displays you can just use peripherals and bluetooth.”

Along those lines, products like Redfly turn a smartphone into a CPU. Useful though it may be there's something that strikes me as awkward about the device. Admittedly, however, I haven't used one.

Then there's this related development: the personal WiFi node from Novatel Wireless, the MiFi. Unlike a dongle, it allows multiple devices to connect to the Internet. However, it costs $100 and $40 per mo (from Verizon). Consumers are not going to own smartphones, netbooks with plans and personal hotspots at the same time because of cost. They will be forced to make choices. 

Along those lines, we recently asked consumers whether they would prefer a smartphone or a netbook as their mobile Internet device (if the price were identical). Here's what they said: 

  • Smartphone 34%
  • Netbook 27%
  • Neither 13%
  • Unsure 26%

 As I've argued before, once the connectivity problem is solved then lots of new mobile Internet devices can come into being. 

Nokia's Way Back: Low-Cost Smartphones

Nokia wants to be a player in the US market again. However the handset OEM is facing fundamental challenges as it tries to get back in the game here. For example it doesn't having billing support from carriers for its Ovi apps store. Despite having potentially lots of apps, the absence of simplified billing will be an initial (if not long term) problem for Nokia.

Nokia will also be hard-pressed to compete at the high end of the smartphone market. The US market is now the most competitive in the world for smartphones and the dominance of RIM and the iPhone is not likely to be successfully challenged in the near term by Nokia. In addition, any smartphone costing more than $200 (with subsidy) is dead on arrival as a mainstream device. 

Price is a huge driver or barrier to adoption -- often unappreciated by those writing about mobile issues. 

What then can the company do? It can pump out low-end smartphones (or smartphone-like phones) that are inexpensive. Getting handsets into the hands of US users is the first order of business and right now the only way to do that is to offer phones that are priced around $100 or so. 

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Related: AT&T considering lower-cost iPhone plans

The Camera to Loom Larger As 'Search' Tool

Last week Google announced barcode scanning for products on Android phones (right now the G1 in the US and Magic in the UK):

After you've installed the application, go back to Product Search in your browser and tap on the 'Scan Barcode' button again. Select "Use by default for this action" and tap on the Barcode Scanner option. After the app opens, center the red line over the barcode and hold the phone steady. When the barcode is read successfully, you'll see a Google Product Search results page back in the browser.

This is not to be confused with ShopSavvy for Android, which also uses barcode scanning and offers local store inventory data. Barcode scanning apparently doesn't work right now on the iPhone because of the quality of the camera (at least that's my understanding).

One of the things that I've been thinking for a long time is that the camera will eventually be used as a "search" tool -- as a way to obtain information more quickly and directly than keying in queries or even using voice. It remains to be seen but movement is in the right direction; there remains a bunch of work to be done on "infrastructure" issues, regarding standardization and pre-installed software. 

But here are the forms camera-based search will eventually take: 

  • Conventional barcode scanning (as in the Google announcement)
  • QR codes (big in Japan, still uncertain future in North America)
  • Data retrived after image capture (e.g., movie poster)
  • Augmented reality (e.g., camera aimed at a building shows data on stores inside)

All of these leverage the camera's ability to take in information and then potentially deliver very exact or complete data on the back end, beyond what a user could independently get with a conventional search approach.

It's potentially quite compelling as a user experience and could trump conventional search in many different scenarios. But it also illustrates the larger point that "search" on mobile phones is going to be a multi-modal experience, rather than a uniform one as on the PC. In as few as five years we're simultaneously likely to have: 

  • PC-like search box with manual query entry
  • Voice search (yielding traditional results)
  • Social DA/answer engines (e.g., Vark, Twitter, ChaCha, kgb -- human powered)
  • Camera inputs: "point and search" and so on

The use cases will be both device specific and situational. One way to compete in mobile search is to push into these non-traditional realms more aggressively.

Survey: Half of Mobile Users Accessing Content Weekly

An online survey of 4,000 US mobile users (ages 12 to 64) conducted in January 2009, by Frank N. Magid Associates, found that 51% said they were accessing some type of mobile Internet content on a weekly basis. The study claims to be representative of the population as a whole. If so, that would mean roughly 135 million users in the US are going online at least weekly from their handsets.

In march comScore reported that more than 63 million people were using their handsets to go online at some point during a given month. Thus the Magid numbers emerge as the most aggressive in the market (if extrapolated to the larger mobile population).

Other findings from the Magid survey:

  • Mobile users are spending roughly the same amount of time per week with "content" compared with SMS usage and voice: 39 minutes a week vs. 38 minutes (SMS) and 44 minutes (Voice)
  • Content consumptions differs vary by age: 80% of mobile social networking done by those younger than age 34; news consumption on mobile handsets skews older.
  • Households earning more than $100,000 per year are more likely than others less wealthy to consume mobile content: 3X as likely to access business information and 2X as likely to consume news and/or online shopping on their phones.

Some of these findings are relatively obvious given that price is a big factor in mobile Internet access and usage, and online social networking is still skewed slightly younger. Here's the smartphone ownership breakdown according to their data . . .

Millenials (18% own smartphone)

  • Blackberry: 39%
  • iPhone: 20%
  • Sidekick: 15%
  • Treo: 12%
  • Blackjack: 10%
  • LG enV: 9%
  • T-Mobile Wing: 5%
  • Nokia N95: 4%
  • Helio Ocean: 4%
  • Other: 14%
  • Not sure: 7%

Gen X-ers (10% own smartphone)

  • Blackberry: 40%
  • iPhone: 11%
  • Sidekick: 5%
  • Treo: 8%
  • Blackjack: 3%
  • LG enV: 3%
  • T-Mobile Wing: 3%
  • Nokia N95: 3%
  • Other: 19%
  • Not sure: 13%

Boomers (8% own smartphone)

  • Blackberry: 39%
  • iPhone: 10%
  • Treo: 10%
  • Sidekick: 10%
  • LG enV: 3%
  • T-Mobile Wing: 3%
  • Nokia N95: 3%
  • Helio Ocean: 4%
  • Other: 19%
  • Not sure: 10%

Though the numbers aren't broken out in the release, price/cost and no perception of need are inhibitors. Lack of perceived need and cost uncertainty are the factors we've also found in our surveys regarding why people don't access the mobile Internet:

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Source: LMS/Opus Research (3/09)

Putting a Mic and Camera on the iPod Touch

Among the rumors circulating in the run up to Apple's developer conference in June, there are rumors that the iPod Touch will get a camera at some point in the near future (September). Even if Apple foolishly stays with AT&T exclusively in the US for iPhone distribution, I suspect a "back door" to expanded distribution will be in making the Touch and the iPhone barely distinguishable over time. 

There are roughly 17 million (or so) iPhones that have been sold on a global basis. But when the iPod Touch, which runs almost all the iPhone apps, is added in the number jumps to over 37 million. While some people see the iPod Touch as an iPod with apps, others (including me) see it as a stripped down iPhone without AT&T. You can buy an iPhone and use it exclusively as a WiFi device today but it costs hundreds more than buying the subsidized iPhone with an AT&T contract. 

The two principal user experience differences between the iPhone and the iPod Touch are: no camera and no mic (as well as no phone service) available to the latter. However, with an available mic-enabled headset or earphones, the Touch can become a phone via Skype, Fring or Truefone -- today. That assumes a WiFi connection of course. 

Though an embedded mic is not part of the rumors I suspect that will eventually come to the Touch as well. That would enable the device to function more natively like a phone and to take advantage of voice search apps that currently don't work on the Touch. 

As always these are rumors and we've got to wait to see what happens. However, I suspect the devices will almost converge in terms of their functionality over time, athough Apple will keep the products distinct in some ways to perserve a separate identity in the market.

Nielsen: Top Touchscreen Smartphones

Accoarding to Nielsen survey data captured from 1/09 to 3/09, (presented by Fierce Wireless), here are the top selling touch-screen smartphones in the US:

  1. iPhone (AT&T)
  2. LG Voyager (Verizon)
  3. LG Dare (Verizon)
  4. BlackBerry Storm (Verizon)
  5. LG Vu Series (AT&T)
  6. Samsung Behold (T-Mobile)
  7. Samsung Instinct (Sprint)
  8. HTC Touch Pro (Sprint)
  9. Centro (multiple operators)
  10. G1 (T-Mobile)

This is contradicted by NPD Group assertions that the BlackBerry Curve outsold the iPhone in Q1. The data above also suggest that iPhone sales would be much greater if it were available through other carriers -- Verizon in particular.