Local Search

Google Developing a Free Mobile Nav App?

The PND device companies and their related suppliers are scrambling to reinvent themselves in the wake of better and better smartphone mapping and tools that get people from here to there. TomTom for example launched an expensive app (plus cradle) for the iPhone and the company has also introduced an "infotainment" product:

The all-in-one TomTom GO I-90 solution can be fitted into any car, so even those with older car models can have an integrated navigation experience. It also offers consumers all the advantages of easy-to-use portable navigation, yet fits seamlessly into a vehicle dashboard. The device provides full radio integration with the car speakers for high quality audio when using spoken instructions, or making hands-free phone calls. Although the full solution is integrated, the navigation device is totally portable so it can be removed from where it sits in the audio system to be used in other cars.

Meanwhile Garmin is becoming a handset OEM of sorts to fight back. And the first "connected" PND platform Dash essentially went under (and was acquired by RIM for BlackBerry devices). However I believe most of these adaptation efforts will prove ineffectual. Most people will not have smartphones and PNDs and most people will not pay the $100 for the TomTom app on the iPhone. 

This increasingly bleak situation for the PND makers is compounded by the possibility that Google is developing a free navigation app, which may represent a major nail in the coffin of the PND industry. According to Forbes:

Google has a tendency to enter a market, undercut its competitors' prices and put established players out of business. Navigation service providers are wondering if they're next.

The companies, which provide voice-guided, real-time, turn-by-turn driving directions on people's cellphones, have a hunch that Google is developing a mobile navigation application that it plans to give away for free.

Chatter about such a product first surfaced several years ago, when Google introduced a mobile version of its maps program. The proliferation of the search giant's mobile operating system, Android, in recent months has given the rumors new fuel.

Such a turn-by-turn directions app for Android would be a truly differentiated feature from the iPhone, especially if it were an intrinsic part of all Android devices. And, as the article mentions, it would all-but-kill the navigation subscription business (such as VZ Navigator). 

Absent some pretty dramatic product enhancements or otherwise radical innovation (such as sub $100 pricing), the PND market will continue to shrink into obscurity.

Google Custom Search for Mobile: Syndication Push

One of the ways that Google built its business and brand in the early days was by powering search on third party sites. Lots of newspaper publishers for example offered Google site and Web search on their sites. But it was pretty extensive beyond that and drove considerable volume over time.

Now Google is offering custom search to mobile sites. This is a syndication play that may help drive additional Google mobile search volumes, which have grown 30% Q over Q. Ads and monetization are also a part of it (and part of the appeal for some publishers). See, for example, this search for "sushi":

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New Apps Add Engaging "Gaming" Element to kgb Answers Service

Text answers service kgb this morning announced the release of an app for the iPhone and Android platforms. The app on either platform costs $1.99 and offers three free answers. After that the cost is $0.99 per question.

The competitive positioning of kgb Answers emphasizes the fact that there are "special agents" (humans, often college students) behind the scenes who can provide a more direct and efficient response to a question on the go vs. conventional search, which requires sifting through links on the small screen.

Previously the kgb service was only available via SMS at kgbkgb (542542). However the new iPhone and Android apps entirely change the nature of the experience and even turn it into something of a game in certain respects. I haven't yet downloaded the Android version, but I spent some time yesterday with the iPhone version.

I was impressed by the creative "reimagining" of the kgb service and the way the additional features and content expand it significantly. Here are some screenshots that offer a sense of the iPhone version of the app:

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The app's home screen allows users to flip through a broad range of previously asked questions, mirroring the Q&A "scroll" on the company's site. If you want to find out the answer to one of these questions, you can submit the question and get the answer free of charge. Some example questions from just a few minutes ago include:

  • What bird can fly 11,000 miles in about 90 days?
  • What is the tallest mountain in the USA?
  • What two unrelated countries have the same flag?
  • What land animal stays pregnant for nearly 22 months?

The app also gives users the ability to explore related questions and answers free of charge. For example, one of the free questions I submitted was "What is the infamous first word of the movie Citizen Kane? (Answer: Rosebud). The answer page provides a list of several related Citizen Kane questions and answers that users can browse for free.

All of this free content creates a kind of trivia-game experience (in many contexts), which is a way of getting users engaged and to recognize the value of the service. In addition the app takes advantage of integration with the iPhone. Accordingly, if there's an address in a response or answer the app provides a map. Answers can also be shared via email or Facebook and are saved and can be searched or starred as favorites for later access.

All these features make the kgb app much broader and more useful than the traditional SMS version of the service. 

Arguably the only direct competitor to the core kgb Answers service is free, ad-supported ChaCha, which does not have an iPhone app at this point but provides the ability to call a phone number and speak queries instead of typing them. There are a range of other, somewhat more indirect competitors the closest of which is probably Aardvark, which relies on a network of peers to answer questions. There's also Yahoo! Answers (and similar Q&A services). Of course Google and other traditional search engines are competition as well. However, as I suggested above it's often frustrating to click back and forth through a bunch of links on the small screen. Google in mobile is fast but often paradoxically inefficient.

Because kgb Answers is a premium service and consumers pay per use, the company doesn't have to worry about advertising coverage or clicks (though one might imagine selective advertising at some point). However it does have to demonstrate enough value to convince users to keep paying. Generally that means it must deliver better answers than can the other free services or Google. Yet the iPhone App also changes the nature of the kgb service into something more engaging and entertaining than a straightforward Q&A service.

We understand that kgb has some other interesting apps in the pipeline as well. The company also operates the 118 118 and 118 218 telephone-based services in the UK and France. 

Foursquare Gaining, Loopt Mix Dating Site

The NY Times has a very flattering piece on mobile-social-local gaming network Foursquare:

Just seven months old with about 60,000 users so far, Foursquare is still getting off the ground — especially when compared with supersize services like Facebook and Twitter, which have millions of members. But that underground status is part of Foursquare’s appeal, its fans say. It is not yet cluttered with celebrities, nosy mothers-in-law or annoying co-workers.

It's striking to see a 36-year-old quoted in the article praising the game/site/network:

“On Twitter, there are more than 3,000 people that follow me, and Facebook is more of a business community now,” said Annie Heckenberger, 36, who works at an advertising agency in Philadelphia. “Foursquare is more of the people that I actually hang out with and want to socialize with.”

My guess is that the quoted individual is single and has plenty of time on her hands. That's my thesis about who Foursquare appeals to; it's game-like nature makes it engaging but limits its mainstream appeal. Perhaps I'll be proven totally wrong. In the beginning I was a Twitter detractor.

In a related vein, Loopt has launched a new service called Loopt Mix, which is effectively a dating app with push notifications. There's substantial reason to believe that this is the future of Loopt and they've decided to embrace the way many people were already using the app: for hooking up. 

eReader Market Kicking into High Gear

As the world anticipates the Apple Tablet (iPad?) and Amazon quickly tries to grab marketshare with its new global Kindle, some new competitors are previewing eReaders that should make 2010 the year of the MID. First, PlasticLogic is teasing people with its new QUE, to be unveiled at CES in January. The Que is positining as an enterprise platform/tool to differentiate from the mass of consumer readers:

QUE is designed to simplify the multi-faceted lifestyle of the modern businessperson, and to quite literally lighten their workload. In addition to connecting its users with their business and professional newspapers, books and periodicals, QUE supports the document formats business users need (including PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents) and features powerful tools for interacting with and managing the content . . .

More than an eReader, QUE means business. Extra thin, lightweight and wireless-enabled, QUE is the size of an 8.5 x 11 inch pad of paper, less than a 1/3 inch thick, and weighs less than many periodicals. The innovative QUE proReader features the largest touchscreen in the industry, an intuitive touch screen user interface, and provides access to a file cabinet’s worth of documents, plus your favorite—and most necessary—publications. 

Spring Design announced a novel, dual-screen Android-based reader ("Alex"): 

Picture 74Alex’s revolutionary dual-screen display design brings together the efficiency of reading on a monochrome EPD (electronic paper display) screen while dynamic hyperlinked multimedia information and third party input on its secondary color LCD screen, actually an integrated Android mobile device, opens a rich world of Internet content to support the text on the main screen. Alex, the first Google Android-based e-book device to provide full Internet browsing over Wi-Fi or mobile networks such as 3G, EVDO/CDMA and GSM. With its dual-screen, multi-access capability, it provides the entire Web universe as a handy reference library, prompting users to delve into its vast information base to complement, clarify or enhance what they are reading. Alex is the first truly mobile wireless e-book device that gives users their own personalized library on the go, whenever and wherever they need it.

 

 Alex features a 6" E-Ink EPD display and 3.5" color LCD display, earphones and speakers. A removable SD card will free up library space on the device while letting users archive content for future reference. The enhanced Android OS is optimized to support integration between the color and monochrome displays while preserving battery life. Users can capture and cache web content from their online experience on the LCD screen, and toggle to view it on the EPD screen without taxing the battery life. Browser features such as bookmarking, history, and security settings are built in, and the device with full Android browsing capability, is mobile enabled with smart phones capabilities.

The dual-screen approach solves the problem of Web browsing in color and eBook reading in E-Ink in black and white. The absence of a color screen on the Kindle is a long-term strategic problem for the device. I'm not sure that the dual-screen approach is a winning one however. The Barnes & Noble device is rumored to offer a color screen and appears to have a more "elegant" form factor. 

Regardless, it seems as though by this time next year there will be at least 5-10 serious competitors in the space:

  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Plastic Logic
  • Sony
  • Samsung  
  • LG
  • IREX

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Related: PaidContent offers an extensive discussion about the forthcoming 3G iRex Digital Reader 800SG and the strategy being pursued by the company. For example, while there's 3G connectivity, there's no email or Web browsing. 

Geodelic Builds Event App for Universal Studios

LBS app maker Geodelic has launched an iPhone app in an unual way. The company built Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Night app that is being promoted for use within the Southern California amusement park during the month of October. The app shows park maps and ride wait times, places to eat and restroom locations, all tied to handset location awareness within the park. It also promotes Universal horror films and has third party ad units. The same app is available for Android devices.

Although Geodelic hasn't officially launched an iPhone app, once users leave the park the Halloween Horror app will transform into Geodelic proper. Here are some screens:

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There's an interesting opportunity for apps that are focused on events and festivals or institutions. MobilePeople has also spoken to us about what they perceive to be the opportunity to build apps for, say, Jazz Fest or the Olympics, etc.

Social Media Gaining with Small Business

We conducted a small business advertiser survey with MerchantCircle in early September (n=2,403). The results of that survey were released to I2Go clients in an advisory earlier this month.

Today we put out a press release and I posted a lengthy discussion on my personal blog Screenwerk (including about a recent contrary survey result). While there's a good deal of interesting data in the findings, here's the headline:

  • 45% indicated they had a Facebook page for their business
  • 46% indicated they had a presence on Twitter, either business or personal account or both

These results should not be automatically generalized to the entire SMB population. They're qualified by the following: the survey targeted the most frequent content-publishers among MerchantCircle’s small business members. However we believe these respondents may be a leading indicator of where the market is heading. 

Most SMBs, as you'd expect, aren't using mobile marketing right now. Mobile distribution for SMBs will, generally speaking, come through third party and sales channel relationships. But here's the mobile bit from the survey . . . the chart below shows the range of media and techniques that SMB marketers are using:

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Just over 8% of respondents said that they were doing mobile marketing and 5.3% of them rated it effective. As a ratio that's much better than the 53% who said they were using a profile on a social network as a marketing vehicle and only 22% found it effective.

Placecast-Harris Survey: 42% Interested in LBS Ads, Offers After Opt-In

Location-based ad targeting firm/network 1020 Placecast has been putting out research and powerful anecdotal interviews with women as part of an "alert shopper" series. Now the company is releasing survey research done with Harris Interactive that addresses mobile shopping behavior.

The survey (n=2,029) was conducted online in July, with US adults, and "measured consumer sentiment towards using mobile devices as it relates to shopping, sales promotions and impulse purchases." At the top level, here's what Placecast found:

Most people make "impulse purchases" with some regularity: "Nearly a quarter of adults owning cell phones [22%] make this type of impulse purchase at least once per week or more often. Among women with cell phones ages 18 to 44, 27% report making at least one impulse purchase a week; among men 18 - 34, this number rises to 31%."

For this impulse purchase group:

About 2-in-5 of these adults would like to receive alerts about sales for:
-Movie/event tickets (43%)
-Weather information (39%)
-Clearance or liquidation sales (37%)

About another 3-in-10 of these adults would want to be alerted about:
-Pizza (31%)
-Clothes (30%)
-Fast food (27%)

About one quarter would want to be notified about:
-Electronics (25%)
-Music (24%)
-Happy hour specials or bar and night club offers (21%)

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The apparent bottom line here is that lots of people are interested in getting LBS and deals information on their mobile phones via alerts. The chart above reveals the hierarchy of shopper interests around alerts.

Last year HipCricket released survey findings that are broadly consistent with those above around offers and mobile coupons. And in our survey work we've found that about 42% of mobile users are interested in offers or deals from retailers or merchants from whom they opt-in to receive information. 

The numbers are pretty consistent that there's a sizable audience, approaching 50% of users, interested in mobile deals/offers/alerts. The Placecast survey argues that these people are also open to "impulse purchase" influence via their mobile devices. 

Aardvark Now a 'Social Search Engine'

Aardvark has relaunched its site and rebranded to a degree as a "social search engine." The site is sexier but the service is the same. I've also written about this at Search Engine Land.  One can now access Aardvark via Vark.com, Twitter, IM and the iPhone. 

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Aardvark competes with a range of companies, but most directly with companies such as ChaCha, kgb and of course Google, because of its ubiquity. My guess is that Aardvark would see itself as a unique company in many respects but in the context of "human powered search" it has a number of other firms to contend with. The challenge for everyone in this space is how to differentiate from Google and establish a service that is more:

  • Useful
  • Trusted
  • Efficient/Responsive/Specific
  • Fun

Siri is coming soon too; it's not human-powered but will also be potentially competitive with Aardvark, kgb, et al. Here are our previous articles about Aardvark:

New TMP-comScore Survey Data on Local Mobile Search

For the past three years ad agency/CMR TMP Directional Marketing (and now its search agency 15 Miles) have been studying local search behavior, using comScore's panel. During the past two years there's been a local-mobile component to the survey (n=4,000 US respondents). The chart below shows use of mobile devices to find local information (directory assistance is one of the choices): 

What the data reflect is that among these respondents 60% of smartphone owners have conducted a local search through an app or browser, while only 19% of non-smartrphone owners have. This goes to data pricing and cost factors as well as usability.

One interesting fact: smartphone owners (in this survey) don't seem to be substituting the mobile Internet for directory assistance usage. That may be because they tend to be more affluent and less price sensitive. But compare that with the attitudes shown in our April, 2009 survey (second graphic below) about the relationship between traditional DA and the mobile Internet.

Picture 18

Source: comScore-TMPDM/15 Miles (10/09)

By contrast, we found that smartphone owners and those intending to buy smartphones were in general agreement with the statement that the mobile Internet was a substitute for traditional 411:

“Now that I can get the Internet  on my mobile phone I no longer need  to call 411”

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Source: Opus Research April, 2009 (n=707 North American mobile users)

Search Will Not Be 73% of Mobile Ad Spend

Because of a research note sent out last week by Mark Mahaney at Citigoup the BIA/Kelsey mobile ad numbers were picked up in Business Insider and at TechCrunch. However, they're based on basic and in my view incomplete thinking about the market. As I've argued before forecasts are primarily a marketing vehicle and in one sense don't matter. They're almost like the "how many angels fit on the head of a pin" discussions of the Medieval European clergy. But because some numbers get repeated and become established it's important to be thoughtful and as rigorous as possible in developing them. In particular among the Kelsey numbers paid search is not going to constitute 73% of all mobile advertising in the US in 2013. 

First the numbers: 

2008:

Kelsey:

SMS: 63%
Search: 24%
Display: 13%

Compare eMarketer: 

SMS: 60%
Search: 22%
Display: 18% 

2013:

Kelsey:

SMS: 9%
Search: 73%
Display: 18%

Compare eMarketer: 

SMS: 28%
Search: 35%
Display: 37% 

Today display represents 22% and search 47% of the online ad spend. In recent quarters there has been a move toward search and away from display to a degree. Display prices online, until recently, also took a pretty severe beating because of excess inventory. Thus a big bet on search in mobile by analogy seems to make sense. Search is proven, search is safe. There's also the logical priority of local search in mobile, which occupies a disproportionate volume of mobile search revenues in the Kelsey forecast. 

But unless you define "search" extremely broadly to be any directional-intent lookup, using a variety of methods and modalities, this 73% figure is unlikely to come to pass. It's just too large a share. In addition, as TechCrunch points out, Kelsey is effectively arguing that 73% of mobile ad revenues in the US will be owned by Google as the dominant player. I'm certainly bullish on local and search more generally but these projections are insufficiently sensitive to potential future market developments and the more complex nature of mobile. 

Google and Yahoo are both putting ads in mobile search results on smartphones as a matter of routine. In this sense the issue of how mobile search will be monetized is conceptually solved: online campaigns simply go into mobile with limited additional effort by the advertiser. Mobile clicks on paid search results = mobile search revenues. However there are only one or two ads in Google mobile results that are "above the fold" compared to as many as eight or so online. Better CTRs in mobile ultimately may compensate for smaller numbers of ads to some degree. 

However, the conventional PC based search experience as it exists today will not prevail on the mobile handset over time -- it could in the world of eReaders and tablets if they catch on and become mainstream Internet access devices. But the mobile "search" experience will evolve. Competition guarantees it. There are a range of mobile apps and experiences that use a browse approach but also represent a "directional intent" lookup: Yelp's "restaurants" category that shows nearby places to eat. Is this a mobile "search"? yes and no.

There's also the question of the distribution of ads and ad revenues from apps vs. the mobile Web. Mobile apps are largely monetized and supported by display ad networks, including Google AdSense. And relatively soon, like search, online display campaigns will be more easily ported over the mobile. This will create a great deal more relevant display ad inventory. However there are some challenges that must be overcome before mobile display can truly fulfill its potential. But those challenges will be solved. 

Recently online display CPMs have fallen. And with display there's the question of whether the model is pure CPM, CPC or even CPA. If CPC prevails, which it rightfully should not, then the display contribution will be lower than if most mobile display is billed on a CPM basis. There's another post coming on why CTRs are a bad metric for mobile display. ComScore and the OPA have recently made that point several times.

Regardless, display (and rich media) will play a significant role in mobile advertising over the long term. That will include mobile Web and apps. How will AR be monetized? Both by search and display. Views through the camera will offer display ads, brand logos (not unlike what Google is doing with Maps on the iPhone), coupons and deals.

Then there's the question of definitions and what counts as "advertising" vs. "mobile marketing." SMS will have an ongoing role in mobile marketing, especially as a customer acquisition and loyalty tool and as a way to connect traditional media and mobile, but it may not turn out to be a huge "advertising" revenue generator. What about app development? Branded apps are both marketing and advertising vehicles but app development, clearly a mobile marketing expenditure, is not "advertising."

I'm trying to illustrate that there are lots of variables and a host of developments to come in mobile. Mobile is analogous to the PC but distinct in important ways and will follow its own evoluationary path. Search, in the sense of a directional lookup, is going to be a prominent feature of the mobile user experience but it won't be limited to a search box and blue links on Google (think about QR codes as as both search and display). Lots of "searching" in mobile will be going on outside of traditional search engines -- and that behavior will be monetized in different ways: sponsorships, coupons, deals, display ads, video, as well as conventional text ads.

Google Adds Unified Search Box on Android

Google has expanded search on Android. Now the homescreen search box offers a spotlight-like search capability that allows users to search their contacts, handsets and the mobile Web. According to the Google Mobile Blog:

Rather than giving you one search box for the web and another for your phone, QSB provides one single search box to let you search content on your phone, including apps, contacts, and browser history, as well as content from the web, like personalized search suggestions, local business listings, stock quotes, weather, and flight status, all without opening the browser. QSB even learns from your habits and provides faster access to the items you search for and use most often (by, for example, moving them higher on the suggestions list).

This "universal" search functionality makes search a much more useful tool that extends beyond mobile Web content and reinforces the use of the search box. Otherwise, mobile search is an adequate but often frustrating experience. That's one reason why Google is developing alternative ways to get at content and has put so many resources into voice search and recently introduced the local browse functionality

Here's a video demo tour of the new Quick Search Box:

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Bridging the PC-Mobile Divide

Google and Yahoo! are both doing a range of things in mobile that connect the PC experience to the handset more directly. I've recently written about this with Google's local results in mobile. But there are other examples as well. Yahoo! does ad targeting from PC to mobile if users are signed in on the Yahoo! mobile site.

This bridging between mobile and PC is consistent with a "one Web" (Opera's phrase) vision that both companies are explicitly promoting. To that end, yesterday Google enabled its recently introduced PC "search options" in mobile, allowing users to refine or fliter search results as one can on the PC. Here are some screen images from the Google Mobile blog:

 Picture 6

While this may be helpful in select situations it doesn't represent a big enhancement to the mobile search experience on Google in my view. It's more important as another example of the PC-mobile crossover and attempt to leverage the PC experience to build mobile user loyalty by providing familiar tools and capabilities. 

Yahoo! isn't exactly duplicating the PC experience in this way but it is seeking to build a familiar experience in mobile. Yesterday Yahoo! announced some changes and upgrades for its mobile homepage. It's now available on 1,900 mobile devices and there are a range of improvements (including more video) for smartphones:

  • Dynamically updated content with pagination – without using additional screen real estate or refreshing, users are able to access a wealth of content. For example, the ‘Today’ module now surfaces ten of the leading stories from around the Web and gives users immediate access to 48 of the top news, business, sports and entertainment articles directly to consumers’ fingertips.
  • An enhanced RSS reader –   that now supports photos with captions, and adds the ability to scroll through more headlines from favorite feeds without having to refresh content.
  • Enhanced mobile video integration – with one click consumers can watch streaming video including the Yahoo! produced Tech Ticker – a rundown of the latest financial news, and Prime Time in No Time – a recap of last night’s TV shows, as well as news, entertainment and sports videos from the Associated Press.
  • Enhanced movie results – movie posters now show you exactly what’s playing at a theatre near you, and with a few simple clicks you can watch the trailer, read reviews from Yahoo! and Rotten Tomatoes, and even buy tickets from participating theatres – all directly from your mobile device.

 Picture 7

Yahoo! has built a terrific mobile experience. The "My Favorites" functionality in a way conceptually duplicates the personalized homepage experience that Yahoo! introduced on the PC, although it's not a direct crossover. My guess is it will eventually become that.

Stepping back, Yahoo!, Google (and Microsoft) are seeking to take their massive audiences online and port them to mobile (especially smartphone) devices. This is also true of Facebook. In the mobile traffic reports we see how the brand strength of these companies (Microsoft to a lesser degree) is translating into mobile user behavior and loyalty. As they continue to invest in mobile the PC-mobile connect becomes stronger and harder for companies that don't have that strength to get attention. Witness, for example, how Facebook and MySpace (to some degree) are starting to squeeze out all the mobile-only social networks because they have no brand or usage presence on the PC. 

WinMo, Bing and Voice Search

We're waiting to see the Bing upgrade of Microsoft's mobile search client app. The old Live Search app offered speech and was very good. It didn't get the recognition it deserved. But Bing is higher profile and has an opportunity to grab more attention and usage. The screenshot to the right is a preview of the look of the client.

Separately Tellme is integrated, from what I understand, pretty deeply into WinMo 6.5. Nobody really discussed this in the reviews I saw yesterday of the updated OS. However Clint Boulton at Google Watch offers a video demo of Tellme running on the new Samsung Intrepid (a Windows Phone). Tellme's capabilities extend beyond just search into other functions on the device (e.g., dictating SMS messages). 

Tellme (and maybe Bing) are assets that can potentially differentiate Microsoft's OS, mobile services and experience from Google. But that's contingent on the user experience and degree of integration. It has to be broader and more holistic; in other words not just a search box and list of search results. I've long believed that Tellme is an asset that's under-exploited by Microsoft. 

I'm eager to test out 6.5 and Tellme on the new devices. I'm also eager to see what the updated Bing search client will be like. I like the last one but I no longer own a Windows Phone. Accordingly, the company needs to think about making a Bing app for the iPhone, RIM and Android as well as Windows Mobile -- it needs to reach the users where they are today. 

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Aloqa Launches on the iPhone

Aloqa has launched on the iPhone. Characterized as "app store within an app store," we wrote about it originally here.

Without having had the time to test and use it extensively I can say that it is much nicer looking on the iPhone than in its Android incarnation and quite different vs. the Android app.

ChaCha Launches Coupon Service, Enters Crowded Space

Seeking to both capitalize on the immense popularity of coupons and to also diversify its revenue base, ChaCha launched an online and mobile coupons service earlier today:

ChaChaCoupons.com makes it easy for people to search for local companies and offers by business type, area of the city, alphabetical listing, newest deals, and more, in a simple, friendly interface. Site visitors can print coupons at their desktop or send them to their mobile phones to be redeemed at their favorite businesses. They can also send a coupon via text messaging to a ChaCha in-store coupon printer. At launch, hundreds of local offers are on the site with special coupons and discounts. ChaChaCoupons.com has 13 different main categories for deals ranging from home services, to beauty, to restaurants and beyond. 

We've written very extensively about mobile coupons and their appeal in the past. There's lots of data about coupon interest and response in my recent post on HipCricket's introduction of mobile coupons, so I won't repeat that information here. 

The move is a good one for ChaCha, the questions I have go to integration into the existing user experience and whether the site will be able to develop or acquire the volume of coupon "inventory" required for a successful offering. It appears. however, there's a good deal at launch: 

Picture 258

Monday Morning Mobile News Roundup

There's a good deal of news this morning and not a lot of time to expand on it. I will if I can later. Right now, here are the headlines and a few comments . . .

T-Mobile in its bid to become the US carrier most closely associated with Android, said that it would carry the Samsung Behold II, the Korean OEM's first Android handset. In addition the company is trying to boost enterprise visibillity with a big WiFi push.

Google joins the Adobe Open Screen Project to put flash on mobile devices. Now Adobe has secured flash on everyone's handsets/platforms but the iPhone. We'll see if Apple eventually is forced to roll out flash by virtue of its coming availability on competitive handsets. The Android Hero already offers flash support, and so does mobile browser Skyfire. 

Tomorrow is the big WinMo 6.5 launch day but AT&T's HTC Pure and Tilt 2 are already on sale (the Pure for $149) with Window Mobile 6.5. Note the aggressive pricing: smartphone pricing is coming down and the more it does the more adoption there will be. The more adoption, the more mobile Internet engagement . . .

VoIP provider Vonage is releasing BlackBerry and iPhone apps

The NY Times reports on how more and more apps have a marketing angle and how companies are embracing them as marketing tools. It also covers the history of the tablet.  

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Update: the iPhone will get flash after all: 

The next version of Flash Authoring will enable developers to create stand-alone iPhone applications using Flash technologies (including ActionScript 3). These applications are just like any other iPhone application and can be distributed via the Apple iTunes Application store. Indeed, there are already a number of applications created with Flash on the store today.

One thing I want to stress is that this is for standalone applications, and is not the Flash Player for mobile Safari (which is something we continue to work on). The end result is a native iPhone application, and not a SWF that runs in the browser.

Interesting Developments in Mobile Mapping, Advertising and Search

It flew under just about everyone's radar when Apple purchased Placebase earlier this year. But the first fruits of that acquisition has led to a tremendous amount of discussion among industry analysts. Most thought positions Placebase as a "Google Maps killer", but that's highly unlikely given the number of local search-based applications (including Goog411) that use the Google Maps database to support location-aware query-and-response activity. Over at Screenwerk, I2Go's Greg Sterling gives a telling example of how ads are being baked into links generated when iPhone users generate queries on GoogleMaps.

It is a statement by Google that it has a mechanism to generate revenue from location-aware applications on the iPhone. At the same time it demonstrates how Google might be vulerable to location-based attacks on new revenue streams if the likes of Placebase or Bing Maps is able to displace it on key mobile platforms (specifically the iPhone or the forthcoming Windows Phone).

Google Improves Local Mobile Search with Simple Yet Effective Changes

In simple but still dramatic fashion, Google has upgraded browser based local search on mobile handsets. It has also tied Maps on the PC to mobile in a very effective way. And recognizing the limitations of keying in queries into a search box on a mobile handset, Google has taken a page from its Places Directory Android app and incorporated search/browse by category (with location awareness).

These changes don't appear to be major at first blush, but they are and make Google's browser-based local search on mobile devices much more formidable than it was yesterday.

This is also Google acting on its philosophical position that most activity in mobile will ultimately happen through the browser and not via apps. Accordingly these changes enable Google to provide a uniform, cross-platform experience on a wide range of mobile devices . . .

The rest of this post is on Search Engine Land. (Here's the accompanying demo video.)

HipCricket Debuts Enhanced SMS Coupons

SMS Marketing firm HipCricket announced the launch of a hosted mobile coupon offering for retailers and fast-food restaurants, also known in the industry as "quick service restaurants." From the HipCricket release that went out earlier today:

This new enhanced HipCricket mobile coupon offering provides consumers with single use promotional codes that are fully trackable by any point of sale (POS) system that accepts VISA or MasterCard. It also features a specific solution for quick service restaurants, QSR Plus. QSR Plus adds creative and ongoing consulting to help businesses maintain and increase customer loyalty, establish one-to-one communication with their prospects and customers and, ultimately, increase average customer spend and frequency . . .

For consumers, the route to a mobile coupon is simple: a consumer sees a call to action and texts the “keyword” to a short code; the consumer receives a mobile voucher including an eight-digit unique code and a promotional message; the consumer takes voucher to store to receive discount/offer; the unique code is entered into the POS system via cash register or card reader; the validity of voucher is checked in real time with a coupon server; if the voucher is valid, it is redeemed; if not valid, a detailed message is returned for checkout management. 

Coupons and deals are a very hot segment right now. And mobile offers is one of the areas that consumers are most receptive to in the abstract as well as in practice. Here are some recent data from AOL and Compete:

AOL/Universal McCann (of the 38% who responded to mobile ads on smartphones): 

Picture 187

(n=1,800 smartphone owners who used the mobile Web at least once a week).

Compete (smartphone users): 

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(n=970 smartphone users)

Finally from a recent study about e-mail and SMS marketing, so-called millennials (18-25) were found to be highly willing to receive opt-in marketing messages in SMS. Here are the categories that millennials were interested in receiving offers from more than once a day:

  1. online merchants (34%),
  2. entertainment (32%),
  3. sports (28%),
  4. special offers from traditional (offline) retailers (26%),
  5. electronics information (21%), and
  6. telecommunications information (21%).