Local Search

Google Taps Safari for Location on the iPhone

As has been discussed, the iPhone 3.0 software update included location awareness in the Safari browser. That means that developers and publishers can incorporate current user location into their sites without having to develop a native iPhone app.

Google has now introduced its My Location feature for Google.com on Safari. It has been available through the Google Mobile App for the iPhone since the introduction of the app. It's also available via the browser on Android phones.

As a result of this move, local search results are slightly different on Google.com mobile vs. the PC site, where IP targeting is used to determine location (though on Chrome and Firefox now triangulation is used as well). Several searches I performed showed different ads (mobile vs. PC), with the mobile ads being more locally relevant.

The chief benefit to users is that they can enter a query without location and get locally accurate results (e.g., zoo, sushi). I don't have figures on the breakdown among iPhone Google users on the distribution of searches between the iPhone app and the browser. I would guess that much of Google search on the iPhone is coming first through the app and second through the search box in the upper right of Safari and third through people going to Google.com and entering a query. I could be wrong about that.  

Regardless, location is very important to the quality of the mobile search user experience and Google's ultimate strategy is not about developing native apps for the range of smartphone platforms but about the browser as development platform across phones. My Location in the browser is consistent with that broader worldview and approach. 

Power to the Pedestrians and Postal Codes - Announcements from Maponics and Urban Mapping

We've reached a refresh cycle for local mapping infrastructure providers as announcements have arrived from both neighborhoods specialist Maponics and rival location and direction finding company Urban Mapping. To support the most accurate ZIP code-based targeting of local package and parcel delivery, marketing campaigns and mailing efforts, Maponics has issued a new suite of ZIP Code and ZIP plus 4 products and services. The products are already in use by the likes of DHL, UPS, FedEX and the United States Postal Service. It can be delivered in one of many file formats or on a "per dip" or transactional basis through the Maponics "Spatiial API". Today, Urban Mapping adds a number of enhanced features to its RouteServer™ product, which enables service providers to provide the turn-by-turn directions that take into account whether its users are walking, driving or taking a mass transit option. One of the key features is the addition of real time data on buses, trains or subways which will provide the basis for dynamic changes in routing. The service also supports narratives in multiple languages. Neither company is a household name even though their services are baked into Internet-based directories and utilities provided by the leading search engines, Internet Yellow Pages and transit authorities. Their efforts to augment plain vanilla maps with real-time traffic data (in the case of Urban Mapping) and direct conversion to "neighborhood" location (in the case of Maponics) make the process of finding out who's nearby, what's nearby and how to get there better and better.

Gartner (Wrongly) Predicts Increase in Subscription LBS

IT research firm Gartner says that consumer subscription-based LBS services (e.g., navigation/friend finders) will double and continue to grow. According to the company's release:

Worldwide consumer location-based services (LBS) subscribers and revenue are on pace to double in 2009, according to Gartner, Inc. Despite an expected 4 per cent decrease in mobile device sales, LBS subscribers are forecast to grow from 41.0 million in 2008 to 95.7 million in 2009 while revenue is anticipated to increase from $998.3 million in 2008 to $2.2 billion in 2009.

Gartner defines LBS as services that use information about the location of mobile devices, derived from cellular networks, Wi-Fi access points or via satellite links to receivers in (or connected to) the handsets themselves. Examples are services that enable friends to find each other, parents to locate their children, mapping and navigation. Location-based services may be offered by mobile network carriers or other providers. They are also known as location-aware services.

Correctly the company qualifies all this by saying that free LBS services will gain and eat into LBS subscription revenues. But the company doesn't take that far enough.

Those that are willing to pay for PND devices and navigation subscriptions will be a tiny minority in a very short period. Free (assuming a not-free data plan) will all but destroy the paid market unless those consumer fees are one-time payments or truly nominal monthly subscriptions. 

Too many folks will be offering maps and turn-by-turn directions for free (e.g., Google, MapQuest) and there will be a number of free friend finder products that will replace the paid "family locator" subscription products in the market today. In short absent some super-compelling, unimaginably fantastic applications (which Gartner is counting on), the paid LBS market is going to get smaller and smaller . . . not bigger.

Mingler: 'Close-Range' Social App Rides on Top of Existing Online Networks

Israeli company MobiApp announced that it received a small funding round from Maayan Ventures, an Israeli government-funded VC. The company has a social networking mobile app/client called Mingler, currently operating only is Tel Aviv, Israel. Here's how the funder describes Mingler:

Mingler enables creating close range social networks which interface the WEB.

When a user enters the social event he will receive a message in his mobile which will ask him if he wishes to connect to the local network, after he confirms he will join the Mingler network.

The user doesn't need to have any prior application installed; he will get the application on the spot by the air with no cost (based on Bluetooth).

The Mingler lets the user fill his local profile and in the future this profile will be available on his web social network. The users can send (and receive) personal messages/Instant messaging (like SMS but without charge) to his network friends and of course search, filter etc'. All the users are in the same location which is defined by approx. 100m radius (can be extended with aggregation) are connected to the local network. This creates a free local network.

The Mingler website will provide lots of web/location services to Mingler members for example: getting the location of your friend and sending them free messages from the web, it'll give the option to see who is in specific event and more.
Moreover Mingler will allow the users to interface with their WEB social networks(FaceBook, mySpace, linkedIn…).

The application and the services are free for the users but it is based on ads, this gives advertisers the option to advertise to specific market focused by: gender, location, age, company segment, position in organization, etc.

At the moment there isn't ad inventory "granular" enough to fulfill the promise of these temporary, very local networks envisioned by MobiApp. That will come as more LBS ads are assembled "on the fly" dynamically. There are a few use cases one can think of for Mingler: B2B (conferences), colleges or other institutional settings and dating.

The fact that this rides on top of existing social networks is a significant factor. Stand-alone mobile social networks will find it almost impossible to compete with established online players such as Facebook and Twitter. There may be one or two exceptions that succeed.

Services like Loopt and Google Latitude are competing friend-finder/dating platforms. 

Aardvark Taps Twitter as Another Entry Point

When it came out of beta, last week, I wrote about "answer community" Aardvark. The service is building a network -- or leveraging existing networks like Facebook -- to enable people to respond to questions that search engines can't answer as easily or well. In my prior post above I discuss my experience when I asked Aardvark (Vark) for recommendations on "generally available pinot noir wines for under $15."  

I've also written up a piece this morning at Search Engine Land on how Aardvark is starting to use Twitter as another "entry point" or onramp for the service: 

picture-25

You can now sign in to Aardvark using Twitter (as you can with Facebook Connect) and ask questions through Twitter, privately via direct message or publicly. The latter scenario will send the question to Aardvark as well as one's own Twitter "followers," broadening the pool of potential responses. 

At one point I thought a Vark-like service or similar capability would emerge at Twitter. But I no longer think that Twitter will put any effort into formally developing it. 

The LMS/Opus crew met with Aardvark yesterday and talked through a range of issues, including:

  • Mobile access
  • Voice input
  • Monetization 

Voice isn't "quite there yet" so it's going to be awhile before people can speak their queries. Mobile input is already available via IM and email. But the Vark team recognizes mobile as a primary use case for the service. In terms of monetization, CEO Max Ventilla spoke about affiliate links and hand offs being mapped to the content of user queries and answers. This makes sense and would be potentially unintrusive. The challenge for Vark is volume and scale to generate any meaningful revenues from such deals. The team will probably need to look at other monetization scenarios later as well.

A great many of the queries that pass through Vark are going to be about places and things to do, making it a kind of local-social search tool. Indeed, travel and entertainment will be primary use cases for the service. 

There are now a number of companies that in one way or another are trying to provide human answers/responses to queries. These include ChaCha, kgb's Text411, Yahoo! Answers and a number of online Q&A communities. The site that Aardvark is most like is the original incarnation of Mosio, which is changing and taking on a more enterprise flavor. 

ChaCha is trying to find the right balance of humans and automation to control costs as ads ramp up. Text411 is a consumer pays service, which might limit demand. Yahoo! Answers, which is now showing near real-time response, offers inconsistent quality and generally anonymous answers (although you can invite friends to be a part of your network). 

For its part Vark may have challenges generating revenue, although the affiliate model conceptually makes lots of sense. However the Vark consumer experience is very strong. Community members are not getting paid to respond and have lots of control over how often they receive questions and what types of questions they get. So there are controls to avoid Q&A fatigue. 

Another interesting thing here is the notion of decentralization implicit in the model. Vark doesn't need a massive audience of users (me --> the world) to provide a good user experience. The site needs people to bring their immediate networks (via email or Facebook).

If my friends can't answer my queries, their friends probably can. Over time a landscape of smaller communities connected through Vark will create the kind of scale the site is hoping to achieve. But I only get and respond to questions that flow within my extended network. Consequently the experience could work quite well at 10K users, a 100K or, eventually, 20 million (or more) users.  I'm not asking the world for a response, just my network and their friends. 

There were three of us at the meeting yesterday with Aardvark. Everyone uniformly was impressed with the consumer experience and the thinking behind it. However there was some skepticism about Vark's ability to monetize effectively. Of the three of us I was probably the one who'd consumed the most kool-aid. But I'm genuinely impressed with Aardvark. 

QSR Chain Qdoba Does Mobile Rewards with Tetherball

Qdoba is the latest "quick service" restaurant to push into mobile. Competitor Chipotle offers online and mobile ordering. Qdoba is using Tetherball for its mobile marketing and loyalty program. According to the press release out this morning:

Tetherball’s fully customizable permission-based text messaging mobile marketing platform allows brands to intimately interact with customers through their mobile phones and allows loyal customers to benefit instantly from offers. The Qdoba Mobile Rewards program kicked off at an Indianapolis market festival during which nearly 20 percent of festival attendees engaged the mobile program – indicating strong acceptance of offers made via mobile.

Unlike other mobile marketing programs, no downloading of special software or an expensive mobile data plan is necessary. The solution is simple and it works on any phone. Tetherball clients’ mobile loyalty programs have seen up to 24 percent redemption rates on initial opt-in offers followed by 10 percent redemption rates on proceeding offers — substantially better results than the less than two percent redemption rates offered by traditional paper and online coupons.

In the restaurants at the point of sale, consumers are prompted to text the word “BURRITO” to a short code to opt-in to the program. They then receive promotions via SMS that also direct them to nearby restaurant locations.

Fast food restaurants, because of their focus on younger audiences, are among the early adopters of mobile marketing, promotions and mobile loyalty programs. And, indeed, as the PR materials above suggest, these programs do work. 

Here's our prior write-up of Tetherball and its novel RFID couponing program. 

Google Doing Display Ads for Mobile App

Perhaps they were there before and I just didn't notice. But yesterday I saw two ads for Google's iPhone app, one on a blog online and another in the new Fluent Mobile news app. The latter was on the AdMob network. Below is what the online version of the ad looked like. Why is Google advertising its mobile app, which has been in the top 20 in the iTunes store for many months?

Despite the public confidence of Google and others who see little future distinction between the Internet and the mobile Internet (and user behavior accordingly), I think it's not a foregone conclusion that everyone will be using search in the same way on mobile devices that they do on PCs today. Mobile is a different animal and the mobile market is quite fluid and evolving rapidly. 

I find myself using Google's voice search on my Android (HTC Magic) phone quite a bit -- especially voice search in Google Maps -- and like it. But on my iPod Touch (on a WiFi connection) I use apps and bookmarks far more than I use traditional search. However I don't have access to the iPhone's voice search capability on that device. If I did, my behavior might be different. 

On Android devices search is on the home screen and, given that, it's a bigger part of the Android experience than on the iPhone, notwithstanding the recent addition of spotlight. If we do get the promised 18 Android devices and they sell well, we may see search become a prominent navigational tool in the way it is on the PC. However, if apps become the dominant way that people access sites and content on smartphones, where most of the mobile Internet "action" is taking place, conventional search may become a "secondary" tool. 

Then there are now obscure "search" tools that may gain mainstream adoption down the line, such as the camera as doorway to "augmented reality" or as a barcode scanner. And a range of others are working on mobile searching without search: offering up data and content based on location or context without entry of a formal search query. There are a range of iPhone apps that do this using a browse approach (business category X "nearby"). Geodelic is pursuing this model as the back end for T-Mobile's new "Sherpa" app

None of this means that paid "search" ads or Google won't be successful in mobile. It means that user behavior and the market may evolve in ways that are distinct from PC-based Internet activity. But we'll see won't we.  

google mobile ad

Dell Making Netbook More Like a Smartphone

Earlier today I wrote about a rumored Dell "mobile Internet device" that might use the Android OS. But this afternoon Dell announced that it would be integrating the "Dell Wireless 700 location solution" into its Mini 10 netbook. The Wireless 700 location solution consists of GPS + triangulation: 

[A]n internal GPS card with built-in Wi-Fi locationing.  These two technologies work in tandem, which means the technology works both indoors and out. In other words, it can calculate your position using Wi-Fi access points or using GPS satellites. The Dell Wireless 700 is powered by Broadcom's A-GPS and Skyhook Wireless' Wi-Fi position solutions.

So what is Dell going to do with this user-location information? Two things to start, turn by turn navigation and a local content portal:

On the software side, the Dell Wireless 700 location system features CoPilot navigation software to provide turn by turn directions. I offers things like 2D and 3D map views, lets you save up to 50 addresses for one trip, offers trip optimization to provide the most efficient route, can provide instant detour information when you encounter expected delays and provides continuously updated information about the trip.

Another piece of the location-based services that we're bringing to market is a location aware portal. For it, we've partnered with Skyhook Wireless and Loki.  Loki is a browser plugin that comes preconfigured for Internet Explorer and Firefox. It works with Loki-supported sites to improve local search functionality by providing you details from nearby restaurants store locations and your friends' location information from supported social media sites like Flickr, Loopt and  BrightKite.

The location aware portal looks like this:

Picture 7

It includes content from a range of partners and sources including Topix, Zvents, Twitter, Yelp, Weatherbug and a number of others. What's interesting here is how Dell is essentially approaching this netbook as if it were a smartphone and equipping it with location-awareness and widgets or apps of a sort with this location dashboard.

However this research from NPD on netbooks found that roughly 60% of the consumers surveyed never took their devices out of the house. But that still means that 40% did.

I think these tools and services reflect some progressive thinking at Dell about the features and use cases of the netbook.

Aardvark Launches: Social Search, Social DA, Answer Community

Ever since we wrote about Mosio in October of 2007 we've been watching and waiting for someone to really break-through with a human-powered mobile search utility that can archive scale. ChaCha and kgb to varying degrees have done that and represent a hybrid between traditional directory assistance and Web search; one can ask any question of a quasi-professional human in the background, while some query responses are automated via a database. 

Yahoo! Answers uses community to answer questions but answers don't show up in real time; although Yahoo!'s Marc Davis has told me that increasingly there are responses in near-real time from the community. 

Twitter and Facebook have the potential to evolve or develop angles that enable them to be used as Q&A services -- what I've called in the past "social DA." But those use cases are not fully developed on either site. 

Now Aardvark, which we can call an "answer community," is trying to bring all these things together. I wrote about "Vark" on Screenwerk in March:

Vark is a private beta Q&A service that leverages IM and tries to organize people into networks and get them to self classify around areas of expertise . . . It’s not that far removed from Mosio (w/o the mobile dimension however) or ChaCha or the new text411. Yahoo Answers is also a cousin of this service . . .

This weekend the NY Times wrote a piece on Vark to coincide with the service coming out of private beta:

It begins with the social network that you’ve established elsewhere. Presently, it requires Facebook; other networks will be added, it says.

Once signed up, you submit a question to Aardvark via an instant message or e-mail, and its software looks among your Facebook friends, and friends-of-your-friends, for volunteers to answer it. You can exclude any friends from the potential contact list.

Those friends-of-friends may turn out to be a great fountain of hitherto untapped information. For example, none of your 200 Facebook “friends” may have recently stayed in Napa and be able to recommend a bed-and-breakfast. But if each of their friends can be tapped, the pool of prospective wine-country authorities jumps from 200 into the tens of thousands.

You wouldn’t want to bother those thousands, however, with your question about Napa B.& B.’s. Aardvark has devised ways to drastically narrow the search, asking only those who are most likely to have an answer, and asking only a few of them at a time, protecting your network of volunteers from being asked too often.

The Aardvark system assumes that no single answer will serve for everyone who poses the same question. It uses information about interests supplied by registrants and from outside social networking profiles to match interests, demographic characteristics, common affiliations and other factors. It also checks whether prospective advice-givers are presently signed into one of three instant-messaging services. (The company says an iPhone version is in the works, too.)

Thus the availability of "friends of friends" and the specialized routing of questions are the "secret sauce" here. This morning I asked about Pinot Noir recommendations:

 Picture 10Picture 9

Picture 8

Within about two minutes I got this answer in email:

 Picture 14

And it turns out to be a very good wine:

 Picture 15

This is a very specific question and answer. However in this particular case Google has arguably even better results for this question. But in many specialized contexts, or where trusted opinions are needed, there won't be equally good results (or any perhaps) at the top of Google SERPs.

Vark is trying to create scale without the costs associated with a ChaCha or kgb model. But it's also trying to provide the "real time" response of those services lacking in a more conventional online Q&A service such as Yahoo! Answers. Getting it right -- not an easy thing -- could drive huge mobile query volumes. ChaCha has seen dramatic growth since becoming a mobile service, with many people doing in excess of 40 or more queries a month. 

Screenwerk Digest: Krillion and Shopping.com; Google Maps Morph into City Tours

Greg has been posting some very interesting items over at Screenwerk. He notes that Krillion and Shopping.com (owned by eBay) have collaborated to introduce a widget that helps searchers find local merchants for the products they seek online. Called the Krillion 360 Product locator, it is not positioned as a mobile utility, but the transition from online search to offline purchase is a natural for mobile search.

Likewise, the Screenwerk feature on "City Tours", which is under development (ergo available for use) at Google Labs is a neat way to organize one's local itinerary. To me the mental bridge to a shopping tour and presentation on a browser based phone is a natural. As I recall, Local Matters includes a similar planning service in its Destination Search(TM) suite. It's one of those services that requires a bit of marketing to reinforce regular use. 

Verve Adds More Publishers to Mobile Network

Verve Wireless is behind the AP iPhone app and is enabling many newspaper publishers' mobile efforts. Today the company announced that it had expanded its roster of clients:

Verve Wireless, the leading provider of mobile publishing technologies to local media companies, today announced partnerships with Media News Group, A.H. Belo Corporation, Hearst Corporation, and Cox Newspapers to mobilize local media properties such as The Denver Post, The Dallas Morning News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Palm Beach Post, and Examiner.com. Verve now mobilizes over 450 local media properties, covering the top 200 designated market areas in the U.S. and continues its international expansion by partnering with the Khaleej Times of the United Arab Emirates.

These properties also constitute a local-mobile ad network. In addition, the company announced that its platform now automatically generates iPhone optimized versions of publisher sites/content for the Safari browser:

Verve rolled out enhancements to their platform that automatically creates a version of the publisher’s site optimized for the new Safari browser on iPhones, as well as providing mobile video delivery across the leading smartphones in the market. The iPhone module allows publishers of all sizes and markets to participate in the fastest growing smartphone segment. Publisher’s can create a specialized version of their own mobile site to take advantage of the Safari browser’s unique capabilities, such as location awareness, automatic short cut that places an app icon on the phone for quick access, exceptional layout and navigation elements, and world class rich media delivery. The demand for this new module was stemming from news organizations like The Orange County Register who see in excess of 40% of their mobile web traffic coming from iPhones. 

As we wrote before, when it comes to newspapers and magazines, smartphones are the new print

MSFT: Mobile Will Be 5-10% of Global Ad Spend in 5 Years

Speaking in Cannes, France Scott Howe, VP of the Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group at Microsoft, said that he believed mobile advertising "will account for 5-10 percent of global media ad spending within five years." That's quite a bullish prediction but we like it. 

Microsoft also recently announced that Hyatt is the inaugural client for its mobile partnership with Verizon. Here's a screen showing one of the Hyatt ads:

Hyatt ad on MSN

Here are some Bing-Verizon screens (Bing is now the default search provider on Verizon). This is mobile Web.

 Bing 1

Yellowpages.com (AT&T), as Microsoft's partner, is a huge beneficiary of the deal and is the sole (current) provider of local ads:

Bing 2

We're waiting for a rebranded and updated version of the Live Search client, which was very useful and effective but under-appreciated. This time around it will likely get more attention, given that Bing is having some initial consumer success and as part of the multi-million dollar Bing ad campaign. It will also probably offer an improved user interface/experience as well.  

Turn by Turn iPhone Apps Spell the End of PND Market

Personal navigation and GPS-aided turn by turn directions are moving from hardware to software. Given that the new iPhone enables turn by turn navigation to be integrated into third party developer apps and that TomTom is going to be on the iPhone, the days of separate PND hardware devices are likely numbered.

While some such devices may continue to sell, consumers will see fewer and fewer reasons to buy them (and spend the additional cash) now that smartphones will be largely as capable as PNDs and have broader utility. Several next-gen navigation apps have already emerged in the post 3.0 iPhone world: 

  • NIM's Gokivo (which uses Yahoo! search results) provides voice-guided navigation, but requires an in-app purchase of $9.99 for a one month subscription. (Pricing was just simplified; there were previously three options.)
  • Navigon’s Mobile Navigator (Europe) app with NAVTEQ maps.
  • Sygic for Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

The improvement of navigation on smartphones combined with the move of a group of companies to provide their software on the iPhone platform will mean that eventually the entire industry will move in this direction.

Recently RIM also acquired "connected" PND platform Dash. So one would assume that many of these same capabilities will shortly come to BlackBerry devices. (I was just reminded that MapQuest provides turn by turn directions on BlackBerry devices currently.)

Geodelic Creates Personalized 'Geobrowsing' App for New T-Mobile Android Phone

T-Mobile is announcing today that its myTouch 3G (G2) is coming out formally in August. As I've written it's a much better phone than the G1. One of the features I like quite a bit is the Google voice search capability in general and on Maps. I find that it's accurate most of the time.

One of the featured apps on the new myTouch 3G is called "Sherpa," a personalized LBS discovery tool. The company behind the app is Geodelic, which put out a release about the app this morning:

Created by Geodelic, in partnership with T-Mobile, Sherpa is a local discovery application that learns a user's favorite types of locations and preferences over time. The more it's used, the more it customizes itself to the user's taste, learning their likes and dislikes so it can prioritize recommended and relevant local retailers, restaurants and attractions. By combining a user's location and interests, with other contextual information such as time of day, Sherpa aggregates and presents contextually relevant, location-based information about the "real world" that surrounds a user at any moment.

Sherpa uses a learning engine called GENIE (Geodelic ENgine for Interest Evaluation) that automatically learns a user's favorite locations and lifestyle behavior. If a user eats out more than they shop, it modifies itself and tailors the experience to begin showing more restaurants and less retail stores. So no matter where a person goes, whether they are traveling or exploring their neighborhood, Sherpa prioritizes recommended locations and presents them to users.

Just as a browser allows Internet users to surf the web, the Geodelic application serves as a "geobrowser" for users allowing them to browse the "real world" through an interface optimized for a mobile experience. Geodelic's advanced technology searches the web, gathering the best public and proprietary information from sites like Yelp!, MenuPages, City Search, and a large number of specialized sources to supply the most complete content based on users' location and interests. The application's learning capability allows it to then automatically organize a user's environment by what is most important to them.

Accordingly, the app aims to present information to users, based on their location/context, and not require them to actively search for it (enter keywords in a query box and evaluate links). This is by no means the first app with such an ambition. Indeed, the interface and some of the features resemble those from other iPhone and Android apps: AroundMe, Earthcomber's mobile client, MapQuest4Mobile and Google's Places Directory. However Geodelic's Sherpa seeks to combine location awareness, recommendations, advertising and local data in a more comprehensive, "next-generation" sort of way.

I've spoken at some length with Geodelic founder and CEO Rahul Sonnad, but haven't yet used the app. So all of this remains abstract until I can actually test it out. 

geodelic

The Geodelic site offers a video of the user experience and some of the ad capabilities.

SnapTell Acquired by Amazon's A9

One might characterize A9 -- Amazon's erstwhile bid to compete in search -- as an innovative failure. The engine was the first with a "street view" product (called "block view") and innovative maps and local search tools. The experimental three-panel interface of A9 was also very innovative, as were other features. The problem, as with other would-be "Google killers," was nobody used it.

Amazon may now say that A9 was always an experiment or a way to help the company refine its own algorithms, but it was at one point an attempt at a consumer search engine that failed. 

Yesterday, however, A9/Amazon announced that it had acquired visual product search company SnapTell:

We are excited to join forces with a company that has innovated on behalf of customers for over a decade and is a pioneer in online shopping. Like Amazon, we believe there is a lot of innovation ahead for visual shopping and we are thrilled to join A9.com at this exciting time.

With this acquisition A9 (if that becomes the brand) may rise again. It's potentially quite significant for both SnapTell and Amazon. Amazon has the products and the capital to make SnapTell a leader in mobile "visual search" and barcode scanning, while SnapTell can potentially become a powerful search tool for Amazon and help drive e-commerce. 

Consider the use case: a shopper with an iPhone or Android device does a search (or barcode scan) on a product in store. She gets Amazon reviews and prices -- and potentially decides to purchase from Amazon. Even if she doesn't buy from Amazon, it reinforces her loyalty to the brand. Undoubtedly data will come or continue to come from other sources than simply Amazon (e.g., TheFind). 

Amazon also gets into mobile advertising or mobile marketing, if you prefer, with SnapTell, which has a range of ad-related or promotional deals with traditional publications. Accordingly it takes Amazon into new business areas. 

But it also underscores growing momentum for search tools that are alternatives to conventional search as represented by the Google search box. There's momentum building around the camera as a input tool and search vehicle. Google itself recently introduced barcode scanning for product search on Android devices. It's also placing more emphasis on voice and experimenting with other ways for users to discover and obtain content vs. conventional search.

I could be wrong but I think this acquisition for Amazon will pay big dividends in multiple ways. 

Yahoo! Extends Mobile Web Experience to New Countries

Yahoo! announced that its new and improved Yahoo! Mobile Web site/portal is being rolled out in nine more countries and 100 more devices on a global basis.

According to Yahoo! the new site is now available in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Italy beyond the other countries already launched: U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. 

According to the release: "Yahoo! Mobile for the Web is now available across more than 400 devices with HTML-enabled mobile browsers." The company also has an iPhone application. 

Google Adds Voice to Maps, Twitter-Like Updates to Latitude

This morning the Google Mobile Blog announced a software update for Android's version of Google Maps:

You can now search Google Maps for Android using your voice, making it easier than ever to look up places while on the go . . .We also added transit and walking directions to Google Maps for Android. You can now get directions using public transportation in over 250 cities, including New York City and San Francisco.

[Google Latitude:] You may also notice a new experimental feature called Updates that lets you communicate with friends and post messages. Start Latitude and click the "Updates" tab to shout out updates at friends when they're at interesting locations, start a conversation when you're at your favorite restaurant, or just add more details to your Latitude location for your friends to see . . .

Taking the Latitude update first. There were some bug fixes in the new release of Google Maps for Android. However, the "updates" feature is quite significant. It's a Twitter-like feed that anyone in your network can see with location. When you open Latitude (from within Google Maps) on Android, you see two tabs: Friends and Updates, Friends is your Latitude contacts list and allows you to:

  • Show on map
  • Shout out to the contact (this is the Updates feature)
  • Chat using Google Talk
  • Send email
  • Get directions (to the person's stated or identified location) 
  • Hide from friend
  • Share only city level location
  • Remove 

Clicking over to Updates provides a real-time conversational feed from active contacts using Latitude. This is essentially Twitter with location. But it's only within Latitude for Android right now so usage is going to be small.

Back to Voice Search for Maps. What Google has done here is imported its voice search capability into Maps. Google now says Voice understands and works with British, Australian and US English accents. 

Once you launch Google Maps, you are able to call up the search field. It gives you the option to manually enter a query or speak one (the search field is also similarly presented on the Android home screen). The query results (if they're understood) appear on the map. Tapping or selecting an individual business/result then brings up three tabs: "Address," a details or profile page with contact information (including the option to see the business on Street View), "Details," which may include web links (e.g., to OpenTable), payment information and other data, and "Reviews" (if they exist). The reviews tab offers a nice graphic of the distribution of reviews by star rating on a horizontal bar chart.  

While a number of searches came back with results that were less than satisfying (because of the underlying data) the overall user experience is quite powerful. The use of voice on the front end for queries, integrated with all the Maps and directions information, as well as reviews, on the output side, makes for what used to be called a very "sticky" app. Google is trying in various ways to eliminate mobile barriers to searching. Voice is one of the key strategies. 

I would assume that most of this will make it to the iPhone in the near term.

Digital OOH Company Danoo Adds Mobile to Mix

Danoo refers to itself as a place-based media network. The company puts screens (1,000+) in local stores, airports, retail sites and cafes, providing content and advertising to those locations. There are other companies doing this as well. But Danoo recently added mobile marketing to the mix -- or rather is using its screens to validate their worth as well as get people to take action (i.e., downloads) with their mobile devices.

According to the press release:

 Danoo, which delivers relevant, entertaining and localized media to highly mobile, upscale audiences in coffeehouses, cafes and airports, announced the results of its first mobile content download campaigns. Initial trials were conducted in 39 venues in Los Angeles, with each advertiser leveraging Danoo’s web-connected HD screens to drive discovery of and engagement with a mobile content download opportunity. Visitors to Danoo locations viewed video content on Danoo’s digital screens accompanied by an on-screen prompt to download exclusive content such as sneak peeks and ringtones from their Bluetooth or Wi-Fi-enabled devices via the Danoo network.

Results show that Danoo’s audience is particularly receptive to downloading content to their mobile phones while in a Danoo venue. On average, 10% of Danoo’s audience had their mobile device set to “discoverable”, nearly one-third above the national average, and of those viewers, 28% opted-in to receive the mobile content download. These numbers translate into to a net download rate of nearly 3% of total venue traffic, which could result in more than 200,000 downloads per two-week campaign as this product rolls out to the rest of the Danoo network.

Again, Danoo can report on action rates and advertisers get immediate response. ADCENTRICITY and Impact Mobile recently partnered to bring mobile and digital OOH together as well. Other companies such as HipCricket are using SMS with traditional media (radio, TV) to both measure and extend the value of the traditional media buy. 

This combining of media types, especially with mobile as a metrics tool and extender, will become more and more common in the next couple years and may be one of the primary ways that agencies and traditional brands enter mobile marketing. 

Some time ago I wrote about Danoo and place-based media at Screenwerk. 

PNDs Must React to TomTom's Move

We've been arguing for some time that PNDs are an endangered species, as smartphones gain turn-by-turn navigational capabilities and offer a great deal more than PNDs can. Indeed, RIM just bought DASH and may do some interesting things with the platform, which had failed to gain consumer adoption. But it's the TomTom announcement for the iPhone that should strike fear into the rest of the market.

In becoming an app, TomTom may at once be protecting and promoting itself while hastening the demise of the larger PND market. Other PND firms will need to push more aggressively now into software for existing smarthphone platforms unless the TomTom app totally bombs. 

Although it will be expensive (perhaps near $100), TomTom's move will underscore the point that if people need to choose between devices it will be a smartphone that people will choose. Garmin defensively built the Nuvifone in recognition of the way the market is going. 

Here's a promotional video for TomTom's app (you can bet Apple will do lot's of free promotion for the company).

comScore: Lo-Mo Content Audience Up 51%

This afternoon comScore put out a press release showing significant growth in local content access on mobile devices vs. a year ago -- across the browser, apps and SMS. Local here is defined as "maps, movies, directories or restaurants."

Local information on mobile devices, according to comScore, is most often accessed via the mobile browser. However, the strongest growth is coming from apps, "which grew 83 percent versus year ago, followed by SMS at 72 percent."

Here are their numbers (from March):

  • Browser: 20.7 million users
  • SMS: 11.7 million
  • Apps: 11.3 million

That would be 43.7 million users of local content on mobile devices out of a total US mobile Internet audience of approximately 65 million. Some of that audience, however, is going to be duplicated (e.g., iPhone users who access both the browser and apps). Remember that this is not all content on mobile devices; it's local content as defined by comScore above.

Local content by access category:

Picture 6

Growth by local content category:

Picture 7

The release ends with a discussion of yellow pages apps and related mobile distribution efforts.

These data present a directionally accurate but incomplete picture of local content access on mobile devices. For example, there are other categories of local content not reflected here (e.g., shopping, weather) and directory assistance lookups/calls don't appear. It also seems that "search" is not part of this analysis, although search may be factored in as a way that users nagivate to local content via the browser. 

These data are also not segmented by device type (i.e., smartphone vs. feature phone). My guess is that we'd see browser and apps use concentrated in the smartphone category, while SMS would dominate on feature phones. In addition apps usage would probably be highest on the iPhone, which makes sense given the fact that most apps developers have focused on the platform and not been as prolific for other smartphones to date. 

Here's the apps count as reported yesterday by Apple:

  • Apple: 50K
    Android: 5K
    Nokia/Symbian: 1K
    RIM: 1K

Our most recent research show the following types of content accessed via mobile devices: 

  1. Email
  2. Weather information
  3. Games
  4. Search engines
  5. Maps and driving directions
  6. News and sports information
  7. Local business search
  8. Social networking
  9. Movies, show times
  10. Local restaurants and reviews
  11. Product information shopping
  12. Financial information
  13. Adult content
  14. Other types of content