While screensavers are nothing new, Sprint has overhauled the familiar application in a fresh and exciting way to encapsulate the depth, breadth and power of the Sprint Now Network. The NOW customizable screensaver, which launched today, lets you see the present moment on your screen by drawing in information from your Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr data. In addition, it enables you to tailor other real time elements, such as local traffic and bus schedules, the weather, and even how many Google results match your name!
Customization/personalization is one of the ways that carriers can remain relevant to end users as more subscribers opt for mobile devices that offer full browsers. The "carrier deck" becomes less and less relevant or entirely absent when users are on the iPhone or Android for example. There was a deck of sorts on WinMo 6.1. But people will increasingly just go to apps/widgets or directly to the Internet.
On the back end, with user location and other user data, carriers can potentially get a piece of ad revenues by providing some of that targeting data to third party publishers and ad networks (provided the FTC doesn't bar it). However as consumers migrate to more Internet-cable phones carriers will need to offer positive reasons to consumers to interact with their content. AT&T and Verizon have accordingly said they'll be creating apps stores.
But I imagine a situation -- a more "robust" version of what Sprint is talking about -- where users can customize a start page with third party content. Some portion of that page could be reserved for carrier branding and messaging or carrier-sold ads. This is analogous to MyYahoo today.
But for these more compelling tools and services to mobile subscribers, the "dumb-pipe" scenario looms larger and larger for operators.
More than a year ago we wrote the following in the conclusion to a report speculating, "Will Google Dominate the Mobile Web?"
Users have been conditioned to search online some of that behavior will translate into mobile. The evidence is already there; and the transference will likely become even more pronounced if full HTML browsers (i.e., Opera Mini, Safari, Skyfire) gain broader adoption. They explicitly seek to minimize the distinctions between the Internet and the “mobile Internet.” Google also hopes there will be a few distinctions between the two over time – hence Google’s WAP homepage redesign.
Despite this hope for convergence there remain a wide range of devices and user experiences in mobile. That’s partly why Google is pursuing a diversified mobile strategy. It’s very likely that search will have a significant role to play on the handset. The question is: will that be central and primary or secondary and more peripheral? This is very much up for grabs as the mobile market evolves and companies jockey for position. Google has a significant advantage “going in,” given its brand strength and resources. But, as we’ve tried to argue, there are other paradigms and use cases that are emerging. The wide range of devices and user experiences thus creates potential openings for companies other than Google to rise in mobile and potentially gain mindshare and market share. We’ll see if that happens.
I was remind of that report when I saw this article: iPhone apps are Google's biggest threat in mobile search. While the title sums it up, here's the core of the article:
The last example points to one of the reasons why mobile apps trump mobile search. With mobile search you don’t always know whether the stuff you click on in the search results will be viewable or functional on your smartphone. But if you have a mobile app or site that’s designed for that smartphone then you can be relatively confident that a search using that app will quickly return results (and links) that are optimized for a smartphone.
The article also assumes continued smartphone penetration. The question is how much and how soon?
While apps pre-date the iPhone, the iPhone made apps central to the smartphone experience. Our earlier speculation was that apps, browser favorites and other input methods (e.g., camera phones) could affect the centrality of search as a way to obtain content on mobile devices.
All the major smartphone platforms now have apps stores: iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm and now Nokia/Symbian. What we're now callling smartphones and their successors will eventually come to dominate the market. But when that will be is up in the air. In five years a significant minority of US and global phones will function as mobile Internet devices (and potentially have access to apps).
The market is fluid and it's still too early to tell conclusively but we agree that the emergence of apps, combined with the limitations of "mobile search" today make it less likely that a PC-like search experience will be as central in mobile as it is on the desktop. That still could change as mobile search evolves -- the iPhone 3.0 upgrade has a spotlight like search feature -- and as voice becomes more reliable as a mobile search interface.
For Google that means it must develop its display and contextual ads business for mobile, which it is, rather than simply assume and rely upon search revenues. They will grow but, in the near term, they may not produce the mobile gold rush that some are anticipating.
Related: The Ovi store launch has apparently not gone well.
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.
Ahh the coupon space . . . Newly resurgent online it represents both danger and opportunity.
I just discovered another mobile coupon provider: Coupious. The company is offering location-enabled mobile coupons as a marketing vehicle for local businesses. Right now it's only in a single market: West Lafayette, Indiana.
With slick apps for the iPhone and Android, the company's "infrastructure" is way ahead of its model/marketing. The model is CPA; local businesses only pay when coupons are redeemed. While that model is relatively easy to sell as risk free and is easy to track and prove value accordingly, the challenge is going to be sales and inventory. Cellfire (focused on nationals) has had mobile coupons forever but has yet to really gain traction because it's had very few vendors/companies providing coupons, although that may be changing. More recently it's beefed up its coupon inventory with CPG content.
Many companies have tried to crack the SMB market with coupons and it's very tough. To name just a few examples, there was Zixxo (now done, acquired by MSFT) and more recently there was Dizgo (Boulder, CO; not sure the status) and 8coupons in New York (still at it). The problem that all of these and others who cater to SMBs confront is scale. Sales generate inventory, which gets distribution and consumer attention.
Even Google has fumbled local coupons pretty badly.
Larger, more established companies are at a big advantage in the segment. Companies such as ValPak and RetailMeNot are in a much stronger position. ValPak deals with SMBs but it has what amounts to a national "feet on the street" sales force (though the business is franchised). Smaller companies need to align themselves with established companies or piggyback on others' sales channels.
There's no question regarding the opportunity and consumer demand. I recently wrote about ValPak's early findings in mobile:
I was told that for every four site visitors to ValPak.com on the PC the company sees one coupon print (25% response/conversion) on average. But in April, with a smaller base, the company saw four coupons selected/downloaded for every mobile site visitor (400% response/conversion). This grew from 200% in March.
Coupious needs to do distribution deals both for its advertisers and as a way to get other content into its apps in the near term. That's because people won't go to a party when nobody's there yet.
In five years, more than half of mobile advertising, or 56 percent, will be spent on local search, even though local search will make up a little over 35 percent of all searches, according to [The Kelsey Group].
As bullish as we are on local/LBS and search, unless you define "search" in the most expansive way possible these numbers are incorrect. Mobile is going to see a broad and diverse array of ad and marketing spending, some of which will fall into search but it will run the gamut:
Local/offline will be a component of many if not most mobile campaigns but that doesn't mean "search" exactly.
I wrote two pieces this morning on Screenwerk of potential interest to LMS readers:
Placecast will serve opt-in SMS/MMS ads within advertiser-defined "geo-fences" supported by Alcatel technology. This is purely in the mobile context.
Both advance the cause of location-awareness and LBS advertising.
Pelago/Whrrl, which started as a mobile social network and Yelp competitor and reinvented itself a "storytelling" app, was at Where 2.0. CEO Jeff Holden spoke about his experience at Amazon and the company's successful use of clickstream data for higher revenues: those who bought book X also bought book Y.
He discussed how this might apply to the emerging arena of "footstream" data and recommendations for people and places in the real world on mobile devices. Tracking mobile user behavior yields lots of data about the types of places users go and their real-world behavior. This hypotehtically could deliver local recommendations based on user profiles and corresponding "footstreams."
Holden said that he felt the local search market was relatively mature but that "local discovery" was undeveloped.
Footstream tracking of individuals would have to be personal by necessity (with all the potential privacy questions), but the local recommendations Holden spoke about could be provided anonymously to users who are grouped into certain profiles based on their favorite places and activities in the real world.
He hinted that there might be an emerging business model here for Pelago as a repository and provider of this type of data for other publishers and sites.
Last month Idearc launched its Superpages app for the iPhone. Now it has done the same for BlackBerry (Storm) devices, where it should see even greater visibility given the lesser competition in BlackBerry App World (Poynt is the top or one of the top LBS apps in BlackBerry right now).
In addition to the standard directory listings data, here are some of the enhanced features:
Here are some screenshots of the new Superpages BlackBerry app:
Yellow pages publishers have a great opportunity in mobile to (re)gain user adoption that to some degree they ceded to search engines on the PC.
Related: Yellowspaces launched an iPhone app (more from MediaPost).
Skyhook Wireless has been tracking the number and distribution of location-enabled apps in the various smartphone app stores since the iPhone was released. And now, with the debut of BlackBerry App World, there's more interesting data in the market from several platforms.
As an aside, Skyhook found that BlackBerry had on average more expensive location-enabled apps than the iPhone or Android. According to Skyhook's analysis, "The average price of an app is $13.60." The company will be tracking Nokia and Windows Mobile apps once those stores go live.
One particularly interesting piece of data is the number of location lookups per day that Skyhook is tracking -- since its technology is typically used to get location. It saw growth as follows in location lookups (per device per day):
Based on the April Skyhook report here are the latest numbers on LBS apps on the iPhone, Android and now BlackBerry.
Category distribution of LBS apps across platforms:
Growth in LBS apps:
I ran across some interesting LBS case studies from Useful Networks on the MMA site. They both involved mobile banner advertising and location, and featured a fast-food restaurant and an advertiser in the automotive vertical (a car brand) . . .
UN worked with a major U.S. Carrier and a major advertising network, who in turn worked with a major fast food restaurant chain (Trial #1) and a major automotive company (Trial #2), to launch two location-based advertising trials in the United States. The LBA Trials were centered around a Store Finder page, one of Useful Networks’ AdWhere products, and were designed to test and prove the added benefits that location-enablement brings to mobile marketing campaigns . . .The end user experience involved two call-to-action banner ads displayed on the carrier’s mobile portal enticing the customer to find the two brands’ store locations. Although both banner ads were virtually identical (except for the opt-in language featured on the location-enabled banner ad), each banner ad resulted in a different after-the-click experience.
Brand #1 – Quick Service Restaurant Vertical: ~100% of those users who clicked on the location-enabled banner ad saw the fast food restaurant’s Store Finder page. In contrast, only 28% of those users who were directed to the manual zip code entry page actually submitted their zip code and viewed the brand’s Store Finder page. Stated differently, the non-location enabled banner ad resulted in a 72% abandonment rate.
Brand #2 – Automotive Vertical: ~10% of those users who were directed to the manual zip code entry page actually submitted their zip code and viewed the automotive company’s Store Finder page (compared to ~100% of those users who clicked on the location-enabled banner ad).
The bottom line here was that the location-enabled banners drove 3X to 10X higher conversion rates. Read the full case studies here.
Similarly 1020 Placecast reported, based on A/B testing, a 50% to 100% lift in conversions, when location is added, in a recent campaign for a rental car company that featured both online and mobile components.
Some people may be tempted to lump the new Glympse into the category of "mobile social networks" such as Loopt. And some might see it in the camp of carrier-based mobile family tracking tools, which require a subscription. It has elements of both but sits between those two poles; it's also free (goodbye family locators).
Glympse is an online and mobile application that allows users to share their location with others for limited durations (minutes or hours), thus eliminating the privacy concern associated with many location-aware social apps. It launches today on the G1 but other smartphone versions are coming very soon.
Mobile users send a link (a "glympse") to another person or multiple people (whether online or on mobile devices). The person on the receiving end doesn't need to register or download software. Whether online or on an Internet-enabled phone that person will see a map with an icon representing the sender. That icon moves on the map to show the real-time location of that person as he or she, for example, heads toward the meeting:
As the screen above indicates it also estimates arrival time. I met with CEO Bryan Trussel recently. As we discussed Glympse I found the moving arrow on the map somewhat mesmerizing. There's a game-like element here, which is somewhat self-conscious and will aid adoption. Trussel and I spoke about a wide range of use cases and possibilities for monetization and data on the map.
We discussed for example the "concierge scenario" where people in cars call their friends to ask for directions or nearby business locations (e.g., "Where's the closest Chase ATM to me right now?"). With data layers on the map, Glympse would be perfect for that use case. (Also look for third parties to approach Glympse about incorporating the functionality into their apps and sites.)
The simplicity of the product and the fact that the glympse recipient doesn't have to register or download anything should accelerate adoption. And while Loopt has been criticized in some quarters as a dating site, Glympse has relatively obvious practical value in family, business and social contexts. And the Glympse sender retains control over how long the receiver can see him/her, as mentioned.
As I suggest, the fact that it's free should pretty much kill the "family locator" carrier subscription business unless it becomes part of an upsell bundle or premium package that includes other things.
To send (as opposed to receive) a glympse one does need to download software to their mobile handset. The image below shows Glympse on Android.
WhitePages is available across most of the major smartphone platforms, as well as at m.whitepages.com. Now it has "circled back" to the iPhone with an upgrade that does a few new things. In the business search realm, specifically, here are the new features:
The sponsored results I observed were from Citysearch, although Whitepages works with mutiple partners.
Finally, here's a video showing the new iPhone app in operation.
Right now on stage at the EconSM show, Kevin Thau of Twitter was anecdotally reporting on how SMBs/local businesses are increasingly adopting Twitter as a marketing vehicle -- asking people to follow them on Twitter. He gave a number of concrete examples.
This is happening organically, it's self service and has enormous potential as a viral marketing and CRM tool for local businesses. We wrote about some of this in our most recent Advisory: The 'Twitterization' of (Local) Online Marketing.
Regarding self-service and conventional online marketing (e.g., search), my outlook is relatively bearish for self-service penetrating the market beyond 10%-15%. But because of its simplicity, Twitter has much greater potential as a self-service marketing tool.
This is something that local media publishers and marketing firms have to think about carefully. They should "coopt" this trend by incorporating it (and and Facebook) into their SMB marketing offerings.
Mobile search was front and center at the ultimate Google insider event, Searchology. Citing statistics that show that searching from mobile devices - especially iPhones, Blackberry's and Android-based handsets - is growing at a much faster rate than search that originates from desktop or laptops, Google execs showcased product refinements that make for better coordination between fixed and mobile searching. Scott Huffman, Director of Engineering, delivered the ultimate prescription for higher quality mobile search, saying it should be "Complete, Easy and Local."
There were a number of other refinements to Google Search Options such as the organization of results into a timeline so that users can see each link's relationship to real time. In fact, the company noted that "real time search" ranks as the biggest challenge facing its engineers. From this, we can conclude that delivering results that take into account a mobile user's location is a relatively easy service to deliver. For example, the company demonstrated a service that is under development that will enable search results delivered to a desktop to be automatically displayed when the same user logs on to Google from a wireless phone equipped with a Web browser.
Closer coordination between PC and mobile search makes sense, especially for iPhone and Android users. This is the major finding of a study that Google commissioned from the Department of Statistics at Stanford University. The research, unsurprisingly, showed that searches orginating from "high-end phones", meaning those equipped with PC-like Web browsers strongly resembled those originating from PCs, in terms of the number of words per query, query diversity and user behavior. Based on these data, the researchers are concluding that high-end mobile phone users see their devices as viable means to find information.
Armed with these data, Google's researchers are building confidence that they can deliver ads that are more relevant to the mobile user.
While letters went out to its Adsense Audio partners back in February, Google made it official that May 31st will mark the formal cessation of its automated service for purchasing and placing audio ads on local radio stations. In a story in The Wall Street Journal, reporter Jessica E. Vascellaro provides more background, asserting that the failure resulted from an inability to track radio ads with the same precision expected from Web-based advertising. But that should have been obvious from the beginning. Ms. Vascellaro also notes that Google underestimated "the human side of the business". This phrase turns out to be a euphemism for the fact that, in the words of Dean Landsman of Landsman Communications, Google had put itself "in the remnants business". It set up an automated system that, in effect, identified left-over airtime and put it up for auction that often resulted in asking radio stations to sell excess inventory at highly discounted rates.
This is not a way to make friends in a new (or, ahem, old) medium. Google entered the audio advertising business with the purchase of a company called dMarc for a reported upfront payment of $102 million in January 2006. It was part of a company-wide effort to provide a single portal through which businesses could buy advertisng on broadcast outlets and in print media, in addition to the Web. Reflecting the optimism that both parties had, the deal carried performance bonuses that could have exceeded $1.1 billion. But the approach described above turned out to be self defeating. The inventory of available ads under the control of the automated system remained to small for the vaunted Google tracking and placement algorithm to perform effectively.
The idea of a multimedia advertising portal remains a good one. Yet it has proven too small an opportunity for the giant of search advertising. And it's a business proposition that was made worse by the precipitous decline in advertiser spending on print and broadcast media. Still, we see several candidates in the advertising, media buying and search marketing businesses who should continue to develop plans for automated, cross-media advertising placement.
After reaching out to mobile subscribers with some impressive applications for both the iPhone and Android, WhitePages.com has stepped up its aspirations for ubiquity. Two weeks ago, it launched a mobile Web site (http://m.whitepages.com) "powered by NetBiscuits", extending its reach to virtually any mobile phone running a Web browser. Today it launched a new application, "built from the ground up" and targeting RIM's Blackberries and available from BlackBerry AppWorld for $6.99 for six months of service.
The service is designed for mobile professionals and leverages access to WhitePages.com's database of directory listings into what we had referred to as a "Connectory" (as opposed to "Directory") by supporting:
WhitePages.com is clearly putting the emphasis on heightened productivity. Recent searches are saved for quick retrieval and contacts can be shared with Blackberry's email application.
The attention to Blackberry is well-advised. Recent statistics from NPD Group (as reported in MocoNews.net) showed Blackberry ahead of iPhone in terms of recent units shipped. Verizon Wireless's promotional efforts were given credit for various models of Blackberry accounting for three of the top five in a list of leading smartphones (with Apple in second place and the G-1 Android phone in fifth). On the flip side, the rich amount of data that WhitePages.com has associated with telephone listings and the flexibility WhitePages has exhibited in terms of working with the likes of NetBiscuits and RIM will keep its listings database in the critical path for all mobile subscribers with special attention to mobile professionals.
PriceGrabber.com, now a division of Experian, put out a mobile shopping report based on a survey of just over 3,000 online US consumers who own mobile phones. The survey was conducted in March of this year.
Here are some of the top-level findings from the survey:
Here are a few charts from the report (all PriceGrabber):
In our recent survey (n=707) we found 20% of non-smartphone owner-respondents stating they intended to upgrade to a smartphone in the next 12 months. By contrast the total number intending to upgrade to a smartphone or iPhone in teh PriceGrabber survey was 25%.
Other than the ringtones/apps category, the purchases discussed in the report are not what used to be called "m-commerce." Rather they're online shopping sites being accessed via smartphone. It's also worth noting that 29% of respondents had either an iPhone or other smartphone, like a BlackBerry. This is roughly 15 percentage points higher than the population at large. Consequently all the behaviors examined here overindex accordingly.
But in terms of the smartphone population they're going to be representative.
VZ Navigator (from Networks in Motion) has been relatively successful as a monthly subscription serivce. But it's under pressure from increasingly competent free apps and tools on smartphones. To remain viable over the long term the service has to remain one or two steps ahead of rivals.
In an effort to do so the service is going global. According to the press release out today VZ Navigator Global:
- Provides business and leisure travelers the ability to find locations and access turn-by-turn directions in North America and Western Europe, including Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom -- additional countries will be added to the service throughout the year;
- Alleviates stress or confusion caused by reading road signs or directions in an unfamiliar language -- VZ Navigator Global customers can choose either English or Spanish as the default language, and miles or kilometers to mark distances;
- Will be initially available on the BlackBerry(R) Storm(TM) 9530 smartphone from Research In Motion (RIM) while VZ Navigator Global capabilities will be available later on additional smartphones; and
- Finds restaurants, gas stations, banks/ATMs and other popular spots in these countries using Local Search.
Domestic VZ Navigator is $9.99 per month. Existing users can upgrade to global for an additional $10 per month. The service costs $19.99 per month and includes the domestic data for new subscribers.
Even more than traditional VZ Navigator, Global probably is a niche product and will have appeal to a very select class of international business travelers.
IAC reported a loss for Q1 but it also disclosed that it had acquired Urbanspoon. What a success story for Urbanspoon.
This acquisition is a great complement for Citysearch and becomes part of its growing "network." Urbanspoon is an aggregator of restaurant information and undistinguished except for a game-like spinning carousel on its iPhone app.
That novel user experience drove a story in the NY Times in the early days of the iPhone. Apple then went on to feature Urbanspoon in many of its iPhone ads.
There was nothing unique about Urbanspoon's content -- nothing. But the user experience captured peoples imaginations and drove the app's popularity.
Zillow has released an iPhone app. The app contains most of the data presented on the Zillow.com site:
- Zestimate home values, home details and historical data on 88 million U.S. homes - 95% of all homes in the country.
- Details, photos and contact info for 3.4 million for-sale listings - for sale by agent and for sale by owner.
- Data on recently-sold homes.
- Zillow's exclusive Make Me Move listings, which reflect at what price an owner would consider moving.
The iPhone app allows users to see properties in several different views: a map view, a satellite view and a list view of homes in the intended area. A profile or details page provides the Zestimate as well as a rich set of data about the property as well as nearby comps. There's also a link to the full property data set on the property on Zillow.com (which launches Safari).
Beyond a nice user experience and interface, the thing that's really interesting and different about the app is its ability to leverage GPS. A potential use case is the following: you're taking a walk through the neighborhood and arrive at an interesting house. You don't have to enter the address to obtain Zillow's valuation; it will simply show you the data on the property you're looking at.