Local Search

Portland to Be First City for WiMax from ClearWire

PC World (and others) are reporting that Sprint's WiMax subsidiary, ClearWire, has decided that Portland, OR, will be the second city in the U.S. to enjoy the wide area wireless broadband service called WiMax on a commercial basis. Sprint's WiMax service has been available to Portland residents, at $25 per month. That is $20 per month less expensive than Sprint's WiMax offering in Baltimore, MD. (There are a range of pricing options and associated services.) The service, which is said to "harmonize" Clearwire's offering with that of Sprint's other WiMax subsidiary, Xohm, will be the platform for 4G wireless services as well as wireless delivery of DSL speeds to portable and desktop computers.

The low entry price should attract a significant number of new subscribers and should make Portland a showcase for services that seamlessly extend desktop services to wireless subscribers.

Whrrl Improves Neighborhood Awareness

Whrrl, a cross between Loopt and Yelp with a bit of Zvents thrown in, is vying in an increasingly competitive and noisy "mobile social" or "LBS" space for attention. Today the company (Pelago is the company behind Whrrl) announced a deal with Maponics for better neighborhood data. The company also buys similar data from Urban Mapping. 

In no particular order, other competing services in the US include BrightKite, Where/uLocate, mobile Yelp, Citysearch, Loopt, Buzzd, GoodRec, Socialight and others. As they evolve, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter are competitors as well. Conventional search engines are also competitors as local information sources. For example, Google aggregates reviews and Google Maps offers location finding, etc. 

There may be one or two mobile-centric breakouts in this segment but the online "brands" have a big head start and a certain gravitational force. For the mobile startups, having right mix of content and functionality, as well as the money to survive and outlast rivals, will be critical. 

Better neighborhood data will offer some incremental help, but what Whrrl needs is usage first and foremost to build momentum. It's efforts to leverage Facebook and Twitter are a step in the right direction. 

Whrrl

What Is 'Mobile Social Networking'?

There's lots of talk these days about "mobile social networking," but what does that mean exactly? Does it mean reading Facebook news feeds via a mobile device or updating Twitter, for example, from a mobile phone? Or does it mean using location-awareness on your phone through an application to interact or communicate with people nearby who are similarly mobile? Of course the two are not mutually exclusive -- and Facebook (and MySpace) will evolve over time to increasingly take mobile and location into account. 

But there's nothing necessarily "social" about logging into Facebook from a mobile app. (BTW: the Facebook iPhone app has prompted me to use Facebook more in general.) In one sense accessing Facebook from mobile browser or app is really no different than reading the NY Times or getting restaurant reviews from Yelp on a mobile device. For purposes of this post the central difference between Facebook and the NY Times, conceptually, is that others can potentially respond and "interact" with you on Facebook. In addition, this could hypothetically happen in real time. Right now it's largely asynchronous.

With Loopt, Where's Buddy Beacon, Whrrl and other mobile-centric apps that enable people to "see" one another's locations "on the go" that real-time element is even more pronounced. In other words, I see you're nearby, I send you a message and we meet at a coffee house, etc. Alternatively, I send out a message looking for a nearby restaurant recommendation from my mobile device and get real-time responses from a community of users (e.g., Mosio). Those two scenarios, which involve two-way interaction in real time, should define what we mean by "mobile social networking."

Indeed, two-way communication between people using mobile devices, in real-time, is very different than looking at a website (or logging in) via mobile, regardless of whether it's MySpace, Facebook, Bebo or ConsumerReports. And many people use SMS today in precisely this way. That's why, earlier this year, when we explored the subject, texting appeared for many people as a satisfactory alternative to mobile social networking:

Barriers to 'Mobile Social Networking' 

 Barriers to mobile social networking

Source: Opus Research/Multiplied Media (n=730, Q1 2008)

Texting thus represents a barrier to the growth of true social networking on mobile devices, unless or until those networking tools become easier, cheaper and more convenient than texting. When they do, SMS volumes may diminish (in favor of mobile IM and/or other tools). 

This will all likely turn out to be quibbling over semantics in a very short period of time, as the mobile use of Facebook and MySpace grow and people recognize that as "mobile social networking." But I at least wanted to raise the issue of definitions because it's worth being conscious about what we mean by "mobile social networking" and what features differentiate it from simply accessing a website with social elements on a mobile device. 

Verizon May Be Easing Up on Restrictions Against Sharing Subscriber Location

Yesterday Greg Sterling wrote about Sprint/Nextel making subscriber location available to third-party application providers uLocate and WaveMarket. Today, in a report in RCR Wireless, Colin Gibb noted that there's evidence that the owners of certain wireless handsets from Verizon Wireless will be able to use services that take their location into account:

Per the article: "New devices running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Mobile operating system including the Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. Omia, Samsung Saga and HTC Corp. Touch Pro are slated to add open, stand-alone GPS in the first half of 2009, according to an e-mail obtained by Brighthand.com and confirmed by the operator.

The move could allow customers to use third-party location applications like Google Inc.’s Maps for Mobile."

As for an acknowledgment from the service provider, Gibb says that a "Verizon Wireless representative" said "Nothing has changed".

That assessment is not entirely accurate since owners of the Omnia, Saga or Touch Pro will be able to avail themselves of services that are aware of their location. Such capability paves the way for better local search ("Find the nearest") and navigation services as well as a family of social networking services that take into account "who's nearby."

KGB Moves Further Beyond 'DA' with Texperts Acquisition

The idea of a distributed network of non-professional "responders" to a mobile question or search is one logical evolution of DA -- the original form of mobile search. In the past we informally labeled this concept "social DA." It's the marriage of search and social networking in a mobile context.

Mosio has tried to develop that model; ChaCha is working with a version of that model and, in the UK, so is the paid service Texperts. (Twitter may eventually develop this as well.)

Similar in many respects to ChaCha, Texperts uses a distributed group of individuals who must pass basic testing requirements. They're paid, as are ChaCha's guides. But unlike ChaCha, users pay for the Texperts service -- like traditional DA.

DA purveyor KGB this morning announced that it had acquired the UK based service: 

Texperts will deepen kgb's market strength and service capability for mobile text services. The success of both companies demonstrates that consumers have a growing need for the instant availability of simple, accurate and hassle-free delivery of information on their mobile phone. The acquisition will also enhance kgb's ability to build on the initial success of the company's text advertising program (www.118118advertising.com), launched in 2007 in the U.K., which enables advertisers to reach consumers via the medium of mobile text, a highly effective and cost efficient alternative to more traditional mass media.

It's not immediately clear whether the existing Texperts model will be retained (I'm assuming it will). But it's a fascinating thing to watch KGB (formerly DA wholesaler InfoNXX) evolve from a traditional DA provider to carriers to a consumer-focused, mobile search platform with ad support. 

Here are previous posts on KGB.  

Twitter, Zannel and Cutting through the Noise

I, a self-described Twitter detractor, am becoming more fascinated by its possibilities of late. Dan Miller my colleague is a big Twitter fan by contrast.

I recognize that Twitter has a number of useful functions, beyond news dissemination and entertainment, that mostly have to do with companies promoting their sales, deals or events (as reflected in this recent article showcasing Dell's use of Twitter).

Many people are caught up in the question of what will Twitter's business model become or what will Twitter ultimately be able to charge for?

  1. Subscription/licensing revenue from companies using it as a promotional tool 
  2. Premium consumer services 
  3. Ad platform tied to content, location, etc. 
  4. Consumer research/survey platform
  5. Two or more of the above?

I'm not so worried about Twitter being able to find a business model; I think there are probably several revenue streams in waiting.

What I'm focused on is the structuring or organizing of the content into more useful and accessible frameworks. There are more and more feeds to keep track of, whether Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, etc. In a way this is like the proliferation of IM platforms. But beyond simply aggregating all these feeds there is the challenge of extracting useful information from them.

AOL (MapQuest) has done something interesting in bringing all the geotagged Twitter feeds together:

Twitter

As you can see there's potentially great value and local recommendations here: what to do, where to eat and drink, where to stay. But there's a fleeting and ephemeral quality about Tweets and similar feeds. How does one turn something like this into a recommendations network (a la Mosio) or make the data available for later discovery (a la Yelp) when users are really looking for the information? 

Zannel, which just launched for the iPhone, tries to bring Twitter, Flickr and video together around location with its new CityWatch app:

Zannel

This app is far from perfect from what I can tell, although search is going to be added to a subsequent update. That should go some distance toward what I'm suggesting. But in general CityWatch starts to point at something that can cull valuable infomation from feeds about local recommendations and improve the signal to noise ratio.

"Locator" is Major Component of Visa Mobile (for Android)

T-Mobile subscribers with Chase Visa's and a G1 can check download the Visa Mobile application designed to deliver "near real time alerts", such as when a subscriber is approaching a designated credit limit or if Visa has detected potentially unauthorized use of the one's credit card; "offers", which amount to promotions from participating retailers, restaurants or service providers; and "locator", which illustrates nearby merchants that will honor Visa Mobile offers.

Greg Sterling noted that Google and Visa were working on an Android-based service back in September. We haven't used the service, but reviews have been generally favorable. Including "offers" presents the possibility of a viable business model and the "locator" service is a natural form of local mobile search.

The introduction has already sparked some discussion of the need for stepped up security for mobile devices. Apparently Visa embedded some interesting weasel words in its terms of service warning that "no data transmission via a mobile handset can be guaranteed to be 100% secure." Lack of 100% security should be a well-understood given by now, if for no other reason than the fact that people have a bad habit of leaving their phones on trains, planes or cabs.

A cottage industry is about to be created to protect the information that people carry around on their mobile devices. [At LMS and Opus Research we believe that the human voice (in the form of a passphrase or voice signature) should be an important part of the equation for mobile phones, but that's a different story from a different program.]

Vodafone Buys its own GPS firm, Wayfinder

In an effort to control the costs of making mobile applications that are "geo-aware" Vodafone acquired Wayfinder, a Swedish developer of location-based services. The two companies have a history of working together to offer GPS services in some of the countries in Western Europe. But Vodafone's services in Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal have been offered in conjunction with TomTom, which acquired digital map specialist Tele Atlas earlier this year.

Something about the purchase price (roughly $29 million in cash) has led shares in TomTom to surge on European exchanges. One explanation is that Vodafone, which had acquired the Danish social networking specialist ZYB in May of this year, is taking more control of local social networking offers through its affiliates. In that case, it regards Wayfinder as a component for a robust set of home-grown (more accurately 'recently acquired') mobile services. Such a strategy points to more opportunities to knit TomTom's resources into the mix, at the expense of alternative mobile content and service providers, specifically Nokia.

The role of wireless carriers in providing innovative services remains a matter of great uncertainty. The "AppStore" model for publicizing and distributing a constant stream of new applications from third parties is certainly gaining traction with iPhone users and is certain to become the model for the new generation of "open platforms" for mobile services. This approach makes it less and less likely that wireless subscribers will turn to their carriers as the sole source of mobile applications.

If anything, the $29 million sale price is a testimony to the fact that "there's no better time to buy!" innovative technology firms. ZYB cost Vodafone $50 million just four months ago. By contrast, TomTom spent 2 billion Euros (more than $4 billion-with a "b") for TeleAtlas and its resources for generating and maintaining digital maps and navigational services around the world. Spending mere millions to take control of resources for integrating geo-awareness into local, social networking services is a small price to pay.

Cityseach Launches iPhone App

Local search and city guide provider Citysearch has just launched an iPhone app, which is much more successful than prior mobile efforts in my view. TechCrunch believes that it's virtually indistinguishable from Yelp's iPhone app. But it the palate is different (if you don't like black you won't like it) and there are a couple of meaningful substantive differences. Two biggest are:

  1. You can add reviews directly from mobile (Yelp allows pictures but not yet reviews [it will])
  2.  The site has editoral content (as opposed to only UGC), which in some cases is very helpful

But many of the features and capabilities of the apps are similar or the almost same. Citysearch has redesigned and integrated Facebook Connect on the desktop, though there's no apparent evidence of that in mobile (yet). That could be a differentiator of sorts for the site. 

My guess however is that if you're a loyal Citysearch user online, this will be your local mobile search app of choice on the iPhone. The same goes true for Yelp users who are unlikely to switch. 

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Here's the press release

Mobile Shopping Ahead of the Curve

There's really no good name for it but it's happening: multi-channel in-store shopping. That's where people do price comparisons or product review checks in the store while a consumer is looking at/for a product. There's also the scenario where she or he buys it online (right there) because it's sold out. And increasingly consumers will also be able to look for it at a nearby store (TheFind allows this, as does Android's ShopSavvy).

The new Amazon iPhone app also allows users to take photos of products in stores, which are then "remembered" on the app. Amazon reminds you of these items and finds them or similar ones among Amazon's inventory. While I'm jumping the gun, this feature could eventually be as big a deal for Amazon as "those who bought . . . also bought . . ."

Given the recession and a parallel push online there's new momentum behind mobile coupons/deals. For example, there's a burgeoning effort to create a weekly mobile coupon day in "Mobile Tuesday":

Mobigosee, a leading innovator of transformational mobile marketing technology, today announced that Mobile Tuesday will run for 52 weeks each year, delivering coupons, offers, discounts and information to consumers from retailers and other organizations interested in tapping the power of mobile commerce directly to mobile phones. Mobile Tuesday, similar to the traditional 'circular' received in the mail, comprises offers, discounts, coupons, store location information and purchasing power delivered directly to mobile phones. 

And HipCricket, among others, has captured this growing interest in mobile coupons (we also have data that is consistent with this):

 Hipcricket mobile coupons

ShopLocal is increasingly distributing its retailer data via mobile devices on behalf of clients as well: 

Target mobile

NearbyNow, which provides retailer inventory data, is also doing some very innovative things in mobile with SMS advertising and soon the iPhone platform. 

Individual retailers are also recognizing the opportunity; Gap and Target launched iPhone apps recently. 

The Wall Street Journal also ran an article on Monday detailing some of the efforts that retailers are making in mobile:

Most cellphones support the promotional text messages. But many advanced shopping and commerce features are built for specific smart phones, such as the Apple iPhone. Most programs, like text-message alerts, require consumers to sign up either through their phones or via the Web.

Wal-Mart is sending out more-frequent text-message alerts to its shoppers who signed up for the service, says Melissa O'Brien a spokeswoman for the company. Last year, Wal-Mart sent out three alerts to shoppers' cellphones the entire holiday season. This year, the company is sending out weekly alerts that customers can tailor by category. Last week, Wal-Mart sent customers text messages detailing holiday specials on toys and home electronics. Shoppers can click on links within the text messages that will take them to Wal-Mart's mobile Web site to find additional details and reviews of that item.

Buy.com is sending out daily deals on Twitter, a Web site on which users send and share short messages via the Web, text-messages and email, says Neel Grover, Buy.com's chief executive and president. The company is sending out about 25 messages a day about new specials it is offering, Mr. Grover says.

Last month, Sears launched a new mobile Web site called Sears2Go, where customers can make credit-card purchases directly from their phones. Tom Aiello, a Sears spokesman, says one way shoppers are using the site is to make purchases while in the store after finding out that an item is sold out.

There has been some evidence of resistance by retailers to in-store mobile research and price comparisons by consumers. But as the pop-culture expression goes, "resistance is futile." 

Mobile advertising as a major contributor of digital ad revenue is probably several years away (we'll be revising our forecast shortly). But consumer adoption of mobile "shopping" is procceding apace. As the various consumer behaviors and use cases crystallize the marketing opportunities will become more and more apparent, although the discussion above illustrates many of them already. 

ChaCha Reports Dramatic Growth, 2.5 Million Users

ChaCha reported this morning "among pure-play SMS search providers ChaCha, Google SMS and Yahoo! SMS, ChaCha is the fastest growing service," according to Nielsen:

ChaCha’s 28 percent share of transactions is up from just seven percent in Q2, marking a 300 percent quarter over quarter gain, driven by a 660 percent quarter over quarter growth in overall ChaCha transactions. ChaCha reports that they now deliver 30 million impressions per month and have had more than 2.5 million users since the SMS answers service launched in January.

 The company also reported that it has gained traction among advertisers such brand advertisers as McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

The success ChaCha has had in transforming itself from a great concept but faltering desktop search engine to a mobile search tool, driven by viral adoption, is a great success story.

Sprint Courts Developers with New Open Platform

Recognizing the need to build a developer and software ecosystem, Sprint announced a new open platform for third parties:

Continuing its leadership in employing an open application model, Sprint today is introducing the latest version of its developer toolkit, relaunching its Professional Developer Program and preparing to deliver new Sprint devices and a new Java platform that will open the door to millions of developers who have traditionally designed for a desktop environment.

As a pioneering user of the Java mobile platform, Sprint is participating in JavaOne for the eighth consecutive year, offering its latest tools for developers to create wireless applications that customers can run on Sprint phones. At the Sprint exhibit during the 2008 conference, Sprint will launch its latest Wireless Toolkit, demonstrate the capabilities of its latest technology, including the new Titan platform, and launch its revised Professional Developer Program.

Sprint arguably has the best mobile broadband network and is ahead of rivals with the new Clearwire/Sprint 4G initiative. But it lags in terms of "sexy" hardware and mobile software applications vs. Apple, Android, RIM and WinMo. 

Oodle to "Power" Facebook Classifieds

Oodle, the second largest classified network in the U.S. announced that it has been chosen to be the "classified advertising application" embedded in Facebook. The target is to deliver an updated version of its Marketplace in the first quarter of 2009. In effect, Oodle will become the engine for local searches surrounding roommates, apartments for rent and other popular classified category.

No question, this is local search. But is it mobile? I say, definitely.

The leading "social networks" transcend both space and time by keeping individuals in touch with friends, classmates, colleagues, associates or idols in many locations and across many stages in their lives. Still, propinquity and immediacy are the elements that foster activity. As evidence, one need only look at our recent posting that revealed that MySpace, AIM, FaceBook and Craig's list are among the top search terms from mobile browsers. Mobile folks are definitely interested in who's nearby and what they are doing.

Desk-bound social networks days are numbered. They are already being replaced or (more accurately) augmented by their "to go" counterparts. The addition of Oodle as a classified application to Facebook Mobile will be especially useful, for it is through mobile renditions of Web-based resources that members communicate their location, thoughts, activities, interests and other elements of "status." Delving into classifieds through Facebook on featurephone or smartphone amounts to local mobile search.

Vlingo Comes to the iPhone

Dial Directions' Say Where local search app was the first voice-enabled application for the iPhone. Then came Google's Voice Search and now Vlingo has released a version of its voice search product for the device.

We haven't had a chance to test it yet but CNET calls it better than Google's voice search. It appears to have a broader range of capabilities. From the video (link below) it also appears impressive. However, we'll give it a try and report back.

The app allows users to search Google and Yahoo! (Vlingo is behind its pre-existing speech-enabled oneSearch), initiate calls to any of their contacts, look up map listings (local search) and update Twitter or Facebook status.

Here's a video of how it works

vlingo for iphone

Proximic Launches New Mobile Search Engine -- Sort Of

Contextual content and advertising provider Proximic released an iPhone app, as the first step into a much broader foray into consumer-facing mobile search. The company's underlying technology is called "pattern proximity matching," which seeks to better understand pages and context through numerous points of relevance. Company CEO Philipp Pieper says that it can be used to match ads with content (or content with other content) but that it also offers a superior relevance algorithm for consumer search.

However the new iPhone App "Proximic Agents" isn't yet a full-blown search engine; it's a more intelligent news reader -- for now. Here's how the company describes the new iPhone app:

The Agents app is an intelligent news service for better daily productivity. Proximic will scour millions of RSS feeds to find relevant content. Agents then match your interests and deliver fresh information directly on your iPhone.

Users set up queries or search terms ("agents"), very much like current news alerts. Wikipedia and news feeds are indexed and dynamically presented to end users who can save or share queries/results. Results may be sorted by relevance or date. But in the near term location awareness will be incorporated as another layer of relevance and factor into how results are defined and presented as well. 

Search queries may be stored and retrieved under the "agents" button (upper left of the screen). The interesting thing is that the app doesn't call itself a search engine but that's largely how it presents itself to iPhone users. Over time it will become more like a search engine, with more data sources and more use cases. Users who set it up as a news reader will today have a better experience than those seeking to use it as they would a mobile search engine. 

The rest of this post is on Search Engine Land

Gumiyo Makes Pitch to Newspapers

Mobile classifieds platform Gumiyo is pitching the newspaper industry that a suite of new tools and services represent an important new revenue stream for the beleaguered industry. (Here's our previous post on Gumiyo.)

From the press release earlier today:

Gumiyo's Mobile Ready Platform can be privately labeled and integrated directly into a publication's existing ad sales business, providing in-depth, interactive, and media-rich content that is linked to the advertiser's display and liner ads. The platform can also mobilize a paper's classifieds section by delivering matched listings to on-the-go consumers, and creates additional opportunities to engage those consumers beyond the printed page. Combinations of its unique engagement tools keep local consumers and advertisers connected and communicating. 

Rather than a mobile-only classifieds platform this "mobile ready" platform offers the ability to link SMS messages and mobile web content to static print ads. In terms of classiifieds activity in mobile, note that "Craigslist" was the #3 mobile search query from Yahoo! this year. 

The integration between print and other forms of traditional advertising and mobile will only gain steam and could deliver meaningful mobile marketing revenues in the near term. (See also Yell Puts QR Codes on Print Directories.)

HipCricket, among others, is also working in this "online-offline" segment, linking traditional media and mobile. 

Yahoo!: Top Mobile Search Terms of 2008 (US)

Earlier this morning AOL released its list of top search terms, including top mobile search terms.

Here are Yahoo!'s for comparison purposes:

  1. MySpace
  2. Facebook
  3. Craigslist (local)
  4. Movies (local)
  5. Weather (local)
  6. Olympics
  7. The Dark Knight (probably local)
  8. Kim Kardashian
  9. eBay
  10. AIG

AOL released five terms. However the only apparent overlap is in the social networks MySpace and Facebook. It will be interesting to see how results differ if Google and Microsoft also do this for mobile. 

10,000 iPhone Apps, Roughly 5.5% Local

iPhone tracking site 148apps.com said over the weekend that the number of apps in the iTunes store has now passed 10,000 (10,134 to be precise). The site breaks them out by price, category and when they were submitted:

Price:

  • Free -- 2,431
  • $0.99 -- 3,521
  • $1.99 -- 1,436
  • Above: 2,746

Type/category:

  1. Games  -- 2,340
  2. Entertainment -- 1,129
  3. Utilities  -- 1,017
  4. Education -- 739
  5. Productivity -- 521
  6. Books -- 513
  7. Lifestyle -- 509
  8. Reference -- 449
  9. Travel -- 438
  10. Healthcare & Fitness -- 430
  11. Sports -- 345
  12. Music -- 330
  13. Navigation -- 285
  14. Business -- 270
  15. Finance -- 253
  16. Photography -- 194
  17. Social Networking -- 175
  18. News -- 145
  19. Weather -- 52

According to Skyhook Wireless (as of 11/7/08) roughly 530 apps are location-aware (just over 5% of the total):

Skyhook iphone november 2

Skyhook iphone november

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Update: after I posted yesterday, Skyhook updated its slides. It appears location aware apps for the iPhone are now closing in on about 600 or 6% of the total number of apps:

Skyhook iPhone local apps

Yell Puts QR Codes on Print Directories

In a new experiment UK directory publisher Yell has added 2D barcodes to the cover of two of its print directories, which provide access to weather and entertainment information. According to the release issued earlier today:

Yell is to trial innovative smart codes on the front covers of two editions of its Yellow Pages directories, enabling consumers to obtain the latest local cinema and weather information via the mobile internet.

Two interactive smart codes published on the covers of the new Edinburgh and Cardiff editions of Yellow Pages in December will feature an encoded URL that hyperlinks consumers to the mobile internet. They will provide an innovative and quick way for Yellow Pages consumers who have a mobile phone with an internet service to obtain the latest cinema and weather information.

Users are required to download software that enables the phone to read the barcodes (and thus may it have limited adoption). However if successful, this has much more widespread potential application thoughout the directory.

It's yet another example of how mobile can be used to extend and make traditional media more dynamic.

Yell Cover

Mobile QR

G1 Gets Opera Browser, HTC Says Sales Ahead of Previous Forecasts

HTC said that it will ship more than the 600K units originally forecast for the end of 2008. The expectation is now that 1 million units will ship by the end of the year. AT&T and Motorola expect to have Android phones out in 2009. I will predict that Sprint will bring one out in late 2009 as well.

Meanwhile the G1 will get the Opera Mini 4.2 as an alternative browser.