Local Search

TheFind Promotes iPhone App: Where to Shop

TheFind announced its iPhone App this morning, as the challenging holiday shopping season begins. The App has been out for a few weeks. It taps GPS/location awareness on the iPhone and allows people to simply search for a particular item, brand or product category (e.g., children's furniture) and see a display of "nearby stores" or "Web items." TheFind crawls for data but also is getting a feed from NearbyNow (and maybe Krillion). 

TheFind on the iPhone

Other mobile-specific apps that provide local inventory data include Slifter and ShopSavvy (video demo), which features a barcode scanner. ShopLocal also has lots of data on retailers and sales that will be disseminated in mobile. ChaCha, I believe, is also working on this capability for those who don't have smartphones (e.g., "in San Diego, where can I buy a Wii?) 

I've encountered skepticism recently when speaking to people about the coming popularity of mobile shopping apps and mobile sites that allow for in-store price comparisons and nearby inventory checks. But these activities and services will be very popular with smartphone users -- maybe more broadly if they're integrated into voice search or SMS services.

Their benefits are self-evident. 

AMDOCS to Buy ChangingWorlds for $60 million

Amdocs has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Changing Worlds Ltd. (ChangingWorlds), a privately-held provider of software that supports personalization of mobile portals, for $60 million. The deal is set to close at year's end. ChangingWorlds and Amdocs already have a number of mutual accounts among the ranks of wireless carriers around the world, including Sprint, Vodafone and Telefonica/O2.

The plan is for ChangingWorlds' software to be integrated into Amdocs' Customer Experience System (CES). The software speeds the search process by capturing user behavior and usage patterns without requiring diret input from users. Mobile subscribers will be the initial beneficiaries but, like all the major search and content management rivals, Amdocs sees the acquisition as a component in a "three-screen" strategy that spans PCs and TVs as well as mobile phones and devices.

Data from BooRah's Android App: One Week In

Restaurant search provider BooRah launched an Anroid app last week and posted some details about downloads and usage:

We are also pleasantly surprised by the number of reviews we have received from the phone compared to our website and consumers seem to find it very convenient to write a brief review while at the restaurant.

The following chart shows the distribution of their application's downloads by geography, which corresponds to the T-Mobile 3G rollout:

BooRah Android

And here's the distribution and volume of search activity ("unique locations where users performed searches for local restaurants. These do not include searches by cuisine, keyword or location separately"):

Locations BooRah Android

I finally got a chance to hold and play with a G1.

I want to caution that it was not enough time to render a final judgment. Many things were nice about the device, but it was not as intuitive and elegant as the iPhone. In addition its greatest purported differentiator -- the presence of the physical keyboard -- is also a weakness in some situations. There appears to be no virtual keyboard (or that I couldn't find). And so when you conduct a general mobile search, you have to flip the device into landscape mode and enter the query.

It would just be faster if a virtual keyboard came up and you could do it that way. For SMS or longer text entries the keyboard works well. 

Finally, I want to return to the BooRah comment about mobile reviews quoted in the passage above. The conventional wisdom is that people won't necessarily enter reviews when they're on mobile devices because of the awkwardness of the form factor. However I dispute this, especially if the reviews process is simplified (see GoodRec).

As I mentioned in the post immediately below, there's going to be a flood of local or location-specific content that will come online from people in physical places using mobile to capture and upload that information. Reviews is just one category. 

ABI: '82 million Local-Mobile Social Networking Subscriptions'

ABI Research, which appears to issue a press release a week, put out a press release today that said:

Mobile location-based social networking is expected to become a key driver for the uptake of location-based services as it provides a unifying framework for a large set of applications such as friend finders, local search and geo-tagging. While many LBS applications will include features allowing the sharing of real-time experiences via fixed social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, fully-fledged mobile location-based social networking sites will also gain momentum with more than 82 million subscriptions expected by 2013. 

While the company doesn't define (at least in the release) what it means by "subscriptions," this forecast has elements of truth but largely misses the mark in its emphasis.

The embedded location awareness in mobile handsets will inform and permeate a wide range of mobile applications and services. However most "stand-alone" mobile-social networks will fail. Existing desktop social networks (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, etc.) will leverage location awareness in mobile and will generally crowd out upstart mobile only networks. There will be a few exceptions and success stories. 

Conversely, most mobile apps will contain social elements to varying degrees (e.g., send to a friend, etc.). The thing not suggested in the release is the way in which location-aware handsets will impact destkop applications and local content available online. Indeed, this is arguably where the greatest impact of "LBS" will be: the tagging, reviewing and uploading of content, images and information obtained via mobile devices that can then be displayed online. 

Mobile and the Internet more generally must be seen as distinct yet symbiotic. They are not two parallel universes but will increasingly interpentrate and overlap. Those publishers and applications that exist only on one side or the other will be at a tremendous disadvantage. 

As far as "subscriptions" go, the overwhelming majority users aren't going to pay ongoing fees, to mobile social networks, unless it's a one-time-only payment for the app itself. Facebook and MySpace mobile are free and any new network, unless it's supremely niche/vertical/specialized, that seeks to charge users for access is DOA (as they say in the vernacular).

Kelsey: 38% of Mobile Users in US Accessing Internet

To promote its upcoming conference, The Kelsey Group put out findings from a new consumer survey on mobile usage. The survey was based on an online survey of 512 US mobile phone owners this October. The information is directionally accurate and the data are interesting, but I would argue with particular data points.

Here are some of the publicly released findings:

  • Downloaded or looked at maps or directions: 17.6 percent, up from 10.8 percent in 2007
  • Searched the Internet for products or services in their local area: 15.6 percent, up from 9.8 percent in 2007
  • Searched the Internet for products or services outside their local area: 14.3 percent, up from 6.4 percent in 2007
  • Obtained information about movies or other entertainment: 13.7 percent, up from 8.2 percent in 2007
  • Connected with a social network, such as MySpace or Facebook: 9.6 percent, up from 3.4 percent in 2007

The Princeton-based firm also reported, "the percentage of mobile users who access the Internet from their mobile devices increased from 32.4 percent in 2007 to 38.9 percent in 2008, an annual growth rate of 20 percent."

We previously found (as did TMP Directional) using larger sample sizes that 16% had conducted local searches using mobile devices. This figure appears generally in agreement with the Kelsey data.

However, in my view, the mobile Internet access numbers and social networking numbers are too high to be representative of the mobile population as a whole. It's probably because of an overrepresentation of smartphones in the sample.

On this point the Kelsey data show that about 19% of survey respondents have a smartphone. It's closer to 13% (or so) for the general mobile user population. This discrepancy probably accounts for why some of the numbers in the survey are high.

In a previous online study with about 800 respondents we found that 29% had accessed the mobile Internet, and these LMS proprietary numbers were higher than Nielsen and comScore's numbers. (More important than the question of whether people had ever accessed the mobile Internet is the question of frequency and engagement.) I would argue in general that the trajectory of growth Kelsey shows from 2007 to 2008 is correct, in terms of mobile Internet access, but the figure (38.9%) is too high in terms of the general mobile user population in the US.

We all have seen that smarphones dramatically affect mobile Internet access and mobile search activity. From the recent TMP data:

 Mobile search usage -- comscore August 2008

In addition the 9.6% social networking number in the Kelsey findings is also directionally correct but too high regarding the mobile user population more generally. We found, as did comScore, that the number is closer to 6%. 

Clearly mobile Internet access is gaining rapidly and future gains are tied largely to smartphone adoption. Perhaps the most interesting data point released in the Kelsey findings is that just over 49% (49.2%) "plan to purchase an advanced mobile device" (presumably a smartphone) "in the next two years."

Despite these intentions, price will determine how many of these aspirants actually purchase smartphones (see this post). But, as we've argued many times in the past, are where the market is heading.

The Kelsey Group based much of its mobile revenues forecast on the expectation of growth for ad-supported free DA. Logically this made lots of sense and I also was quite bullish on this segment at one time. But it simply hasn't materialized as a major driver of call volumes (or revenues accordingly) at this point. And as more people adopt smartphones -- and go direct to the Intermet from mobile -- the ad revenues contribution we can expect from the "Free DA" segment is propotionately smaller.

CNN Using iPhones/Skyhook Wireless to Track Reporters Covering US Campaign

Skyhook Wireless CEO Ted Morgan sent me the image below of a CNN monitor that appeared last night on a CNN newscast. It shows CNN reporters covering the US presidential election in the various states. Morgan said they're using iPhones to track their people on the ground. Skyhook provides some of the location awareness technology in the device.

Skyhook and CNN

BlackBerry Partners Fund Makes Initial Investments

Earlier this week the BlackBerry Partners Fund announced its initial investments:

  • Buzz'd: a local entertainment and cityguide with social networking elements
  • WorldMate: a mobile travel planning and management tool
  • Digby: a mobile commerce/mobile "storefront" platform

Previously the fund announced the winners of the BlackBerry Developer Challenge:

  • Poynt
    Strands Social Player 
    Nobex Radio Companion

 A healthy software applications ecosystem is critical now to long-term success in mobile. That's why the BlackBerry Partners Fund was formed and why Google funded the Android Developer Challenge. It's also why Microsoft is strongly considering creating its own Windows Mobile Apps store. 

Skyhook Location-Based iPhone Apps Update

Here are the latest data from Skyhook Wireless, which is tracking location-based apps on the iPhone (and Android).

Week of October 3:

October 4

As of October 10:

  October 10

It appears that in the week that separates the two charts there are about 75 more location-aware apps for the iPhone. 

What's also interesting to note about Android apps, is that ShopSavvy is the most downloaded app in the first 24 hours. This is partly because the app was an Android Developer Challenge winner and has received a lot of publicity but also because it has inherent appeal. 

Poynt Wins BlackBerry Developer Challenge

Local and mobile search provider Poynt (Multiplied Media) won the prize for its "personal productivity and lifestyle" category and was one of three overall winners in the BlackBerry Developer Challenge.

Each grand prize winner gets $150K and becomes part of the BlackBerry Fund Partners JumpStart program. The other two "grand prize" winners were music related applications: Strands Social Player and Nobex Radio Companion.

 

MapQuest Creates iPhone-Optimized Site

MapQuest, which has been quite busy of late rolling out desktop site improvements and a new Local product, has just launched a new mobile site optimized for the iPhone. It features maps, directions, business search and gas price information.

Overall it offers a very strong user experience, nicely rendered. The only drawback is that because it's Safari-based and not an application it can't take advantage of the phone's built-in location awareness. Consequently most locations need to be manually entered. 

Mapquest for iPhone

CallGenie Seeking to Expand into New Markets

Voice and local mobile search provider CallGenie announced that it's expanding its services beyond its core directory and DA markets. From the press release out this morning:

Call Genie is now bringing its groundbreaking mobile local search and advertising products to newspaper, television and triple-play publishers and is attracting both local and national brand advertisers interested in capitalizing on this newly created inventory. 

In a very challenging economy with a limited number of buyers in the core YP and DA segments, local and mobile search vendors need to diversify. 

 

Local Apps Top 'Hot' and 'Favorites' Lists in iTunes Store; TheFind Released

I was in the Apple iTunes Apps Store and discovered that the top featured apps on both the "What's Hot" and "Staff Favorites" lists are local apps -- Urbanspoon and GoodRec. (I wrote previously about GoodRec here.)

What's Hot

In addition TheFind's shopping application (with local inventory data) "Where to Shop" is now available:

TheFind

The application allows users to search by keyword, item or brand and find the desired item(s) online or in nearby stores (it uses the iPhone's location awareness). The latter offers a conventional list view and map view. Some of TheFind's local inventory data are from NearbyNow. Slifter also has a local-mobile shopping app. There are also two among the initial wave of Android apps. 

eMarketer: 486M LBS Users by 2012 (No Problem)

A piece in AdWeek captures the topline figures on an eMarketer "location based services" forecast for mobile:

eMarketer forecasts that 486 million consumers worldwide will be using location-based services by 2012, up from 18.9 million in 2007. 

Of course the size of the potential market all depends on how you define "location based services." There's the geotargeted advertising angle and then there's the conumers demand/use angle. eMarketer is talking about the latter. 

Basically everyone who has a mobile phone and conducts a search is going to be searching for local/offline information from time to time. That doesn't take into account applications and favorites that are location-specific or location aware.

We found most recently in our own survey work that 29% of mobile phone users accessed the Internet and 16% searched. That 16% figure is identical to the recent TMP-comScore survey. Of course smartphone users access the mobile Internet and search much more than the average (over 50%). 

Local is one of the top content categories across all mobile consumers surveys (Opus, comScore, Nielsen). In practice it's a subset of all query volume on mobile handsets (see "What Do 20 Million Queries Tell Us about Mobile Search?")

The number of LBS/local content users on mobile devices is thus a function of overall mobile Intenet access and, in particular, smartphone growth. Today (per CTIA) we have approximately 260 million mobile users in the US. The range of mobile Internet access is between 15% and 30%, let's say. That represents (in the US alone) between about 40 and almost 80 million people -- today.

It should thus be very easy to hit the eMarketer numbers in four years, on a global basis. 

TMP Survey Data: Mobile Search

AdAge reports on mobile search and some of the recent TMP Directional Marketing-comScore survey findings. The survey of roughly 3,000 online consumers went into a broad range of areas. Mobile was a piece of the larger set of data.

We'll be rounding up this and other third party data in an advisory that will publish this week. For now here's a slide reflecting data from the TMP survey pertaining to mobile:

TMP mobile data According to the data above, the majority of smartphone users (including PDAs) conduct mobile searches and local searches on their mobile phones. Putting aside DA and ad-supported DA, it thus becomes a fairly straightforward formula to predict the growth of search on mobile handsets -- it's tied to smartphone adoption. And on that point, NDP said that three of the top five selling phones in the US are now smartphones.

800-Call-Dex Exits Trial, Expands Services

The CallGenie-powered 1-800-CallDex free DA service is exiting its trial periond and expanding its offering. The new services include SMS (listings back), enhanced business name search (previously there was only category search) and live operators.

Publisher RH Donnelley owns Dex and the CallDex service.

The following is data from a recent LMS survey asking people which of the free DA/voice search tools they'd used. Dex isn't on this list because it's not a national service. 

Free DA

Source: Opus/Multiplied Media, Sept 2008 (caution small sample)

Note: The people that answered this question were a subset of mobile search users. I'm surprised that the Google Maps with voice ranked as highly as it did because it was only recently introduced and Goog411 is a much more well-known service. The most reliable data point here may be the 63% who haven't used any of these services, indicating a general lack of consumer awareness. 

Skyhook Update on iPhone Location-Aware Apps (Android Too)

Skyhook Wireless is monitoring the growth of location-aware applications for the iPhone (300+), and now Android. The following charts reflect Skyhook's most recent data (through October 3).

Sky 4
SKY 1
Sky 3
Sky 4

Google Making More 'Robust' Version of Maps for Android

There are a few capabilities of Google Maps for Android that don't exist on the iPhone version of Google maps -- specifically StreetView and Compass (a unique and very compelling feature). There are rumors that StreetView is coming to the iPhone. But Google, so far, has reserved the richest experience of Google Maps for its own Android platform.

Here's a Google Mobile Blog post that details the full range of features and capabilities of Maps for Android; and here's a video that demonstrates these features.  

StreetView on Android

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Related: T-Mobile has now put an "Android emulator" online here

Android emulator

Dial Directions Formally Launches 'Say Where'

The new "Say Where" application for the iPhone from Dial Directions launched today and is now officially available from the iTunes apps store. We wrote about it a couple of weeks ago when the company announced the offering at the DEMO conference. 

While there are a range of companies that have developed or are working on voice-enabled iPhone applications, Say Where is the first to come out. It offers a voice "front end" on a range of local sites: Google Maps, YellowPages.com, Yelp and Traffic.com. Users can obtain directions or do business name or category searches. 

Location can be set using the 3G iPhone's internal location awareness capabilities or users can speak the city or place if it's not their current location. The application then launches the Safari browser and takes users to the listing or category in the desired site. In informally testing it this morning it performed generally well although aspects of the application are not 100% intuitive.

It does, however, illustrate the power of voice as an enabling interface for mobile and local-mobile search. 

 

Local Matters Confirms No Merger with mobilePeople

A day after mobilePeople announced funding, implying that the merger with LocalMatters was off (and we confirmed with them), a release has gone out explaining that the economy is to blame:

Local Matters and mobilePeople announce that, in light of the current equity markets, their planned merger will not occur. The two companies will return to, and build upon, their previous business partnership where they will continue to collaborate on projects with a growing base of global local media publishers.

This has clearly got to be a big disappointment for Local Matters (and mobilePeople). 

XOHM Now Live in Baltimore

Sprint's (soon to be Clearwire's) XOHM WiMax mobile broadband initiative is now live in Baltimore Maryland. Soon it's coming to Washington DC and Chicago. There's a long digression into LTE vs. WiMax that's not very interesting to me: which standard will prevail?

What's much more interesting is to imagine what happens when most major metropolitan areas are blanketed in coverage. Google's recent patent application concerning a wireless marketplace envisions this and is trying to accelerate the eventuality of such a development. 

In perhaps 7-10 years (maybe less) we will see US and European cities blanketed with wireless broadband. Hotspots will be dead (Amen). That will usher in an interesting era of all sorts of connected and mobile devices that sit in-between most of the smartphones of today and laptops, even so-called netbooks.

We may see connected fashion in the form of Internet-enabled watches, which already exist to some degree. 

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Related: Mixed review for WiMax