Local Search

TomTom 'Goes Live' with New Devices, Services to Stay Ahead of Smartphones

Personal navigation device (PND) maker TomTom (which recently completed its acquisition of TeleAtlas) introduced a new series of "GO Live" devices and services earlier this year. Those will become available in selected European markets (UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Switzerland) shortly. TomTom is teamed up with Google to provide local search results on devices as part of that larger suite of services.

Before TomTom, Dash partnered with Yahoo to deliver local search results in car. One of its more innovative services, TomTom allows users on the road to correct maps and incorporates those changes and corrections into its network for all users.  

PND makers are transforming their once narrow navigation devices into much broader and more useful Internet-connected utilities in a bid to head off smartphones, which promise broader functionality and increasingly GPS-enabled maps and directions. Garmin, which also has a relationship with Google, has even developed a smartphone.

As PNDs become Internet access devices and more (selected TomTom devices double as audio book readers), they become much more interesting because of their larger screens. But they will need to continue to innovate and evolve to stay ahead of smartphones, which threaten to render them superfluous.

As I wrote in the preceding post, a new wave of non-phone, mobile Internet devices may emerge that also squeeze traditional PNDs and are tied into next-generation mobile broadband networks such as WiMax and LTE. 

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Maps and directions remain one of the "killer apps" for mobile. In May of this year comScore found the following in a survey of 2,000 US mobile users:

Picture 3

In addition, we just found in a survey (n=789) that "access to maps & directions" was somewhat or very important to 45% of mobile users, as one of the top mobile content categories.

Sprint's XOHM Readies for Baltimore Launch

Sprint has formally announced its XOHM (pronounced zoam) WiMAX mobile broadband service. It will launch in Baltimore, MD in September. WiMax faces a challenge from LTE, which AT&T and Verizon have adopted as their 4G network standard. But WiMax is out of the gate sooner. Consumers, of course, don't care about any of this. They just want access on the go. 

XOHM will eventually be incorporated into Clearwire, the mobile broadband provider majority owned by Sprint but also invested in by Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

XOHM

XOHM is an ISP replacement offering that allows people -- rather than using a network card -- to tap into Internet access wherever they are in the coverage area(s), which should eventually be national and even international. It renders hotspots obsolete for subscribers.

There are lots of interesting mobile implications for non-phone mobile Internet access products such as Apple's iPod Touch and Nokia's Internet Tablet(s) and so on. Such products can also potentially become cell-phone substitutes with mobile VoIP products (Skype, Fring, Jaxtr, iCall, etc). Once national coverage is established we should see development of a range of interesting mobile Internet access devices that are not cellphones.

XOHM has also done something interesting for its homescreen or start page. It's formed relationships with a host of local content and infrastructure providers:

  • uLocate Communications (which operates the mobile Where portal)
  • Yelp 
  • Eventful 
  • Topix 
  • NAVTEQ 
  • AccuWeather
  • Openwave Systems 
  • Autodesk Inc.

These companies will provide content to XOHM users that will automatically change based on location (in coverage areas). It will thus eliminate the need to input location in most cases, unless you're looking for a business, event or restaurant somewhere else. There are also significant implications for greater location precision with ad targeting on the Internet for subscribers.

All of these scenarios of course depend on consumer adoption and continued rollouts by Sprint/Clearwire of the service. But the benefits to consumers, assuming affordability, are significant: perpetual access across devices (laptop, mobile) for a single price. 

Google and Verizon Wireless: Mobile Search for the Rest of Us?

This post is further comment on Greg Sterling's previous note:

Last week, Wall Street Journal reporter Amol Sharma reported that search giant Google was in serious talks with Verizon Wireless to establish a relationship "which would make Google the default search provider on Verizon devices and give it a share of ad revenue". According to Sharma, based on talks with an executive close to the deal, the arrangement "is aimed at dramatically simplifying what is now a confusing set of search options for cellphone users." In other words, establishing a deeper relationship with Google is part of Verizon Wireless' competitive response to AT&T Mobility's iPhone-based offerings in association with Apple. According to the story, this represents Verizon's rejection of a role for Microsoft and its advertising platform as the default search on Verizon's devices. It should also be a boon for Medio Systems, which will continue to operate an "all-in-one" aggregater presenter of mobile content from a multiplicity of Web service providers.

In a slew of other coverage, discussion surrounded the thaw in a chilly relationship between Google, playing its role as chief proponent of open networks for wireless application and service providers and Verizon as adherent to the transformative model for licensees of wireless spectrum. Frankly, this appears to be more ado about a marketing agreement than is warranted. If Verizon is looking for Google "exclusive" as a source of product differentiation, that's not happening. Steve Jobs and Apple were smart enough to roll out the iPhone with access to the most popular web applications "on the glass". That included YouTube, Maps (based on Google Maps), iTunes, Weather, and its own AppsStore. Google was also embedded as the default search engine in the iPhone's rendition of the Safari Web browser. I'm not privy to what the considerations are in terms of division of advertising revenues (among Apple, AT&T Mobility and Google) for such preferential treatment of Google in the iPhone click-stream, but it's already working for all parties involved.

As for the implications for Local Mobile Search, we've already catalogued a few dozen iPhone apps  that take advantage of geo-location, social networking, reviews and the like. For the most useful, it is the creative marriage of geopositioning, the gravitometer and (thankfully) access to the faster Wi-Fi links by the approved third-party application vendors that make for the best user experience. A Verzon Wireless/Google joint offering doesn't get you there, yet.

The Train Is Leaving the Station

MediaPost's Steve Smith wrote a column "Waiting For The Local Train To Arrive" in which he expresses skepticism about the outlook for local content in a mobile context:

For the 15 years or so I have been covering digital media, local media has been in a persistent state of becoming. Those piles of local ad dollars always seem so ripe for the picking, and most users are hitting the Web to locate nearby information and services…aren’t they? And yet, moving all those mom and pop stores to buy digital media, and getting users to think of the Web as a local resource, both proved to be a long, slow process with no visible tipping point.

Smith isn't entirely dismissive of LBS on mobile, he just thinks it's very hard and companies are largely unmotivated to make the necessary investments:

It has taken years to get onliners to think of the Web as a local medium, and one wonders if mobile will suffer its own long hard trudge towards getting people to think of their handset as a window into local media. Part of this has to come down to the media themselves. Navigation and discovery on the deck still sucks, and it probably will for a while.

Here are a few responses:

  • Local is much harder than national and has been tougher slogging. Smith is right that "The real choke point for local digital platforms always has been ad sales."
  • The Internet has now become the top consumer source for local business information (TMP, Nielsen-WebVisible, 2007). We're past the "tipping point" as far as consumers are concerned
  • I disagree strongly that local-mobile will suffer in the same way. On mobile devices the value of local content is more obvious to everyone because of their connection to the person and a physical location
  • Mobile will develop in half or less than half the time of the Internet. Local isn't the only category of value in mobile but it's one of the primary categories. The analogy is directory assistance.

Consumers have for years been way ahead of advertisers and publishers in their interest in local information online and use of the Internet as a research tool before buying offline-locally.

Local applications and various tools coming "online" now (e.g., Yahoo Fire Eagle) will help make that user behavior more transparent to advertisers and more flexible. And dynamic ad platforms (including in mobile) should help address the gap between consumer behavior and advertiser (in)action.

Shopping Engine TheFind Launches iPhone App

We got time with TheFind CEO Siva Kumar a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of the company's iPhone launch. The company has formally announced its app and it's likely to be a game changer for TheFind, which is a terrific engine but has had limited consumer awareness on the desktop:

TheFind: Where to Shop bridges the gap between online research and offline purchases, enabling shoppers to compare products and pricing -- while out and about -- and ensuring that they find exactly what they're searching for, quickly and easily within their neighborhood. With a comprehensive index of more than 250 million products covering 200,000 store locations, TheFind’s iPhone application aims to be the best resource for savvy shoppers.

TheFind is sourcing local inventory data from Krillion and NearbyNow and will bring that information to the iPhone, together with the phone's location awareness. (Slifter offers a less elegantly presented version of this content.) That means individuals out and about will be able to determine what store near them has the desired pair of Brooks running shoes or the particular flat-panel TV they're interested in.

When they're in store X and it's out of a particular item people will be able to check and see if another nearby store offers the same or a comparable product. There's also nice continuity between the desktop and mobile.

Mobile users are already doing in-store price comparisons on mobile devices and this new iPhone app represents a more complete mobile shopping experience.

TheFind

On the desktop TheFind offers local shopping as well:

TheFind Local

Consistently, consumers use the Internet to conduct product research before buying in local stores. Krillion, Where2GetIt, Shopatron, Channel Intelligence and NearbyNow are creating the inventory data and infrastructure that make possible mobile applications like TheFind and Slifter.

NearbyNow in fact is doing some amazing things with text-based advertising after users reserve products for in-store pick up.

Retail/shopping is a near-term mobile use case and advertising opportunity for obvious reasons. These mobile apps and the supporting inventory data show that product search is just as much a part of "local" as service business lookups.

Idearc Extends 'HelloMetro' Distribution to Mobile

Idearc's Superpages currently has a distribution relationship with domain-based cityguide and local network "Hello Metro," which offers yellow pages and other listings under "HelloDomain" sites: e.g., HelloEugene.com.

HelloMetro

That relationship has now been extended to the ".mobi" version of the sites:

HelloMetro.mobil

HelloMetro claims 2.7 million unique users across its network. However, the mobile version of the sites probably have scant usage at this point.

WhitePages.com: From Directory to ‘Connectory’

At a WhitePages.com-sponsored “blogger day” last week, I and LMS colleague Pete Headrick, had a chance to hear about where the company’s been and where it’s going: interesting places. It was preceded by a Mike Arrington-moderated discussion about the iPhone and several iPhone apps (Urbanspoon, Jott, and WhitePages). The demos and initial discussion were interesting but the conversation ultimately devolved into an iPhone vs. Android debate. The Seattle PI covered it here.

WhitePages.com is a terrifically successful business, selling (mostly display) advertising against its huge traffic and network — the company has relationships with most U.S. yellow pages publishers and a range of others, including MSN. It also owns a range of brands/destinations in the U.S. and Canada, including Address.com, PhoneNumber.com and 411.com.

The company also claims roughly 40 million monthly uniques. The most recent comScore “Top 50″ U.S. sites shows WhitePages.com at 42. But comScore likely counts traffic to WhitePages lookups on partner sites as belonging to those partners (e.g., Superpages). WhitePages’ database of people listings (collected through various methodologies) now is roughly 180 million according to the company. WhitePages says this is orders of magnitude larger than anyone else.

If my notes are correct, CEO Alex Algard said the site made something approaching $70 million in 2007. It’s a very profitable but not too sexy businesses. Part of the reason for the blogger day was to announce the company’s new direction. Consistent with that new direction WhitePages recently bought voice platform Snapvine.

What was most interesting to me, beyond the impressive metrics was this conceptual shift from directory to what the company is calling a “connectory.” What does that mean? It means a medium or hub for direct communications between people. As opposed to simply looking up names — the company cited a range of data on usage frequency — soon users will be able to leave voicemail messages for one another or send text messages to registered users’ cellphones, all via the site.

The rest of this post is on Screenwerk.

Google Has Less 'splainin' to Do

In posting in its official blog promising "greater transparancy", Google provides some insight into how it will let searchers know when it is localizing or personalizing responses to queries. The company is very open to disclosing what it has inferred about your location and your interests based on past search activity. It will indicate as much with a notation that appears up-and-to-the-right on a response page.

Searchers can then receive more detail on the factors that are being taken into account as Google tailors its search results for each individual. In response to the drill-down, Google serves up a page that illustrates the last known location, the most recent search and what is known about the Web history. It also grants the ability for visitors to change their location and erase their Web history if they so desire.

This is a new feature and part of the company's "Commitment to Transparency." It is too early to know how many visitors will avail themselves of the service. It is also difficult to picture how it will be incorporated into mobile applications, but it seems like a ready made tool for individuals to refine their local searches.

Quova Acquires Verifia; Poised to add More Metadata

Geotargeting specialist Quova has just purchased authentication and identification expert Verifia for an undisclosed sum. Both companies were founded in 2000. Over the years Quova has refined its core value proposition by creating a service that of pinpoints the location of Web users by gleaning the maximum amount of information about their location of their IP addresses and associating it with demographic data and other metadata. It provides its services to major e-retailers, ad networks, banks and government agencies who employ the data to geo-target  advertising and content, detect and prevent identify theft and credit card fraud, or comply with laws and regulations. 

Verifia's has two core products: NetGeo and TIP (Theft of Identity Protector). NetGeo, is a geolocation service that would augment Quova's core competency of pinpointing a user's location. TIP adds the dimension of fraud protection. The acquisition makes an explicit link between building incentives built around targeting of messages around geolocation, while at the same time erecting barriers against fraudulent activity by Web-based imposters and identity thiefs. This sort of secure geotargeting is designed to encourage more locally oriented activity among the company's clients. Verifia's clients (who will now be served by Quova) include American Express, Boots, and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation. They will join Quova's formidable roster of "thousands" of Web-based companies.

TheFind Readies iPhone Application

We met with Siva Kumar, CEO of TheFind yesterday. He discussed the company's forthcoming iPhone application (in the approval process now), which we haven't seen in action but appears impressive. It's trying to bridge the gap between the desktop and mobile.

Perhaps most importantly, it brings TheFind's local shopping capabilities to mobile. TheFind is working with Krillion and NearbyNow for local inventory information. It's also crawling and matching online inventory with store locations.

Product search, inventory lookups and price comparisons are all going to be very popular use cases for mobile sooner rather than later.

Yahoo Emphasizes LMS

Yahoo's Local GM Frazier Miller recently emphasized how important local content delivery on mobile phones is:

Frazier Miller, general manager of Yahoo! Local, said that by 2010 mobile phones are expected to outnumber PCs by three to one, adding that local information is the biggest demand from mobile users.

He continued: "We have a perfect storm brewing between user demand, advertising desire for targeting and mobile evolution that's going to make this an incredibly rich arena for the next few years."

Clients can see our analysis of Yahoo's survey of 20 million search queries. Local is a critical content category but it's not the only one in demand. Yet it's probably the most fruitful area for marketers, if they can learn how to tap the opportunity.

Zumobi Launches for Blackberry

Zumobi has launched its widget-based application for Blackberry. Conceptually similar to Where or the iPhone, the app provides distribution for a range of content partners (via "Tiles") on an customizable interface. Those partners include NPR, AP, Twitter, Facebook and a range of others. In addition, the widget format offers a range of interesting brand and merchant promotional opportunities.

Zumobi interface

Where just launched a successful application for the iPhone that incorporates its content partners, who in many cases (i.e., Yelp, Eventful) have their own independent iPhone apps. A Where executive told me yesterday that the people seem to be responding to the convenience of having lots of content (local metasearch) in a single iPhone application.

Zumobi should thus follow in Where's footsteps, if it isn't already.

Blackberry benefits from having the largest U.S. smartphone market share, but it doesn't have the developer or applications ecosystem (yet) to rival the iPhone. Here's a side-by-side comparison between the iPhone 3G and Blackberry Bold.

UK's Yell Introduces Mobile Maps Application

Built with mobilePeople, Yell has introduced a mobile mapping and local search application:

Yell Maps 1

Yell Maps 2

From the press release:

Yell.com mobile maps, a downloadable application that offers a range of market-leading product features, enables consumers to locate any address in the UK, get walking or driving directions displayed right on the map, and search for any of the 2.3m businesses available on Yell.com.

Features unique to Yell.com mobile maps offer consumers the ability to save business names, addresses and phone numbers directly to the phone's contact list and also to share this information with others via text messaging – ideal, for instance, when organising a night out. People can also contact businesses directly from the application with a simple click to call.

Walking directions is a nice feature. Yell also offers a more "traditional" WAP-based search tool. According to Nielsen Mobile, the UK is second to the US in terms of mobile Internet usage:

Mobile Internet penetration

Where Rises to Top 20 of iPhone Apps

Where

Where (uLocate) put out a press release today to promote its early success as one of the more popular iPhone applications. On the top 100 list of free applications, it comes in at number 19:

WHERE, is among the most popular applications on the new iPhone App Store pulling in as many as 100 activations per second. Since the launch of Apple's new App Store on Friday, WHERE has received over 125,000 downloads, surpassing all other GPS applications on the App Store.

Among the location aware iPhone apps that we cataloged, only WeatherBug, the Google Mobile App (partly local) and movie finder BoxOffice were ahead of it.

Where/uLocate marketing VP Dan Gilmartin just indicated to me in email that the service had 135,000 downloads this evening.

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The New York Times writes at length about the Urbanspoon iPhone app.

Survey of Local iPhone Apps

Apple announced today that it had sold a million iPhones in three days (globally). It also announced 10 million applications downloads since last Thursday.

We've cataloged more than 55 applications (roughly 10%) that leverage the iPhone's location awareness capability. But we're just at the beginning of these services We've grouped them into the following categories:

  • Restaurants & Entertainment
  • Social Networking & Friend Finders
  • Yellow & White Pages
  • Movie Related
  • News & Weather
  • Transit & Travel
  • Miscellaneous

This is just a survey and not reviews of all these applications. However, it's interesting to see what's there and what's missing from this initial group of LBS apps.

Click here to view the findings. Note: this is a very large file (9 MB).

AllTel Taps ChaCha for Mobile Answers

Alltel is going to be promoting ChaCha's mobile answers. Here's the press release:

Alltel customers need quick and concise answers to questions they may have while on the go, and we believe that ChaCha’s mobile answers services provides the right amount of information mobile users need,” said Craig Kirkland, vice president of messaging and voice services for Alltel Wireless. “We’re delighted to work with ChaCha, and our mobile users will be thrilled with the fun and user-friendly ChaCha mobile answers service.”

Verizon has acquired Alltel (for $28 billion). So that may lead to expansion of the deal to Verizon.

Nokia Formally Approved for Navteq Acquisition

Nokia was finally, formally approved for its $8 billion acquisition of mapping provider Navteq. Navteq will become the core of Nokia Maps. The acquisition is consistent with Nokia's broader diversification strategy, seeking to remake itself as an "Internet company."

Navteq straddles both the destkop and mobile by providing mapping data, content and eventually advertising on the desktop, PNDs and in mobile.

Google Introduces Voice Search for Blackberry

From the Google Mobile Blog:

Using your voice to search for businesses is super useful in situations when you can't type, when the name of the business is long, or when you're not sure how to spell it. In other situations -- when you're in a library or a rock concert, for example -- typing makes more sense. Keeping that in mind, we designed this feature to allow you to choose whether to speak or type. Get it now on your BlackBerry Pearl by visiting http://www.google.com/gmm.

Built on the same speech recognition engine used for Goog411, Google Maps with voice search is very much like the Tellme service for Blackberry or Live Search with voice, as well as applications from V-Enable, Vlingo/Yahoo!, Nuance and others.

Google had been the last of the major providers without true "voice search," putting Goog411 aside. Now all the major Internet brands have or are integrating voice in mobile (save AOL).

It will ultimately drive more search and usage frequency. Recall that ChaCha reported 40 queries per month among many of its users and up to 150 for its heaviest users. This is about voice and its ease of use.

Dizgo Brings Real-Time Offers to Local Mobile Users

Colorado-based Dizgo has quietly opened for business in the city of Boulder and the Denver, CO neighborhood of Cherry Creek. Dizgo is a mobile marketing platform ("mobile discounts on the go") that offers merchants the ability to tap local interest in offers and discounts. It's also a loyalty program. The company just launched but has already signed up many local merchants (mostly restaurants) who self-provision ads on the system.

The service was founded by Jeff Kohn, an ex-Dex (yellow pages) executive. He knows the challenges of trying to get local advertisers to self-provision campaigns. But he says there has been good uptake of Dizgo, which also has a small sales force calling on merchants. The value proposition isn't "mobile marketing," but "reach your customers with real-time offers that drive foot traffic in the store."

In order to set up a campaign merchants go to an administrative dashboard, name a campaign, indicate start and end dates, compose an offer and bid on a category. Ads get on the system in real time, so an ad placed this morning can be found in near real time (think: offers for lunch or dinner). They can also be pushed out to those who opt-in to receive email alerts:

Dizgo merchant list

There are a few ways to get information as a user:

  • Deal Search: Users send keywords/queries to short code Dizgo (34946)

  • Deal Alerts: Users opt-in to receive offers from merchants (see above)

  • Deal Syndication: Dizgo is building an ad network

As the company scales nationally it will also offer a "white label" platform for third party use (think: YP, newspapers, verticals, local portal sites, cityguides). Kohn and I discussed whether the bad economy was encouraging merchants to experiment with the system and he agreed that it probably was. Kohn said that merchants were using their existing email lists to try and get their customers onto the system.

There aren't a lot of tools out there right now that enable merchants to promote discounts or deals and have those distributed the same day. NearbyNow does this, TheStoreBook (newly launched) and one or two others seek to do it.

The highly focused, local nature of this site (Boulder) is helping adoption on the merchant side and probably will drive it on the consumer side as well. I asked Kohn for early consumer response data. However Dizgo hasn't officially launched yet to consumers so I'll have to wait for that.

OpenTable Intros Mobile "Beta"

At long last, a "mobile optimized" version of the venerable dining search site OpenTable has debuted at mobile.opentable.com. The company opted to take the WAP (wireless application protocol) route to support the mobile Web. It serves up screens to march users through a highly-structured process of finding a restaurant and making a reservation. At the highest level it offers the choice of specific metropolitan areas, followed by regions (within the metro area), neighborhoods and then specific restaurants. Once a choice is made, the service delivers a brief description of the restaurant along with links to specific times when there are open tables.

Users are prompted to enter their first and last name, email address and telephone number. There is no evidence that "secure browsing" is being initiated, nor are OpenTable "members" given th option to log in, so it will be interesting to see whether regular users of OpenTable on the desktop are dissuaded from using the mobile service.

My cursory evluation indicates that the mobile site may be a little too skinnied down. OpenTable on the desktop provides for much more serendipitous discovery. If a popular place is booked, it is much easier to navigate around and find viable alternatives. Also, in the mobile format, it is unclear whether it would be faster just to call a restaurant directly to make a reservation or find out specials, etc.

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See also, Greg's earlier post with some screens.