Local Search

Mapquest Integrates Skyhook Location to Surmount GPS Limitations

Mapquest and Skyhook Wireless announced today that Skyhook's "Hybrid Location System" would be deployed in Mapquest's Android navigation app. The idea is that GPS is unreliable much of the time, as the press release explains:

Frequent users of navigation apps on smartphones know the headaches of trying to start a trip from inside a parking garage, or of following a route through the urban canyons of New York City. Everyone has a story of the costly wrong turn made due to a lost GPS signal and delayed navigation. These issues are primarily a result of the limitations in relying on GPS satellites, also a handicap of many other navigation apps.  By using Skyhook’s unique combination of Wi-Fi signals and GPS, MapQuest avoids these common GPS headaches.

The free navigation app from Mapquest offers voice search and voice turn-by-turn navigation, traffic and local search. It's a very nice offering -- and free. The challenge for any mapping or navigation provider on Android handsets is similar to the challenge of any search provider on the PC that isn't Google.

Google Navigation is so deeply integrated into the whole mobile search and mapping experience on Android that a competitor has to be superior (or better) to get attention and usage. However Mapquest has huge brand equity, which goes some distance to overcoming the "inertia" around Google Navigation on Android.

According to Hitwise, Google Maps and Maquest are the top two travel sites in the Us. However Mapquest is the top "branded" travel search term.

Top 10 US Travel Sites (per Hitwise): 

  1. Google Maps
  2. MapQuest
  3. Expedia
  4. Southwest Airlines
  5. Priceline.com
  6. Yahoo! Travel
  7. TripAdvisor
  8. Bing maps
  9. Yahoo! Maps
  10. Orbitz

Google: Mobile Search Will Pass PC Sooner Than People Think

There's an extensive article in the New York Times about Google and mobile search. The article is mostly a feature about the evolution of Google's approach to mobile. It also discusses voice search and Goggles but there's little hard data or new numbers. 

The $1 billion mobile ad run rate is mentioned as are several previously released data points. Here are a few of the stats and observations from the article:

  • Google says mobile searches are growing as quickly as Web searches were at the same stage in the company’s early days, and they are up sixfold in the last two years. 
  • Mobile searches spike during the lunch hour and evenings, when people are away from their computers. 
  • Search for Wal-Mart on a computer and Google suspects you are probably looking for the e-commerce site or job openings. Search on a phone and Google assumes you are looking for the nearest store. Other search tools were built specifically for phones.

We've estimated, using comScore and Google's own public data that between 1.9 and 2.4 billion monthly queries on Google are coming from mobile. Google has said 33% of mobile queries have local intent. That would mean that between roughly 600 million and almost 800 million monthly queries are local-mobile.

But here's the "money quote" from the NY Times' piece: “Mobile search is definitely going to surpass desktop search,” said Scott B. Huffman, who works on mobile search at Google and leads its search evaluation team. “The lines will pass, and I think they’ll pass before anyone thought they would.”

NAVTEQ Local-Mobile Ad Performance Good, but not Best in Market

NAVTEQ put out a press release yesterday announcing results of "its first hyper-local ad campaign targeting millions of users of the Poynt application." Poynt is a search app. The NAVTEQ ads tested were location and/or contextually relevant to user queries.

Here are the results: 

The maiden campaign featured hyper-local ads for national gas station and restaurant brands throughout the United States. All four campaigns performed three to five times better than the industry average* click-through rate (CTR) of .49 with an average CTR of 2.68% across campaigns. Post-click user engagement ranged from 4.49% to as high as 11.25%, depending on advertiser. 

The 2.7% CTR and engagement numbers are better than average, but still not as strong as those reported by several others offering local-mobile advertising or location-based ads on mobile devices. Off the top of my head I know that TeleNav, xAD, Placecast and JiWire have local-mobile ad performance data that exceed the reported NAVTEQ metrics.

TeleNav previously said that ads on its navigation software saw nearly 4% CTRs and 24% conversions (in terms of users driving to store locations after seeing an ad): 

[Ads] resulted in a click thru rate of 3.8 percent, which is significantly greater than traditional mobile and online display ads. Moreover, the data indicates that the conversion rate of users who drive to the business location after clicking on an ad presented in TeleNav's local search results is nearly 24 percent. 

Local-mobile ad network xAD told me that it sees average local search CTRs of 5% to 8%, with some campaigns exhibiting higher response rates. Google also previously reported that after a local-mobile lookup 61% of users called a business and 59% visited a location in person.

The larger point is that directional searches on the go are highly commercial in nature with action likely to be taken by the individuals conducting them. 

Marchex Buys Jingle Networks for $62 Million in Cash and Stock

Marchex has acquired Jingle Networks, which operates the 800-Free-411 consumer service and a mobile ad network. The acquisition is valued at $62.5 million and is a mix of cash and stock. Jingle had previously raised roughly $70 million since it was founded in 2004 in multiple rounds from investors. 

The acquisition will boost the Marchex Call Advertising Network and (finally) provides Jingle with an exit. Jingle launched with terrific fanfare and seemed like a great option for mobile callers seeking to avoid growing 411 fees. However, the growth of smartphones has taken a toll (so to speak) on directory assistance call volumes and they continuing to erode albeit at a relatively stable pace. 

Compared to traditional carriers, Jingle had a more interesting and diversified model than traditional 411. (Google shuttered its Jingle competitor, 800-GOOG-411 last year.) The best of the free 411 services was Microsoft's, Bing-411, which continues to operate. 

Marchex says that the addition of Jingle's calls and mobile network to its own will deliver "annualized reach of more than 500 million phone calls across digital media." The company says that Jingle's revenues will be $26 million in 2011. Call-based advertising will now constitute "75% of [Marchex's] revenues on an annualized basis by the end of 2011."

Marchex says that the overall market for calls is worth $179 billion annually and includes both online and offline media. These are ads "intended to generate calls." The company also says that some of the campaigns on its call network generate 10X response and conversions from consumers vs. clicks. 

Screen shot 2011-04-11 at 4.47.03 AM

Average CTR on Mobile 5X Higher than PC: Report

Investment firm Macquarie captured a bunch of mobile data presented, in part by Google, during and an AMA sponsored webinar on the mobile paid
search market. Most of this has been released or mentioned before but it's a nice collection of stats pertaining to mobile search and the mobile market in general: 

  • Google projected that 15%-30% of site traffic will be from mobile within 18 months  (me: Yelp has already said its number is 35%)
  • Mobile-only campaigns saw 11.5% higher CTRs vs. PC campaigns; CPCs were 30% lower on mobile vs. desktop but CTRs 5x higher (me: this isn't true across the board)
  • 33% of mobile queries have "local intent" (per Google, MSFT: 53%) 
  • After searching for a local business on a smartphone, 61% of users called the businesses and 59% visited the business
  • Tablet conversion rates are equal to or higher than desktop and tablet users spend 50% more than PC users (eBay/Shopatron research)
  • Tablet conversion rates are equal to or higher than on PCs (eBay/Shopatron research)

Picture 56

Defying the Market Poynt Continues to Grow

Poynt is the local search app that could. Once near extinction the Canadian company, which is publicly traded, has come back and continues to grow.

A week ago the company said it reached "one billion user actions," which is impressive because of the "billion" part but otherwise is a bit of a dubious metric. More transparently, Poynt said it has about 6.5 million uniques across multiple operating systems. That would put it just behind Foursquare, with 8 million users, to provide some context.

Poynt started on BlackBerry and has seen its greatest success on that platform. However it's also avaiable on the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and now Nokia handsets (QT devices). The company says that it's adding about 30K users per day. 

Picture 47

A couple of weeks ago local-mobile ad network xAD acquired the consumer business of Go2 Media and Poynt bought the ad serving back end. However, Poynt makes most of its money as a distributor of ads and content for third party YP publishes such as SuperMedia and AT&T. 

Poynt is a workmanlike but unremarkable local search app, featuring restaurants, local business search, movies, gas and people search. Its appeal perhaps lies in its simplicity. Whether intentional or not its early adoption by RIM users in an uncrowded BlackBerry App World helped the company gain a following and build some momentum it probably wouldn't have otherwise. 

Avantar is a similar case. Early in with a YP app on the iPhone many users adopted it and continue to use it, though it's extremely basic. 

Poynt, as mentioned, is publicly traded in Canada and has a market cap of roughly $50 million Canadian (just over that same amount in USD). Unless the app were to dramatically improve and/or the company started releasing other apps Poynt is likely to hit the natural limits of growth in the not-too-distant future. 

The endgame for the company is probably to get to about 10 million uniques (if possible) and then be acquired by YPG in Canada or another US local media publisher. However I'm a bit surprised that the company has had the success that it has to date. 

TeleNav 'Infographic' Unwittingly Indicts American Habits

TeleNav has a subscriber base of more than 20 million people, distributed over 600 devices in many countries. The company has done a good job of surviving the free navigation push by Google, Nokia and more recently Mapquest. It has an enterprise business as well as a direct consumer business. TeleNav also powers many of the carrier navigation services.

Earlier this week the company put out an "infographic" with some top-level US data about navigation usage. (As an aside I wish companies would stop putting out these so-called infographics for PR purposes. People pick them up, just as I have, but they make reading and understanding the data more difficult than it needs to be. It's a gimmick that should come to an end in my view.)

The chart shows that the top places US TeleNav users are navigating to. It also stands as a kind of unintended indictment of Americans' tastes and behavior. 

 Picture 39

The most searched/navigated locations are Wal-Mart, Target, Starbucks, Best Buy. McDonald's is in there at number 6. Navigational queries like this (name-in-mind searches) represent about 60% of local searches coming from mobile devices currently. Collectively Pizza, American (food) and Burgers represent about 63% of restaurant-related queries. And among them McDonald's and Pizza Hut figure prominently. 

Separately TeleNav conducted a survey of drivers and found, among other things, that:

Nearly 25 percent of both sexes reported sending at least one text message while driving per week. Men texted the most, with 36 percent of those who text while driving indicating they send an average of seven or more texts per week while on the road. In contrast, only 23 percent of women admitted to texting as frequently.

Below is a video demo of the current version of TeleNav (as AT&T Navigator):

Picture 41

The Challenges of Foursquare's Amex Deal

This past weekend Foursquare announced a deal with Amex, which was first reported in the Wall Street Journal. The partnership essentially offers discounts and rewards for checking in at participating local businesses:

Under the arrangement, AmEx customers can register their cards in the Foursquare system to get access to special offers from merchants who are also Foursquare participants. Customers who shop at those merchants with an AmEx card will receive credits and electronic notification that they have redeemed the offer. Merchants who participate in the program would potentially see more sales. . . .

The Foursquare partnership is AmEx's latest offering aimed at people who are roughly a generation younger than the company's traditional customer. AmEx has introduced several new cards targeted at the hip and tech-savvy generation in recent years, with mixed success. 

The move is positioned in the article as a way for Amex to associate itself with a "hip" new mobile app and thereby attract younger users. It's going to be initially tested at the SXSW conference coming up next week in Austin, Texas: "Sixty local merchants will honor the 'spend $5, save $5' promotion."

It's great PR and a great high-profile deal for Foursquare, which now has more than 8 million users globally. Amex claims, however, this isn't simply about younger users but about new forms of loyalty and cardmember engagement.

On paper it all makes sense; however there are some potential challenges with the deal. I couldn't find empirical data but my understanding is that on average Amex cardholders are generally older than the bulk of Foursquare users, although there will be some overlap. According to Pew, here's the demographic breakdown of "location based services" users:

Demographics of location-based service users

This "generic" LBS user profile cuts more broadly than Foursquare specifically. And Google's Ad Planner (as well as Quantcast and Alexa) shows a user base that is somewhat older than Pew's profile. It also shows more female users on Foursquare.

Beyond the "demographic" challenge, is the fact that most local businesses don't use Foursquare to promote themselves. In addition many don't take Amex; you remember the Visa ads. ("They won't take no for an answer, and they won't take American Express.")

In our recent SMB survey about 8% of respondents said they were using Foursquare to promote themselves. This number cannot be generalized to the entire population of SMBs. That would effectively mean about 2 million SMBs actively on Foursquare marketing themselves. The 8% figure is larger than in previous surveys, reflecting Foursquare's growth and increased visibility. However the number of businesses using it to acquire new customers or as a loyalty platform is relatively small.

Accordingly you have to find SMBs or national-local entities that are on Foursquare (and take Amex), together with Foursquare users who have Amex cards to use in those establishments. This slices the potential pie pretty thinly. Yet this is the right direction for Foursquare, which will have enormous difficulty monetizing via SMB self-service. It needs to make big deals with channel partners and do national-local deals with retailers to generate meaningful revenue. 

Loopt Reinvents Itself (Again) with Push 'Rewards'

Loopt was an early friend finder and social network for mobile devices that has been forced to reinvent itself and try different things repeatedly because of the entry competitors and better-known brands into its space: e.g., Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Google.

The most recent effort to do that is with its new "Reward Alerts," which are limited-time offers that are pushed to users based on location. This is similar to an AT&T-Placecast ShopAlerts initiative that was also announced this week. In that case AT&T handset users opt-in to receive deal alerts and they're pushed to users via SMS/MMS depending on location. 

Initial advertisers for the Loopt program include Participating companies include Altec Lansing, FOX Broadcasting, Gilt City, Jawbone, Microsoft, OkCupid, Southwest Airlines, TabbedOut, Twelve South, TiVo and Yurbuds.

Screen shot 2011-03-02 at 10.28.28 AM
In order to participate, users must download the new version of the app, turn on "rewards" then the deals start flowing based on where users are. Loopt has had a deals/coupons product for some time in Loopt Star; however this is a more interesting and potentially successful implementation. 

Deals have become immensely popular and the opt-in/push dimension of Placecast's and now Loopt's programs will make them compelling to marketers. For Loopt scale will be key. The company has more than four million users (compare Foursquare's 6+ million). However the Placecast program, because it's text-based, has an addressable audience of 95 million hypothetically (the entire AT&T subscriber base).  

WHERE also offers location-based push couponing. 

ShopSavvy Seeking to Broaden Appeal with Deals

ShopSavvy was one of the very first barcode scanning apps. It later added local inventory data from several providers including Krillion. The company has now become a Groupon affliate, adding Groupon's offers to its Deals tab that includes other deals inventory.

In beefing up deals inventory -- though the company should be working with The Dealmap -- ShopSavvy is trying to move beyond commodity barcode scanning into a broader range of use cases for consumers and for merchants. From a merchant perspective deals offer an effective new customer acquisitions and a loyalty/CRM tool. 

There's some awkwardness in my view with daily deals in a mobile context. Coupons that can be searched or more persistent deals (vs. one day) offer a better fit for most mobile use cases, though food-oriented daily deals can work well in mobile. 

The company also has a number of "social features," including top lists and reviews, which seek to differentiate it from competitors. 

ShopSavvy's core offering, barcode scanning, is now a commodity as I indicated. And the app has largely been superseded in most respects by RedLaser (eBay), Google Shopper/Goggles and Amazon. Local inventory data is also on a path to becoming commoditized, with at least four APIs in the market (JiWire, Milo, Retailigence, Wishpond). Accordingly it will be very challenging for ShopSavvy to distinguish itself from larger and even smaller rivals that can tap all the APIs now in the market. 

There's also a ton of competition from "loyalty" marketing apps, among them ShopKick and Foursquare. However ShopSavvy says it has roughly 10 million users (but is that app downloads or active users?).

If those figures are real I suspect we'll see an acquisition in the near term. 

A Third of iOS, Android Apps Grab Location: Report

Security firm Lookout has put out its "App Genome Report" for February. There's a lot of interesting data about iOS and Android apps and apps stores in there. However I want to focus on two areas of the findings: location and advertising.

Under the heading "personal info," Lookout reports the following about apps that seek user contact information and location: 

  • The Apple App Store has a higher prevalence of apps with the capability to access contacts and location than the Android Market.
  • 28% of all apps in the Android Market and 34% of all free apps in the Apple App Store have the capability to access location.
  • 7.5% of Android Market apps and 11% of Apple App Store apps have the capability to access users’ contacts.

Apple apps individually request location at the time they're launched or initiated. Typically Android apps notify users of an intent to access location at the time of installation or an update. I would expect the Apple model (or something even more transparent) to become a standard that forthcoming privacy regulations seek to enforce. 

Turning to advertising, Google's AdMob dominates monetization for both iOS and Android. However iAd seems to be growing for iOS.

 Picture 5

It's striking to see how much more highly penetrated AdMob is than other networks, especially in the Android Market. Accordingly one could argue that Google owns both search and display in the two most important smartphone marketplaces. 

TeleNav Holding Its Own vs. Google Navigation

I would have thought that free Google Navigation, which is very good, along with free navigation from Nokia might have killed all the subscription-based providers out there. But TeleNav seems to be holding its own; part of that is its enterprise and white-label businesses. The company provides navigation for AT&T, Sprint and other carriers outside the US. Beyond this the company is also being very inventive and expansive in its thinking about its product.

The company's latest financial release -- it went public last year -- shows healthy growth:

  • Revenue for the second quarter of fiscal 2011 grew 19 percent over the second quarter of fiscal 2010 to $48.0 million.
  • Average monthly paying end users for the second quarter of fiscal 2011 increased 54 percent over the second quarter of fiscal 2010 to 19.6 million.
  • Revenue from automotive, enterprise LBS, mobile advertising and commerce and premium LBS was seven percent of total revenue for the second quarter of fiscal 2011,up from six percent of total revenue for the first quarter of fiscal 2011.
  • Cash generated from operations for the second quarter of fiscal 2011 was $28.5 million.

Now the TeleNav is putting out a Verizon version of its consumer-facing TeleNav GPS app for the iPhone. It costs $2.99 per month or $21.99 per year. This is cheaper than both the AT&T iPhone and Android versions of the app. It has lots of useful features:

  • Spoken Turn-by-Turn Directions with Street Names
  • 2D and 3D Moving Maps
  • Automatic Reroute 
  • Nighttime Optimized Navigation 
  • iOS Multitasking Support
  • More Than 22 Million Local Listings in the U.S. 

This is a good solution for iPhone users who don't have access to Google Navigation. In addition to turn-by-turn directions, the app can be used expansively as a local search tool and business finder (it has voice search as well). TeleNav is also integrating local ads from xAD, AT&Ti and others.

One of the "coolest" aspects of the product is "Shake-to-Go." Shake-to-go "allows users to simply shake their iPhone 4 while using TeleNav GPS and they will automatically be routed" to their home location. 

I've had an Android version of the app for a number of weeks. I've used it and liked it, although I have to admit the seamless integration of Google Maps and Navigation into Android create a big barrier to the use of any other mapping platform or tool. 

TeleNav also introduced APIs late last year to allow developers to integrate navigation into any app. Advertisers can also do this using the API. In other words one could ad a "drive there" or "get directions" button on any display ad in mobile. That's pretty interesting and I think not widely known. 

Some time ago I met with the markeing people at TeleNav and was struck by how broadly and creatively they're thinking about the product, the challenge of free navigation and expanding their apps' boundaries well beyond traditional GPS. 

Picture 20

Microsoft Privacy Survey Shows Effectiveness of LBS Ads -- 46% Took Action

In December Microsoft sponsored a "Location Based Services Usage and Perceptions Survey." Last week in honor of privacy day it released results, which were widely reported -- mostly with a focus on the privacy issues and questions. Yes, people are concerned about location sharing and privacy. Those data, however, are less interesting to me than some of the other findings in the survey. 

The online survey was conducted in December with 1,500 total respondents from the US, UK, Germany, Canada, and Japan. Here some of the more interesting findings from my perspective:

  • 60% reported being aware of LBS
  • 51% said they used LBS (this is much higher than the Pew and Forrester survey data reflect)
  • 35% in the US use LBS at least several times per week which is nearly 2x higher than most other countries surveyed.
  • Only 18% use location-based services to share their location with others: (US 20%, UK 19%, Germany 15%, Canada 21%, Japan 15%)
  • On average, more than 70% prefer to use free LBS applications. This preference is highest in Canada (80%) and lowest in the US (66%). 

Here are the most common LBS use cases:

Picture 14

The most significant finding from the survey (beyond the privacy stuff) is about the efficacy of location-based ads:

 Picture 15

The data in the tables above show that an average of 46% of those seeing location-based "retail" ads took action after exposure. The percentage is highest in the US: 55%. 

Among those using LBS services to share location, here are the services they used:

Picture 16

Telmap Metrics Show Different Usage Patterns vs. US Data

Telmap, which provides LBS, search and navigation to a range of partners for mobile and in-car devices, released its first "metrics" report for Q4. The aggregated data are EU-centric and very interesting because they reveal some different patterns than have previously been reported in the US.

According to the report, here are the top "free text" and category or "POI" searches according to Telmap's data . . .

Picture 10

By contrast, in the US, the top five mobile search categories (according to our data) are the following:

  1. Restaurants
  2. Banks/ATMs
  3. Hotels
  4. Gas stations
  5. Mobile phone-related services

Restaurants don't rank as highly in the mainly European data from Telmap; and hospitals is a curious number 1 in the POI category. Hospitals don't show up on our US-based list until number 15.

Telmap's data also show heavy usage during the middle of the day. Most companies (e.g., Google) tend to report that mobile usage complements PC usage: largely expressed on evenings and weekends. It may be that Telmap usage reflected in the chart below happens during work breaks or the lunch hour, etc. But it's an interesting contrast with what we commonly hear:

 Picture 7

The iPhone is the dominant device accessing Telmap data. 

Verve Names New CEO, Readies for Expansion

Verve Wireless has named Tom MacIsaac as new CEO. Art Howe, co-founder of Verve and prior CEO, will remain as Chairman. According to the press release that went out this morning:

Tom was CEO of ExtendMedia, which he grew into the leading IP video platform serving major operators, including AT&T, Verizon and Bell Canada, and leading movie studios, including Disney and Paramount. Extend was acquired by Cisco Systems in September 2010. Previously, Tom served as CEO of Lightningcast, a pioneer in online video advertising where he led the development of the first advertising technology platform specifically designed for monetizing broadband video and launched the first online video ad network. After AOL acquired Lightningcast in 2006, Tom served as SVP Strategy overseeing strategy, strategic planning and corporate and business development for AOL's market-leading advertising business, Advertising.com. Prior to Lightningcast, Tom was founder and CEO of Backwire, an online and mobile messaging company that was acquired by Leap Wireless in 2001. Prior to his career in digital media, Tom was a corporate lawyer with the global law firm Dechert.

Verve is positioning itself as a premium local display ad network for mobile. It originally developed its network, like Quattro and others previously, by building and hosting publisher (primarily newspaper) mobile sites. The company is focused on both national-local and small business advertisers. It has a presence in the "top 200 markets" in the US. 

Recently surveys by Handmark and Pew show the degree to which mobile has become an important and even preferred news medium, especially for breaking news. According to the Handmark survey (n=300,000):

Mobile has pulled ahead of the desktop web as the preferred medium to access breaking news information. More than 30% of respondents surveyed feel mobile is the most important medium to access breaking news, compared to 29% who prefer the desktop web, 21% who prefer television, and a mere 3% who chose newspapers as their the most important medium for breaking news.  

This will be a significant year for mobile advertising and growth. The foundation has been laid in the form of consumer adoption of smartphones and mobile in general. Regardless of which mobile ad forecast one points to, the medium is now a critical one -- both for publishers and advertisers seeking to build awareness or to drive offline purchases. 

Related posts: 

The UK's Top 100 Mobile Search Queries

UK mobile content and search vendor Mobile Commerce revealed its analysis of the UK's top mobile search queries of 2010. Three out of the top 10 are Facebook:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google
  3. Bebo
  4. Youtube
  5. www. facebook.com
  6. Ebay
  7. Facebook.com
  8. Hotmail
  9. Yahoo
  10. Ebuddy

These are, almost without exception, navigational queries. The exception is Google, which would then lead to some other kind of lookup or search presumably.

For comparison here is Opera's November list of the top UK sites visited by its users:

  1. google.com
  2. facebook.com
  3. bbc.co.uk
  4. youtube.com
  5. wikipedia.org
  6. live.com
  7. my.opera.com
  8. amazon.co.uk (back on the list)
  9. ebay.co.uk (10)
  10. m2d.de (new)

Below is the expanded list of Mobile Commerce's "top 100 mobile search terms for 2010." Assuming that the MC list is generally accurate what's interesting and curious, among other things, is that Google Maps appears at number 60. Yet we know that Google Maps is one of the most widely used tools on the iPhone and Android devices in particular.

What that suggests is that much of Google Maps usage is coming via app and not through the search box (of course). But it's a potential window into the larger "apps vs. search" phenomenon. Similarly, compare Opera's list above (where Amazon is number 8) to Amazon's position at number 48 on the list below. This is again suggestive of app usage or another way to get to the site (i.e., bookmark) vs. mobile search. 

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Bing iPhone App Offers Great 'All-in-One' Utility

Yesterday Microsoft held a Bing Search Summit in San Francisco. A whole boatload of upgrades were delivered including for the Bing iPhone and Android apps. Where Google has several apps or sites, Bing is trying to do a ton of stuff with its single app. Overall it's a terrific all-in-one app. They've really done a nice job and created a truly viable alternative to Google. The only thing not present is turn-by-turn navigation.

Here's the laundry list of upgrades and new features in the iPhone release: 

  • Auto suggest: Bing intelligently narrows and refines restaurant and movie searches by suggesting query strings to help people plan the perfect night out.
  • Bing Vision: Bring an object into the [camera] viewfinder, hold it still and Bing will detect text and present a highlighter tool to select words for a search. If the object has a barcode, Bing will instantly return product results. Search for a nearby business listing by pointing your camera at a landmark.
  • Check-in: Share your current location with friends and family via Facebook, foursquare or Windows Live Activity Stream.
  • iPhone Apps: Surfaces iPhone apps in search results, when relevant.
  • Plans: From the Bing homepage or a local search result, people can plan a night out and share the plan with friends via Facebook, who can comment or join the plan.
  • Opentable and Grubhub integration: With the integration of Opentable and Grubhub into Bing for Mobile, once you find your restaurant of choice, you can reserve a table on OpenTable or order takeout from Grubhub without leaving the Bing app.
  • Real-Time Transit Predictions: Real-time updates for Boston, San Francisco and Seattle allow commuters to see if transit options are on schedule, early or delayed, with predictions for arrival times.
  • Reminders: Create a “to-do” list and set reminders to receive alerts when near a specific location.
  • Enhanced StreetSide: Helps people orient themselves in unfamiliar places by stitching together and panning across street-level imagery of businesses, addresses or landmarks.

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The "plans" feature is novel and uses Facebook to communicate suggestions to friends and family. The Check-in feature enables a Facebook or Foursquare check-in or both simultaneously.

Bing Vision is the equivalent of Google Goggles or Google Shopper with visual product search. Bing already had a barcode scanning capability and this is an enhancement with OCR built in. In my informal side-by-side testing of Bing Vision against Google Shopper's similar capability Google shopper performed slightly better and recognized more products more quickly. 

Street Side is both "cool" and useful and is similar to Google's Street View. There are some things that one can do with Street Side that can't be done with Street View, but the offerings are similar. In Bing, Street Side is accessible from local business profile pages. Bing is also completely voice-enabled (powered by Tellme).

Microsoft is making the HTML5 mobile site more and more app-like and over time will likely concentrate on improving that experience rather than building separate apps for multiple platforms. 

The challenge for Microsoft is making users aware of all these capabilities and their benefits. The company needs to focus on one or two "wow" or differentiated features to motivate downloads -- the iPhone app is actually pretty popular -- and then let consumer discover all the other stuff they can do with the app on their own. 

JiWire Launches App-like 'Compass' Ads for Mobile Users

JiWire is becoming a more interesting company by the day. It began as a WiFi ad network, showing location and contextually relevant ads to people logging on to WiFi hotspots. A couple of weeks ago the company acquired NearbyNow, which offers mobile app development and local product inventory information, together with a concierge service that allows users to hold products for local in-store pickup.

Today the company launched Compass ads for the iPhone, iPad and laptops. They look like conventional mobile display ads but provide very rich iAd-like functionality. Beyond that they also provide the full capability of NearbyNow's product inventory and in-store pickup service. In other words these ads are highly interactive and operate like mini-apps effectively. 

Below is a set of images of how the ads look on the iPhone, for a fictional campaign. A traditional-looking mobile banner opens a highly interactive app-like ad in which users can interact with content in several ways including browsing product inventory and putting items on hold for local-store pickup:

Picture 62

Launch partners for the ads include Groupon, The Gap, Ritz Camera, HP and Clinique. These ads would allow retailers and brands to send users to local retail stores to purchase products. 

Previously JiWire said that display ads with local ad copy provide a 40% lift vs. generic national ads. And ads with a “local call to action” have shown as much as a 120% lift. JiWire told me that it now reaches 40 million monthly uniques and is continuing to expand distribution. 

Google, Telenav and Navteq have similarly introduced ads that tie into maps and can lead users to a point of sale. This is a huge opportunity in mobile to take brand or product ads and show consumers where they can buy them nearby. The effectively of this type of advertising has already been demonstrated. 

It's now just a question of getting the word out to agencies and media buyers. 

Voice-Driven Searches Now 20%: Microsoft

Like maps and navigation Google has seen voice as a strategic area and invested heavily in it: Voice Search, Voice Input and Voice Actions. Most recently the company acquired Phonetic Arts to improve "voice output" on mobile devices. 

Indeed maps/navigation and speech are the big differentiators of Android vs. the iPhone. Ad network Chitika said that about 7% of iPhone search queries (on Google) are voice initiated. By comparison, earlier this year Google reported that 25% of search queries on Android devices are initiated by voice.

In a meeting last week with Microsoft the company told me that about 20% of mobile queries on Bing are now voice driven. This number is obviously very consistent with Google's Android number. It suggests that over time more and more search queries and other types of actions on the phone will be initiated by voice. 

Right now, I'm told, speech-input queries are quite similar to text-based queries. But as people gain more experience with speech and voice search on mobile devices we should see longer and more specific queries. We may even see more rapid growth of mobile search query volumes due to voice. As keyboard frustration and "friction" disappear search queries will grow. 

Speech thus makes mobile search (vs. app usage) much more viable for consumers overall. 

See related posts:

New Yahoo Local-Mobile Site: Discovery not Search

The mobile version of the new Yahoo Local is interesting in several ways. It combines events, neighborhood-level news and deals aggregated from several sources. It's a "local discovery" tool (in HTML not an app). Discovery is making something of a comeback or new surge vs. "search" among local site purveyors including WHERE, Bizzy -- even Google (with HotPot).

The online version of the new Yahoo Local has a search box at the top of the page that takes you into Yahoo SERPs. But there's no comparable search box on the new mobile site for Yahoo Local. The old Yahoo Local was an IYP-like site that was primarily about local business listings and reviews, as well as events and other content. But POIs and business listings were the primary focus. 

That's now gone from the new Yahoo Local and the mobile site. Perhaps it's a recognition that Google "owns" business name lookups and an attempt to appeal to users with a very different approach to local. 

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The domain "yellowpages.yahoo.com" redirects to the "old" (but currently running) Yahoo Local site. But when the Yahoo Local domain eventually kicks over to the new Yahoo Local will that mean business listings will only be available through Yahoo search? And what about all Yahoo's reviews content? Where will that end up or be displayed?

Yahoo has "Sketch-a-Search," which offers local business listings content on the iPad and in mobile. Also local business information is currently available via search on Yahoo's mobile site.