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CardStar Launches iPad App, Coupons

Mobile loyalty platform CardStar launched an iPad app. It expands the functionality of the company's earlier iPhone app (and other smartphones) by adding coupons and deals that are tied to users' registered loyalty cards. In other words you see the deals for the companies whose cards/programs you've registered on the app. 

Here are the features of the new iPad app:

  • Scissor-Free Coupon Clipping & Hassle-Free Redemption – To select a coupon, drag and drop it onto the corresponding merchant’s digital loyalty card inside of CardStar for iPad. To redeem saved coupons, simply use the loyalty card at checkout
  • Retailer & Manufacturer Coupons – CardStar currently partners with numerous retailers and coupon providers, including Zavers, to provide a wide range of saving opportunities.
  • Personalization – CardStar helps avoid information overload by only sending coupons for retailers saved in a user’s CardStar card catalog.
  • Filtering – CardStar offers filters so users can easily see coupons they’ve previously selected or search for those from specific brands.
  • Social Sharing – Coupons can be e-mailed to friends and family through the app and users can also automatically check in through Foursquare at checkout.

One of the nice things about the new app is that offers saved on the iPad are in the "cloud." So they're automatically logged on the iPhone and other smartphone apps.

People obviously aren't going to bring the iPad to the point of sale. But they can browse deals on the couch and associate them with their registered loyalty cards. By using the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry apps at the POS, users automatically get the benefit of the coupons previously "clipped" on the iPad accordingly. 

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In addition, one spouse can clip coupons on the iPad and the other one can use the CardStar smartphone app and get the benefit of those coupons at the POS without any knowledge of the spouse's prior iPad clipping activity. 

Adding coupons (tied to loyalty cards) is a logical move for CardStar, whose iPad app becomes something analogous to the Sunday circulars. And the automatic linkage of the deals to the loyalty card/account offers a "closed loop" to merchants. CardStar told me that they're were going to greatly expand the variety and range of coupons offered. However I believe offers presented will remain largely "personalized" via the filter of existing loyalty memberships.

CardStar is compiling some fantastic data on user behavior that it can use in a variety of ways to be determined. The company says it's had two million downloads since launch in 2009 and currently has 700,000 active mobile users. 

See our earlier posts on CardStar:

TappLocal: Another New Local-Mobile Ad Network

The sleepless bloggers at TechCrunch profile TappLocal, a new LBS entrant that reportedly wants to build a local-mobile ad network. It's partly or largely directed at SMBs and it sounds a little like Foursquare meets Placecast:

TappLocal uses their backend to create a geofence around certain partner venues. When a user crosses that boundary and happens to be using one of the partner apps, a deal indicator will pop-up. A quick click on this area will open a larger area explaining exactly what the deal is. Simply click one more time to verify you wish to use the deal, show it to the store that it’s valid at, and you’re good to go.

The company has two "franchises": nearby, proximity marketing and time-sensitive deals:

Hyperlocal means in closer proximity than just local. Generally this is measured on a more granular basis such as a neighborhood, intersection, or even meters. TappLocal uses advanced GPS technologies, mobile smartphones, and a network of mobile applications to target users as closes as +/- 3 meters* to visit your business. 

This platform allows you to instantly notify users, in real-time, of a sale to move perishable items, or to instantly get customers in your door. Imagine being able to put a time-sensitive deal, selling unsold pastries for half off 2 hours before closing, or half off drinks to fill your business with customers from 3:00-5:00pm. Our network would send an alert to all users in the metro-region alerting them that for the next 2 hours they can get your pastries half off, or from 3:00-5:00pm they can get drinks half off. Furthermore, you have complete control over the offer, so it can be whatever you like.

To the extent that TappLocal is trying to attract SMBs it will encounter the familiar -- or perhaps not so familiar to them -- challenges of educating the market and then signing up advertisers. 

There are a range of other local ad networks online and/or in mobile. Here is a partial list:

  • Chitika (LAX)
  • CityGrid (IAC/Citysearch)
  • Google
  • Groupon/LivingSocial/daily deals
  • Local Ad Xchange 
  • Marchex (calls)
  • Where 

All the major mobile networks offer geo-targeted ads as well.

My guess is that TappLocal will "backfill" with inventory from these networks as it tries to build its own inventory. But again, it will encounter major challenges in acquiring small business advertisers.

Geodelic Does White Label Deal with Clear Channel

Clear Channel Airports, a division of Clear Channel Outdoor, has partnered with Geodelic to create a co-branded airport-centric local search app called FLYsmart. It offers fairly comprehensive information about services, flights, transportation, as well as places to eat and shop within and nearby the user's airport of choice.

Presumably Clear Channel will be extending its ads into the app, appropriate to the location and airport in question.

I found it to be a nicely done application, with a number of ways to view desired information (carousel view, list or map view). I'm not a fan of the Geodelic carousel. According to the press release:

FLYsmart is available now for free download for the iPhone smart phones, with an Android version expected to be released soon. A BlackBerry version is slated for release in early Fall. The app will initially be launched in ten of North America's largest airports including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. New airports, of all sizes, will be added each week.

Dedicated to airport advertising for more than 30 years, CCA is the premier innovator of contemporary display concepts that currently handles more than 200 airport programs across the globe. CCA has a presence in 32 of the top 50 U.S. markets with major airports.

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Geodelic has done co-branded projects in the past, with T-Mobile initially and then Universal Studios. In each case users get the Geodelic-branded app as part of the partner app (T-Mobile offered a branded version of Geodelic). The same is true with FLYsmart; Geodelic is one of the options (screen far right). 

The company will likely pursue a dual course, doing more partner deals like Clear Channel while continuing to try and build its consumer brand and usage -- a much more challenging proposition. But the co-branded download also provides Geodelic with a kind of backdoor into consumer usage.  

Nokia Builds Mobile Craigslist for Developing Countries

There have been other mobile classifieds marketplaces but none with the potential heft of Nokia. Craigslist has many associated third party apps on the iPhone that mobilize its listings content; eBay of course has had great success in mobile, to name two big names. 

Nokia has now created Listings, a sales and services marketplace aimed right now at the developing world. It's only available in India during the beta test. 

The downloadable app features several categories of information:

  • Buy & Sell – Find or post items for sale
  • Jobs – Find or post a job
  • Local Services – Access or advertise services such as auto repairs, driver services, plumbers, etc.

The success of such a service is all about penetration and inventory. If lots of people use the service it could become quite successful and potentially generate meaningful revenue on a global basis. User experience is key but more important is getting the listings content into the system so that users show up.

The service is also more likely to succeed in countries where there aren't already established online marketplaces, which means developing nations primarily. Yet if the content is there and the UX is good enough it could potentially compete elsewhere in world, in Europe perhaps.

Why It May Be Time to Buy Skyhook

The news that Skyhook's triangulation data had been replaced on iOS 4 with Apple's own proprietary system is seemingly very bad for Skyhook Wireless. Apple was the company's sexiest and most visible client. I confirmed that had happened last week with founder Ted Morgan.

Here's how the WSJ presented the news this morning:

Beginning with iPhone operating system version 3.2, which was released in April, Apple began using its own proprietary database of WiFi access points to help determine the location of a mobile device. Apple disclosed the change in a July 12 letter to U.S. Rep. Edward Markey and Rep. Joe Barton. The congressmen had asked Apple to explain its privacy policy after the computer maker alerted users in June that it would be collecting location data in order to provide location-based services . . .

The move is a blow to Skyhook, a startup that helped pioneer the practice of mapping WiFi networks to determine location. In 2008, Apple tapped Skyhook to provide WiFi-based location services for the new iPhone and iPod Touch. In the same letter to Congress, Apple also said it has stopped using Google for location data.

But this is also a moment of opportunity for Skyhook and the time may be ripe for an acquisition by a third party. Skyhook arguably has the best location database in the market -- Morgan says so and believes it. It's undoubtedly better than Apple's new system and better than Google/Android (for sure).

Skyhook has raised (by my count) just under $17 million in funding and so would not be terribly expensive for an Apple, a Google, a Nokia, a Samsung or a Microsoft to pick up, given the strategic nature of location on mobile devices. Skyhook's challenge, however, may be the perception that its database can be replicated or recreated with sufficient time and effort. 

Apple is perhaps unlikely to make the Skyhook acquisition given the recent development, so perhaps Google or Microsoft should step up and buy the company. Google would certainly benefit immediately from Skyhook's assets and creativity around location products. I'm not sure Skyhook CEO Morgan would like to be a Google employee but perhaps if the price were right . . .

_____

Update: Another reason to buy the company is that it has 15 patents around location and locaton detection.  

Tellme/Microsoft Executive Joins TeleNav

Former Tellme CEO Mike McCue is off with his new company Flipboard; and mobile navigation provider TeleNav has named former Tellme executive Dariusz Paczuski as marketing VP. It also announced Tom Erdman as enterprise solutions VP. 

Paczuski was responsible for Bing and Tellme carrier strategy at Microsoft. Before that he managed consumer services at Tellme. Prior to Tellme/Microsoft, Paczuski was at AOL running search. He was at Netscape and several other online companies before joining AOL.

Paczuski will be responsible for consumer product marketing and mobile advertising and commerce for TeleNav, which is behind many of the carrier GPS navigation tools and products. TeleNav now has to compete with formidable challenges from free navigation services offered by Google, Nokia and Mapquest.

Shooger Launches PC Site, Aims for Broad Consumer Adoption

In case it isn't clear, deals, coupons and local offers are very hot and will continue to be. The incredible rise of daily deals (e.g., Groupon) and the evolution of Foursquare as a couponing and loyalty platform reflect this. Indeed, deals have emerged as a uniquely popular and critical form of mobile marketing. I previously discussed data showing significant (100% YoY) growth for digital coupons. 

In the iTunes app store alone there are more than 245 stand-alone apps that respond to the query "coupons." And there are well over 100 daily deal providers in the US market. But how many "vendors" can and will the market support?

Historically coupon sites were plagued by an "inventory" problem; there wasn't enough content there to be useful or that interesting to consumers. Cellfire, an early mobile coupons pioneer, was the exemplar of this problem until the company switched to grocery coupons. This was also a challenge with ValPak's PC site as well. Models that emphasize "push" (daily deals, ValPak's blue envelope) require less "inventory" than "pull" (search) models.

For those publishers, apps and sites seeking to build consumer brands and destinations, aggregation of others' deals has become a key strategy. Yipit, RetailMeNot, TheDealMap, 8Coupons and Shooger, among a number of others, are seeking to be one-stop destinations for offers of various sorts from a broad range of sources. Some of these players also seek to cultivate direct relationships with advertisers as well. 

Accordingly, the coupons and deals ecosystem has "sellers" that own the advertiser or are the source of the deal, consumer-facing brands that distribute offers and those entities that try and do some version of both. ValPak does both, so does Groupon, so does Yelp. Google aspires to do both. Google of course is the ultimate, if imperfect, coupon "aggregator" because search is how most people online find deals. And Ask.com has a dedicated deals site.

In the daily deal segment, Yipit is angling to become a "one stop shop" for consumers. It only distributes others' offers. Shooger, which started in Florida and has recently expanded nationally, also seeks to be a comprehensive consumer destination, though it also allows advertisers to create coupons. The site also now crosses platforms. Shooger just launched its online presence after being exclusively a smarpthone app. 

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One of our most popular webcasts was on mobile coupons with Shooger and ValPak. And our next webinar will be on daily deals with Yipit and Closely.

While the entire deals segment shows no signs of slowing winners and losers will emerge in the near future -- though many companies on the consumer side (though not hundreds) can succeed. There's a land-grab going on for consumer awareness and usage. Winning sites and apps will need to offer both great content, which means comprehensiveness outside of the daily deals, as well as superior usability -- and probably cross-platform distribution for maximum and brand-building purposes. 

Shooger is taking aim at all three. 

Report: Local Search on Mobile Growing in 'Double Digits'

Data released today by comScore and the Yellow Pages Association show that local search on mobile devices is growing significantly. The data focus on use of directories and IYPs on mobile (and online). Here are the top-line mobile figures:

  • Mobile subscribers accessing business directories on a mobile phone increased 14% year-over-year to 17.3 million users in March 2010
  • People accessing directories on a mobile device at least once per week increased more than 16% YoY growth to nearly five million in March 2010.
  • Mobile browser was the most common access method for users, with 10.8 million subscribers in March 2010 and 21% YoY growth.
  • Apps grew at a more rapid pace with 42% YoY growth (4.1 million subscribers)

http://www.insideyp.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Mobile-Browser-vs.-App-Access.jpg

 Mobile IYP users are more affluent and better educated than the general population: 

  • 58 percent are 34 or younger.
  • Over half have a household income in excess of $75,000.

 Study methodology:

ComScore utilized "both 1) a unique survey sample of over 10,000 U.S. respondents each month, resulting in a sample in excess of 35,000 when running 3-month average reports and 2) a meter-based smartphone mobile browser measurement tool based on a representative panel of approximately 2,500 devices."

ComScore has always been conservative regarding how it defines a "local search." These data too likely undercount activity online and on mobile devices directed toward offline purchases and other local commercial behavior.

The slide above also reflects activity on IYP and directory sites exclusively and doesn't look at search engines or locally focused apps in the aggregate. 

Related: Report: Local & Social Huge on Smartphones

Survey: 36% of Retailers Have Mobile Site, 33% Have Apps, 9% Spending $25M+

A recent Research In Motion-Forbes survey of 305 executives at leading U.S. retailers with $100 million or more in annual revenues showed they were mostly bullish on mobile and moving quickly to adopt it as a key customer retention/loyalty and marketing channel. The chief motivation for "going mobile" was the recognition of customer adoption of mobile devices and the desire to capture a "first mover advantage."

Sixty-three percent of survey respondents indicated they were already in market with some form of a mobile program: "in pilot programs" (39%) or "expanding rapidly" (24%). Ten percent said they had "already widely implemented" mobile and only 7% said they "did not plan to pursue," while 20% responded that mobile was currently "under evaluation." 

Of those using mobile 61% said their efforts were "somewhat integrated" with their other maketing/advertising channels. Thirteen percent said their mobile intiatives were "completely integrated," while 17% reported they were "not at all integrated."

Which of the following statements is closest to your company’s attitude/approach towards development of a mobile channel?

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What mobile tactics are you using today—and plan to be using in one year?

Screen shot 2010-07-28 at 5.21.42 AM

What are the main factors that drive your mobile channel efforts?

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How are your investments in the mobile channel performing to date?

Screen shot 2010-07-28 at 5.23.19 AM

Source: Forbes-RIM (n=305, 4/10)

Recent US consumer survey data from Insight Express found that 82% of respondents were using their mobile devices in the store, while shopping. 

Screen shot 2010-07-07 at 11.19.50 AM

Source: Insight Express, n=1,300 (Q2, 2010)

A considerable number of retailers (47% in the Forbes survey) are clearly recognizing how consumers are interacting with mobile devices and responding rationally. And another contingent (24%) is responding to competition, following those early adopter-retailers into mobile.

Here's what the Forbes survey revealed were the top mobile spending priorities: 

  • Mobile website -- 30%
  • Mobile redemption/coupons/barcodes -- 29%
  • Mobile advertising (display) -- 27%
  • Downloadable applications -- 25%
  • Database development/obtaining customer opt-in -- 25%
  • Proximity marketing (in-store recognition/interaction on an opt-in basis) -- 23%
  • SMS: two-way communication -- 16%
  • SMS: outbound/informational -- 14% 

The bulk of retailers were spending less than $10 million annually on mobile, with the largest single group (34%) spending under $1 million. However 29% were spending at least $11 million and, of that group, 9% were spending $25 million or more. For 66% of respondents mobile represented 10% or less of their total marketing budgets but they expected mobile spending to grow as a percentage of their overall budgets in the next several years.

The "big picture" that emerges from this survey is that retailers so far see mobile primarily as a customer service and retention/loyalty channel and not as much as a new customer acquisition channel. 

Is 'OnTheFly' a Preview of Google Travel App?

The relatively new ITA OnTheFly iPhone app -- BlackBerry and Android are coming -- provides one of the better mobile travel experiences. The catch is you can't book anything directly with the app. You must go to a preferred airline's app/site or call. The company, which Google is in the process of acquiring, says that its mobile app offers a "demonstration of ITA's QPX airfare shopping engine on a mobile app." 

OnTheFly allows side-by-side airline price comparisons, easy airport and date selection and interactive mapping. Should the ITA deal pass regulatory muster the travel comparison app could quickly become part of a more comprehensive Google travel app/tool.

One of ITA's "properties" is Needlebase, which scrapes, organizes and de-dupes unstructured data from the Web. Here's a rudimentary example of its capabilities:

Screen shot 2010-07-27 at 12.30.00 PM

As you can see all sorts of related content and information have been collected regarding the destination city: events, dining, attractions.

While other OTAs and aggregators provide additional information about destinations and vacations, Google's in a strong position to quickly dominate consumer traffic in the consumer travel segment if 1) ITA's purchase is allowed and 2) it packages the presentation of content in an elegant way -- especially with this broader data. 

Ironically, while the former may be a near fait accompli the latter is not. Google's local and mobile properties are proliferating and it will be somewhat challenging to bring all the data, capabilities and interfaces together in coherent ways. 

Thanks to Gary Price for the tip.

Forrester: Wait 'n' See on Foursquare

Forrester, late to the LBS party, tells most marketers to "wait and see" on Foursquare and other LBS apps/sites. The chief complaint is that adoption is not large enough for most large marketers to care and it's a mostly male audience according to the firm's survey data.

AdAge covers the findings:

Almost 80% of location-based service users are male. Close to 70% of them are between the ages of 19 and 35, and 70% have college degrees or higher. Forrester also found these location-app users to be influential . . . and they are especially receptive to mobile coupons and offers . . . This small audience is still attractive to some marketers. Forrester recommends that gaming, consumer electronics and sportswear marketers lead the way with testing these apps . . .

To its credit Forrester does recommend that some brands and marketers go after this audience, which is acknowledged to be populated with influencers. Here's the survey breakdown:

Image credit: AdAge

While the general underlying advice -- marketer know thy audience -- is sound, the danger is that this data and the coverage surrounding it will create a "negative halo" and cause some marketers to think they can "wait another year" before testing and engaging with mobile in general. They cannot.

There are a number of LBS apps and mobile websites focused on local that are mainstream now (e.g., Google, Yelp, Yellowbook). In addition, retailers and brands should be considering mobile loyalty programs (including SMS) and actively testing them today so that later they won't be in the "trial and error phase" -- while their competitors trounce them with innovative campaigns and best practices developed while they hestitated.

Mobile loyalty marketing and mobile brand marketing have have already proven effective and in many cases much more effective than online. (However mobile shouldn't be considered a stand-alone medium.)

Regarding the 4% audience metrics, they could mislead marketers as well. The US mobile Internet is already 75 million people operating at different levels of engagement. With more people buying smartphones daily those numbers may cross 100 million by the end of this year.

There's also value in being able to test campaigns and marketing tactics outside the glare of major media and large public audiences. In many ways these smaller audiences -- still in the millions -- offer a great opportunity for marketers to try and fail and refine their approaches for broader application later. 

CardStar Lets You Check-in at Checkout

CardStar offers mobile users the ability to manage all their loyalty cards from one app. We first wrote about innovative application in March:

Cardstar is a fascinating company that sits at the intersection of offers and deals, which is fast-growing category online, and mobile loyalty marketing which is already very powerful. In terms of the latter category, we ran into Jay Highley, formerly of Tetherball360. We discussed some of the response rates to these mobile loyalty campaigns and he was sharing data from actual campaigns, which saw response rates of 20% to 40% in some cases.

Today the company announced several upgrades for its iPhone app. The bigger deal is the announcement that it is integrating with Foursquare to enable check-ins when users are showing/scanning their specific store barcodes at checkout. Both Foursquare and CardStar are mobile loyalty apps; the difference is that CardStar requires on-site presence to scan a barcode, whereas Foursquare allows check-ins remotely.

"One of the major pain points with LBS check-ins continues to be the inability to verify the customer was actually on-location when they checked in," explained CardStar's press materials. "This is especially important now as more retailers offer incentives/rewards based on the number of check-ins and demand a more automated redemption system." 

Here are pre-digested quotes from CardStar CEO Andy Miller (not Quattro's Andy Miller):

  • "It's always been a marketer's dream to influence a consumer before, during and after the shopping experience. The CardStar platform will provide marketers the opportunity to present customers with the right offer at the right time on the right device."
  • "The typical CardStar user already launches the app at point-of-sale in retail locations, airports, gyms and libraries. The CardStar integration with Foursquare was the next logical step to deliver a more cohesive mobile experience."

Our recent Foursquare survey shows that a large percentage of SMBs (mostly restaurants) currently using Foursquare don't really know if it has helped their businesses. Roughly 70% of respondents said they were tracking check-ins, however. 

 Screen shot 2010-07-27 at 8.34.20 AM

Source: Opus Research, Search Influence, Dream Systems Media (6/10), SMBs offering incentives on Foursquare

CardStar has collected tremendous data on customer behavior that can be used to push and target offers to users of its apps, more of which are coming. It is evolving into a promotions platform beyond a simple but efficient customer card loyalty tool. 

Foursquare early on became a loyalty platform and is becoming a new customer acquisition tool as well. It will be interesting to see whether this CardStar-Foursquare integration becomes a model for others and, then, whether Foursquare becomes a Twitter-like promotions platform that pushes offers through third party apps such as CardStar. 

My suspicion is yes it will.

Google Offers More Attractive Places to Go

Google has offered a browse centric (as opposed to search) directory of local business listings for quite some time: Places Directory. But with its new Maps upgrade for Android the company is encouraging users to put "Places," a cleaner, more attractive version of Places Directory, on their homescreens:

On Android-powered phones with Google Maps 4.4, you’ll find the new Places icon in the app launcher with the rest of your apps. Press and drag it right onto your home screen to use it when you’re looking for a restaurant, shoe store, movie theater or any other type of local business. You'll get a detailed list of all the nearest places and can choose one to learn more about it on its Place Page.

 

Some folks are seeing this as a bid to compete more aggressively with Foursquare and Yelp on mobile devices, with check-ins to come. Maybe so, however Google is equally motivated to create uniformity and correspondence between Places online and on mobile devices. It has made a big investment in Places online and wants to extend usage to mobile devices. 

Regardless of its precise motivations Google is obviously a formidable competitor in mobile, especially on Android devices. It basically "owns" the home screen unless users actively set up alternative content sources to Google. 

Google now has a range of interesting and varied local assets in mobile that it needs to better integrate: Buzz, Places, Latitude, Maps, Navigation. Google can also benefit by aggregating and presenting geotagged data from the Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare APIs in one or more of these properties. 

One of the issues with all of these "around me" or "near me" tools is that they fail to recognize the "near future" use case: where I'll be tonight or tomorrow. I suppose the thought is that "conventional" local search will address this need. However "where I'll be later on" is a scenario currently not well served in mobile. 

Tabbed Out a Model for Mobile Payments

Though previously covered at its launch at SXSW in march, I only recently became aware of an intriguing app called Tabbed Out, which offers mobile payments for restaurants and bars in a few cities. You enter one or more credit cards in the system and the app (iPhone, Android) generates a code that goes into the register. You don't provide your card to the bartender or server.

While there's some "heavy lifting" involved in getting people to download the app and building out locations that will utilize it, Tabbed Out represents a way into the "mobile wallet" that people have been predicting for years. The consumer security benefits are obvious and, my guess is, restaurants and bars will like it because it will promote spending and creates more efficiency for the venue (faster checkout).

Consumers pay 99 cents per transaction but sometimes fees are waived. If the company is successful at adding venues it may be a way for those venues to attract customers -- not unlike restaurants that accept credit cards vs. those that don't. There's a directory of locations as part of the app too.

The most important thing here is that this represents one viable way to facilitate mobile payments. Some simple standardization around code acceptance -- I'm unfamiliar with how proprietary this is -- would accelerate consumer and merchant adoption of such systems. 

Here's the demo video:

AOL Renews Emphasis on Mobile, Bets on Android

Several years ago AOL had the idea that it would lead consumers onto the mobile Internet the same way it did online. However amid turmoil surrounding the company's future and its leadership those plans faltered and largely failed to materialize. A particular example of that is ad network Third Screen Media, acquired by AOL in 2007 and effectively shuttered at the end of last year.

But mobile is apparently back at AOL. Now as a content and display advertising company with new leadership and a new focus AOL yesterday announced a renewed emphasis on mobile, a new mobile portal and some Android-only apps:

AOL Inc. is unveiling today a new smartphone portal, m.aol.com, that takes the best of AOL and optimizes it for any mobile device. In addition, AOL is increasing its focus on the Android operating system with the launch of the AOL app for Android, giving users a simple and convenient way to access dozens of AOL’s most popular properties, and the DailyFinance app for Android. AOL’s renewed focus on mobile apps and content comes on the heels of the arrival of David Temkin, the company’s new Vice President of Mobile . . .

In addition to the new smartphone portal, AOL has released two new free applications for Android-based devices.

Mobile VP Temkin is quoted in the release saying, "Android has emerged as a top-tier smartphone platform . . . So, while we’ll continue to focus on development for multiple mobile platforms, this time, we are releasing an early version of an app on Android first – the AOL app."

I count at least seven Andoid apps from AOL mobile. The new Android AOL portal would get a mixed review, if I were doing one, and in some ways its mobile Web portal is superior. Regardless AOL has wisely embraced (or rembraced) mobile as a critical distribution channel for its content. 

Mapquest of course has had a steady mobile presence throughout, and the company's mobile apps have recently been upgraded

Crisp Bringing Rich Media to Local with Verve

Mobile ads provider Crisp Wireless has teamed up with Verve Wireless "to bring Crisp’s rich media mobile ads to Verve’s global local media and newspapers." Verve develops and hosts the mobile sites for more than 700 newspapers in North America and Europe.

Quattro Wireless started out building mobile websites for companies and then became an ad network. The rest is, as they say, history (Apple). Similarly Verve is effectively now a local ad network that will offer a range of ad unit types and capabilities to marketers and publishers via Crisp. According to the release:

Verve publishers will utilize Crisp’s ad formats and interactive features, such as location-aware and click-to-call, and will have capabilities to deliver campaigns to smartphones and tablets, including Google Android devices and Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

Verve is one of several mobile ad networks and exchanges targeting the local market specifically:

  • CityGrid 
  • Chitika
  • Local AdXchange
  • LSN Mobile
  • Verve
  • Where 

Of course the traditional ad networks for mobile (e.g., JumpTap, Millennial, Yahoo, Google/AdMob) also offer geo-targeting as well.

Vlingo Seeks to Take Siri's Place

At the recent Bing Search Summit Microsoft mentioned in passing that some of their internal research revealed that 60% of mobile users wanted input alternatives to the keyboard. There are basically three: voice, the camera and some sort of visual shortcut on the touchscreen (images/icons).

Voice search has improved so dramatically that I use it on my EVO at least 50% of the time. I have Vlingo on my device and I've casually been testing it beside Google voice search. In my very non-scientific and non-controlled tests I've actually found Google voice recognition to be slightly more accurate and reliable than Vlingo. But Vlingo is a broader tool and can do a wider range of things on the device.

CEO Dave Gannon told us several weeks ago when he was last in town that there's a perception in the market that speech is now a commodity. Vlingo, which has both free and paid versions of its app, is trying to become a much broader tool -- moving into Siri-like "personal assistant" territory -- that consumers will think of "front door" on the device and way to get acces to everything from their contacts and apps to local search results. 

Siri was not long ago acquired by Apple for an undisclosed amount.

Vlingo is now releasing what it calls "Super Dialer," a local search tool that includes sponsored results from directory publishers. This also diversifies the revenue that Vlingo collects, which has largely been subscription based to date. TechCrunch reported that Gannon said that about 8% of users who try Vlingo convert to the paid version. 

Here's a general demonstration of Vlingo for Android devices:

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What Is Facebook's Next Mobile Move?

At the Mobile Beat conference Eric Tseng, head of mobile products for Facebook (and former Google-Android exec.), announced that Facebook now has 150 million "active" mobile users (that means daily usage). That's up from 100 million in February.

Against that backdrop there are indications that, at least in the US Facebook's growth, may have slowed. The company however sees mobile as a driver of its next phase of growth. Overall, there are more than 500 million Facebook users globally. 

Tseng suggested that Facebook would soon become a "mobile platform." That means that Facebook will be extending "the social graph" to third party applications and sites. The Open Graph API and the Like button will also make their way into mobile according to Tseng.

Facebook is poised to roll out some sort of location-based service. Its exact form is uncertain. I've argued that instantly Facebook would be a huge mobile ad network should it decide that it wants to become one. Yet there are reasons to believe that won't happen in the near term. 

Facebook's forthcoming Q&A service is also one that could be a potent location-based recommendations engine. And the Like button data will be a huge source of local favorites and recommendations. Third parties will be tapping all this data to enhance their apps and sites. 

The company sees mobile devices as a growth engine party because in developing countries (e.g., India) mobile is the primary (and maybe only) tool for Internet acces. This is why Facebook developed its SMS-based "0.facebook.com" site earlier this year. 

Google Sends Maps to More Connected Cars

The car is the ultimate "mobile device" isn't it? And increasingly cars are becoming "connected" to the Internet. Google now has an impressive roster of car brands on a global basis to which users can send Google Maps directions.

According to the Google LatLong blog:

With today’s additions, drivers can send destinations from Google Maps directly to their connected vehicles in 19 countries and more than 20 different brands.

In the US alone, Send-To-Car is now available on more than 15 car brands and we hope to see even more partners join us soon.

 

On a smaller scale Mapquest and Nokia's Ovi Maps offer in-car integration. However Navteq (owned by Nokia) powers most of the PND devices that operate in vehicles in the US. In Europe it's Teleatlas, owned by TomTom. 

Google Offers Social Parking App: Open Spot

Google has introduced a social network (of sorts) for parking: Open Spot. Before you say, "How is Google gonna find open parking spots?" it's actually fairly simple and clever. The idea behind the new Android app is to create a network of people telling each other where there's available parking locally.

Open Spot app users indicate when they're leaving a spot. The phone's location awareness finds/locates that person on the map and broadcasts that information to other Open Spot users.

Spots are hypothetically "open" for a maximum of 20 minutes. There's a color-coded, time-based system to indicate the probability that spots remain open. According to the FAQs:

  • Spots are removed from the map after 20 minutes. We know that 20 minutes is a long time for a parking spot to stay open, but we think that more information about available parking is better than less.
  • Red pins are freshly-marked spots.
  • Orange pins are spots marked over 5 minutes ago.
  • Yellow pins are spots marked over 10 minutes ago.

Humorously Google has even created a name for those who might try and fool others by creating fake parking spots: "Griefers."

We call these people ‘griefers’. We’re watching for behavior that looks like a griefer spoofing parking spots. We have a couple of mechanisms available to make sure someone can’t leave a bunch of fake parking spots. If we see this happening we will take steps to fix it. 

This is a very clever and social approach to parking inventory. It sidesteps the creation of databases and other potentially costly or unwieldy mechanisms that could be used to indicate available spots. The drawback is that it requires people to download an app and join the network. 

Paradoxically this is a network that you don't want to be too small or too large. Too small and you don't have enough "inventory." Too large and you may have too much competition for that inventory. However, at least in theory, as the network grows so too will the available parking spots.