Local Search

eBay Purchases RedLaser to Beef Up Mobile Offering

eBay has acquired the RedLaser mobile application and related technology from Occipital for an undisclosed sum. In this interview with ubiquitious blogger Robert Scoble, Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice president of mobile, explained that RedLaser would be quickly integrated into eBay's mobile offerings (calling it a "close cousin to Shopping.com").

RedLaser provides an iPhone app that is highly rated as a UPC (barcode) reader. Yankovich sees it as a very accurate way to enter a product description for the purpose of discovering the best price or determining availability from a nearby retailer or online vendor.

The giant online marketplace, eBay, is morphing from an auction house, where mobile devices enable members to monitor the status of their bids into a deal-finder where mobile phones are utilities through which shoppers can enter keywords for the items they seek and then eBay finds the lowest price for goods, not just on its core eBay site but, more importantly, on shopping.com, which provides search tools along with both product and merchant reviews from the Epinions community. RedLaser becomes a mechanism for accurately entering product descriptions to initiate the shopping process.

As an immediate result of the acquisition, the RedLaser app (which used to carry a $1.99 price tag) is now offered for free in the iTunes App Store, where it had already been downloaded a reported two million times.

Bing Upgrades iPhone App, Adds New Features

Microsoft has relatively quielty released a new version of Bing for the iPhone. It adds a range of features and capabilities, as well as improving some existing features. Bing on the iPhone was already a very strong app and now it has a lot more to offer.

Among the list of things that are new:

  • Barcode (and cover art) scanning with the iPhone's camera
  • Bing Social integration with Twitter and Facebook. It offers search results from your social network and alternatively becomes a Facebook and Twitter client
  • More movie clips and trailers
  • Improved shopping/product results with "reviews, ratings, and prices" (accessible via the barcode scanning as well)

The barcode scanner, like others in the market, makes it possible to quickly check prices and product reviews in the store without typing in product names or other identifiers. The social features are also fun/useful. You can search on a product or place and see if your friends have said anything about it.

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The Bing iPhone app is underappreciated in my view. It's quite a bit richer and more user-friendly, for example, than the comparable Google app for the iPhone. Google offers many of the same capabilities spread out across Maps, Product Search and Goggles however.

These new Bing upgrades have made it more useful in my opinion. Beyond this, though not new, it has very good voice search. At some point soon, I'm going to do a quick "head to head" comparison of Vlingo, Nuance, Bing and Google voice search results.

This is just a quick overview. There's more on the new Bing iPhone app at Search Engine Land.

Where Launches Opt-In Deal Alerts

Where, which has built its own local ad network for mobile devices, is now lauching "Where Deal Alerts." These are SMS-based coupons, offers and deals, that factor in user preferences (by shopping category) and location:

By opting into the service, customers can set up a user profile that will allow them to receive WHERE’s Deal Alerts via text message. Consumers simply select proximity, day of week, time of day, and content categories such as restaurants and shopping, and WHERE will automatically send coupons via SMS based on preferences.

Where Deal Alerts launch first on AT&T (though not yet on the iPhone) but will expand to other carriers over time. The one limitation of the system is that users have to specify a single time of day for delivery of the alerts. 

Deal alerts are set up from within the Where application but, as mentioned, come in the form of SMS notifications tied to location. Thus proximity to a QSR chain or particular merchant (at a particular time of day) would trigger delivery. Because Where has access to location from the carrier, users don't need to be in the Where app itself, "check in" or even be "online" to receive the offers.

From the Where application users configure deal alerts from within the coupon widget. Here's how the site describes the sign-up process:

  • Within the Coupons widget, I went to the preferences page to manage my alerts. First, I selected “Restaurants”, then “Mondays”, and finally “6:00am”. This set me up to receive offers in my area that were related to early morning food, and Bagel Station happened to have a deal.
  • That’s it. WHERE will automatically update you with a text message every week at the specified time if there’s a deal available in the area. The combination of category and location-relevancy with day and time makes Deal Alerts incredibly useful. For once, you’ll actually want the coupons you receive.

Where has aggregated lots of coupon inventory from multiple partners (e.g., Valassis, ValPak) to provide sufficient coverage to make the program interesting. 

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Placecast offers a conceptually similar program for the retail category with ShopAlerts, and individual marketers and stores are doing their own ad-hoc opt-in SMS-based loyalty marketing.

The Where program, however, is novel in several respects. And because it's category-based (after opt-in) it can function as a new customer acquisition program and not exclusively as a mobile loyalty vehicle. 

Citi Launches (Bad) Local-Mobile Shopping App

Citi Cards has introduced Citi Shopper, a smartphone app that offers deals and local product inventory information. It's partly a branding play and partly a loyalty play for Citi. The content is provided by mobile shopping platform Slifter (GPShopper).

According to the release the free app "delivers local offers and deals on products from electronics to apparel; compares prices; provides maps to nearby retailers; as well as reminds Citi cardmembers of offers and benefits specific to their Citi credit cards . . . 

Once installed on their mobile device, Citi Shopper lets users:

--Browse deals and promotions at major local and online retailers
--Be reminded of Citi credit card-specific rewards, benefits and offers
--Search local store inventory for over two billion products
--Sort products by price or distance
--View product details, images, availability, and a map to the nearest location
--Save products and promotions into a mobile Shopping List
--Share finds with friends and family
--Contact participating retailers with just one click

This is a smart idea and strong concept. The only problem is that the user experience absolutedly stinks. It may well be downloaded heavily if Citi promotes the app to card members in billing and marketing materials. However it will need to be dramatically improved if Citi hopes for repeat usage. 

This app is another example of a company thinking that it needs to do something -- with an app -- in mobile and not thinking the entire process through carefully. It's very similar to the more attractive but equally unusable "Priceless Picks" shopping app from Mastercard.

There are other product and shopping vendors that Citi could have worked with. And the bank should have paid much more attention to the user experience. Perhaps it will go back to the drawing board for version 2.0. There's clearly potential here; it's just very far from realized. 

Why Isn't Yahoo Doing More with Vlingo?

We met with Vlingo yesterday. The company is previewing some new functionality and we had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion about the product and strategy. My question is: why isn't Vlingo investor Yahoo! leveraging the heck out of it? There was some initial fanfare about voice search on Yahoo! Mobile but since then there's been little or nothing.

I think that Yahoo! should aggressively integrate Vlingo into its mobile app as a discovery tool for all types of content and not just Web search. It should also build a mobile version of Yahoo! Answers and think about Vlingo as a front end to that experience. 

Alternatively our friends in Finland (Nokia) might consider buying a company like Vlingo and integrating it as a core component of its handsets -- for smartphones and not-so-smart phones. 

Voice will continue to improve as a tool for a broad array of uses on the handset. Apple obviously bought Siri, which is not about voice search per se, but about semantic understanding of voice queries and matching with transactional services. And Google continues to invest in voice and see it as a differentiator. 

Microsoft of course had formidable voice assets but has not fully exploited or marketed them. Perhaps with the release of Windows (Mobile) 7 handsets we'll see a more prominent role for voice on the device. 

But Yahoo!'s got to get into the game more here. 

New Terms in iPhone Developer Agreements Threaten 3rd Party Analytics and Ad Aggregators

The anomaly that is Apple just threw down another challenge to third-party application developers who look to mobile advertisements as the ultimate source of sustainability. Terms and conditions in the newly updated iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (which has been revised in conjunction with the release of iOS 4) starts with the wording that developers "may not collect, use, or disclose to any third party, user or device data without prior user consent" and then adds further strictures which, in the most damning case for many of the aspiring analytics providers, prohibit release for the purposes of "aggregation, processing, or analysis".

While the change in wording appears to be a broad prohibition against third-party analytics, it is most commonly seen as a direct attack on AdMob, the mobile advertising services company recently purchased by Google. Apple will only let developers release user information to a third-party only if it is "an independent advertising service provider whose primary business is serving mobile ads." In other words, not an affiliate of the largest provider of sponsored search services on the planet. To turn the knife a bit, or perhaps to provide transparency, Apple provides examples of the sorts of third-parties that are not, by their nature, "independent", saying explicitly that "an advertising service provider owned by or affiliated with a developer or distributor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems or development environments other than Apple would not qualify as independent."

If you take as a given that advertisers are often the companies with whom mobile subscribers want to carry out business, this is not an empowering move. Apple apparently doesn't think that it is in the iPhone user's interest to share data with third-parties even if the user consents to it, especially if release of such data might benefit Google, Microsoft, Nokia or dozens of other firms that pose direct threats to Apple's vain efforts for smartphone primacy.

Clearly, there will be work-arounds and arrangements to be made in the name of providing relevant messages (promotional, social, realtime or other) to Apple's mobile customers. Still, the message is clear. None of this will take place without prior consent from both Apple on behalf of its iOS-based device users.

Google Brings Nav to More Countries, Maps to GM, Upstart App Offers Free Nav to iPhone

Google is making its mobile Navigation app available in more countries, throughout Europe: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. It's voice guided and offers voice search. In a related development, Google expanded the number of European languages for Google Voice Search. 

Google's free Navigation (which works well) has not yet come to the iPhone, whether for technical or competitive reasons. However a new free app from Berlin-Germany based Skobbler offers free turn by turn navigation on the iPhone. I haven't used it so can't comment on its quality. It uses OpenStreetMap for base data. 

Finally, Google Maps are now a part of GM's OnStar functionality. Users can email directions from PC-based Google Maps to select GM cars. Ford has also integrated Google Maps into its Sync system and will allow users to send directions to Sync from the PC or smartphones. Sync was co-developed with Microsoft so I would expect comparable functionality for Bing. 

Yelp: 27% of Searches Now from iPhone

Yelp said that in May it had 32 million unique visitors, making it one of the leading local sites on the Internet. The company also released some data about iPhone usage, which are quite impressive. This is verbatim from the associated Yelp blog post:

  • On average, 27% of all Yelp searches come from our iPhone App. That number dips during the week when Yelp.com traffic surges. Then on the weekend, it moves up again as people pull out their Yelp mobile apps when they're on the go - a trend we've already been seeing for quite some time!
  • Last month, over half a million calls were made to local businesses directly from our Yelp iPhone App. That's about 1 call every 5 seconds to a business as a result of Yelp.
  • Nearly a million people generated point-to-point directions to a local business from their Yelp iPhone App last month.
  • In the past 30 days, Yelp for iPhone has had over 1.4 million unique visitors.

Sites like Zillow and Trulia have expressed that about 10% to 15% of traffic comes from their mobile apps. The Yelp number is huge by comparison and shows how significant mobile has become to the company's overall brand and strategy.

Yelp's content and use cases, in most cases, are a direct fit for mobile. Non entertainment related verticals might not see the same levels of traffic and usage. But the data above illustrate that the mobile market and mobile strategies cannot be put off by publishers and advertisers for much longer.  

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Yelp has also taken another step in the direction of Foursquare et al by adding badges:

Now when a user checks-in to a combination of businesses, they will be able to earn "Yelp Badges." Badges you earn will help show off where you're checking in. For example, if a yelper loves to get their nigiri on at sushi restaurants, they can earn the "Sushi Sensei" badge . . . Once earned, badges can be shared with friends both via the Yelp iPhone app, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

If users are checking into the same businesses in a given time period and/or neighborhood, they can also earn "Royal" status. Got the most check-ins at a business? You're the Duke, good sir (or Duchess, for the ladies). Most Dukedoms in a 'hood? You're the Baron! Most in the city? You're the King! . . .

Loopt Does Foursquare with a Twist

Despite the fact that Loopt has more than three million users it's largely running in place. Superseded by larger and more established brands as they've entered the mobile segment (i.e., Facebook), Loopt has tried to reinvent itself a number of times. For example, it went initially from a pure mobile social network to a Yelp-like application. And now it's doing a version of Foursquare -- with a twist.

Loopt's latest effort to renew itself is called Loopt Star. The idea is almost identical in concept to Foursquare, however the rewards for checking in to local places are more direct and tangible. Like Foursquare, MyTown and Gowalla, among others, Loopt Star is a "game" but explicitly conceived as a mobile loyalty program for stores and consumers as well.

Check in at stores and branded locations, gain points and rewards that translate into tangible offers, discounts, free stuff and so on.  There's also a leaderboard. Users who check in most frequently can become the "boss" (rather than mayor) of their favorite places. 

Loopt previously added local coupons to its app but this is a more structured and coherent effort. And it could turn out to be the one that gives Loopt new appeal and finally attracts a buyer.

Loopt Star relies on Facebook and users' Facebook networks instead of trying to create its own "organic" user base. In so doing Loopt hopes that it can more quickly gain adoption and momentum for Loopt Star. Yet it's also possible that Loopt Star will strike its target audience as duplicative of their existing LBS "games."

The LBS gaming phenomenon has yet to go mainstream. Accordingly there's an opportunity to build an app or service that will broadly appeal to mainstream consumers. That app could be Shopkick, which has yet to launch. It seeks to marry LBS gaming and retail specifically. And depending on the execution, it could appeal to mainstream shoppers and women in particular. 

MMA: 21% Now Using 'M-Commerce'

A report recently sponsored and released by the MMA shows that increasing numbers of US mobile users are engaged in so-called "m-commerce." The survey was conducted this past April. Here are some of the findings:

  • 92% of all U.S. adult consumers surveyed reported having a cell phone
  • Among mobile users, 21% indicated they made some type of transaction with their mobile phone within the last month.
  • 17% of mobile phone users purchased content for their mobile phones and 6% used coupons or discounts and purchased physical goods or non-mobile content or services.

Apple and RIM users are the most active in purchasing content or services through their handsets. Here's an age breakdown by commerce category:

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The mobile Internet was the avenue most people used to transact. And "young adults, age 18-24 years, were significantly more likely to purchase content for their mobile phones using mobile web (74% vs. 48% overall) while adults ages 55-64 years were more likely to purchase content through messaging (63% vs. 30%). Consumers ages 35-44 years were most likely to use mobile applications to use discounts or coupons (63% vs. 39% overall)."

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Deals and coupons were a huge area of interest according to the survey findings:

Consumers are most interested in using their mobile phones to use discounts or coupons (30%) and to purchase content for their mobile phones (26%). Asians and young adults, ages 25-34 years, stood out as those most interested to use discounts or coupons (38% and 35% respectively were “very interested” or “somewhat interested”).

These findings confirm and say at least a couple of things to us:

  • Using the mobile phone as a "wallet" or payment device will continue to grow among younger users first but broadly over time
  • Deals, discounts and coupons remains one of the most interesting and vital areas of mobile marketing

Nokia & Yahoo! Announce Strategic Alliance

As expected today Yahoo! and Nokia announced a strategic alliance. As part of that the two will incorporate selected services into each other's offerings:

  • Nokia will be the exclusive, global provider of Yahoo!’s maps and navigation services, integrating Ovi Maps across Yahoo! properties, branded as “powered by Ovi.”
  • Yahoo! will become the exclusive, global provider of Nokia’s Ovi Mail and Ovi Chat services branded as “Ovi Mail / Ovi Chat powered by Yahoo!”
  • Nokia and Yahoo! plan to work on ID federation between their services, beginning by making it easy for people to use their Ovi user IDs across select Yahoo! properties to easily access the online content and services they need.

The integration will begin later this year and roll out globally in 2011. Ads and search, interestingly, don't appear to be part of the deal. The deal does, however, offer Yahoo! a solution for its mapping product -- a product that had led the market initially but has now fallen way behind Google and Microsoft. Nokia gets additional credibility and reach for its Ovi Maps, powered by subsidiary Navteq. 

It's curious to me that the press release and related materials are silent on the question of search and advertising.

Navteq has built/is building its own ad network. Does Navteq get to put ads on Ovi Maps on Yahoo!? And one would think that Yahoo! would have sought to be the "default" search engine for Nokia handsets.

I'm trying to find out more about these areas and will update this post if I get more information from Yahoo! 

Update: I just got this from a Yahoo! spokesperson:

Search is not part of the initial agreement announced today. The two companies will work on future collaborations.  The companies plan to monetize the services in the future. 

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Let's consider what might be the most intriguing mobile aspect of this deal from a Yahoo! perspective: Yahoo! branded turn-by-turn navigation. Google Navigation is a terrific app. Ovi Maps has tried to match it and claims better data and routing (vis-a-vis Navteq). Yahoo! could potentially just co-brand Ovi Maps and throw in some additional Yahoo! Local content along the way. 

I would be surprised if Yahoo! didn't see this opportunity and want to develop it. That, combined with the chance to make Yahoo! (PC) Maps better probably justifies this entire deal. 

Google Latitude API Announced

Google previously said that it has more than 3 million users of Latitude, more than comparable LBS competitors. Now the company has released an API for developers to enable them to access Latitude user location. This is very much like what Yahoo! did with Fire Eagle (although that project has languished to some degree). Google itself did something like this earlier through Google Gears with Geolocation (now defunct).

According to the Google Mobile blog:

Since launching Latitude, our team has been talking about all the cool things you could do with your continuously updated Latitude location. While we’ve built some of our ideas, there are simply too many exciting ones for us to do alone. Instead, we wanted to let you safely share your Latitude location with third parties who could create apps that do more with your location . . .

We’ve also learned that making your phone’s continuous location available in the background is tricky to do accurately and efficiently -- just imagine your phone’s battery life if several apps were continuously getting your location in different ways? With this in mind, we built a free and open Latitude API that lets the third-party developers you choose start using your updated location in new ways without reinventing the wheel.

There are various APIs and tools in the market to get or correct location on mobile devices. The Latitude API however extends to websites as well as mobile devices. Greater location precision enables better ad targeting as well as some content personalization.

Aloqa Adds 'Like' Button, Coupons, Widgets

Local search application platform Aloqa has added some nice new features and content to its Android app (and I believe iPhone app). I typically don't try and cover individual apps at this level of detail because there are just too many to keep track of. However I ran into Aloqa CEO Sanjeev Agrawal at the Google I/O developer event. He demo'd some of the new features launching today. 

Among them are the inclusion of the Like button from Facebook across channels and individual profile pages. There is also a range of new channels and content, including a Coupons.com integration with more to come.

He pointed out that, using the Android Widget Capability, users can create a homescreen widget for any channel of interest, including brands, fast food places and deals. Users can set notifications (for their phone to ring or vibrate) as well. Accordingly, you could set your phone to vibrate when, for example, you physically passed or were in close enough proximity to a Starbucks or local business with a coupon, etc.  

The screenshots below illustrate the new functionality. 

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Krillion Adds Local Products to Nokia Point & Shoot

Local product data provider Krillion is behind a new barcode scanning/local shopping capability integrated into Nokia's Point & Find service. Krillion's retailer (mostly big box) data now enables owners of Nokia S60 devices to "point" them at the UPC barcode of products in the store or in the kitchen and "quickly locate nearby retailers that carry a specific item, determine current availability at each store, and compare prices."

Krillion provides this same data to dozens of sites online and is also doing something similar for the ShopSavvy mobile product search engine. There are a number of fairly obvious use cases for this capability. In addition, Krillion says that if there's no local product availability to display it will show the same item from an online store. 

Other local product inventory data providers include NearbyNow and Milo. Google is also working directly with retailers to offer a similar capability in mobile and online. There are several other companies beyond Krillion and the others above, which have "proxy" information for local inventory data (e.g., what's shipped from OEMs to stores, what's on sale or special in local stores, etc.). 

The larger point reflected in this announcement is that smartphone cameras and barcode scanners will be used to gain product availability information, pricing and reviews -- and eventually initiate to m-commerce transactions.  

What to Make of MyTown's $20 Million

There was considerable coverage of yesterday's announcement of $20 million in new VC funding for Booyah's "geo social game" MyTown. The money brings MyTown to nearly $30 million in venture funding to date. The round was led by Accel Partners. Previous investors Kleiner Perkins and DAG Ventures also participated. 

MyTown is the most "game-like" of the three competitors typically mentioned in the same breath, which include Foursquare and Gowalla. But in the larger context of LBS mobile apps and/or local search tools they are merely the "flavor of the month" among many other providers of the same or similar information. (Twitter and Facebook have yet to get deeply involved here.)

Beyond the silly "location wars" meme, the central question is whether these geo-social games are going to become "mainstream"? Or if they're not going to become "mainstream" are they going to draw sufficiently large audiences to make them effective advertising vehicles and revenue generators?

I would argue that whether or not these particular LBS apps succeed they're helping create a new culture of local and mobile behavior. I've discussed this in some detail in a client-only report: How Geo-Social Gaming is Changing Local Mobile Search. 

According to an interview with Business Insider Booyah CEO Keith Lee says that the $20 million will be used to further enhance the gaming elements of MyTown or create new LBS games: 

Because as Lee explains, the "check-in" is going to be a commodity in a matter of months -- everyone will have a "check-in" feature, ranging from the likes of Foursquare to Facebook and Google. It's what happens after the check-in that is going to be valuable, Lee says, and he and Booyah plan to use location data specifically to make games.

Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown are interesting because they're hybrids: part social network, part cityguide and, to varying degrees, part game. Accordingly you might be inclined to dismiss MyTown as merely a "game," but if you think about it as a viable alternative to Citysearch, Yelp, yellow pages or Google it makes the stakes higher and the discussion more serious. 

MyTown gets data and ads from CityGrid/Citysearch; it also shows Google display ads and could easily implement branded sponsorships and/or a Farmville-style program of credits or currency. That would mean people would buy credits to accelerate progress or toward the purchase of locations. MyTown is similar to Monopoly in many respects.  

MyTown claims more than two million users. Foursquare has more than a million. By comparison, Google says Latitude has more than three million users. Google is taking the LBS phenomenon very seriously and recently invested in another location-based social game called SCVNGR. And if Google Buzz is ultimately going to gain usage it's going to be in mobile, where it offers some of the same "tips" and annotations about places offered on Foursquare and Gowalla. 

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Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown are all obvious, near-term takeover targets. Foursquare has reportedly been in discussions with Yahoo! and others and is trying to decide whether to remain independent. It probably will for the immediate future. MyTown is probably the least likely of the three to be bought by a traditional local search or portal player. I could imagine a gaming company such as a Zynga ultimately acquiring Booyah. 

As the major features of these LBS game sites are emulated and absorbed by others (check-ins, coupons/deals, tips and local annotations) the question becomes: does their novelty whither and die in a year or two or can they develop sufficient momentum and critical mass to be self-sustaining? 

Related: Foursquare Growing Like Crazy: Up To 600,000 Check-Ins Per Day

Where Shows Coupons to Those Who Check-in

On Foursquare and elsewhere mobile/LBS check-ins wind up being a form of mobile loyalty: check in the most, become the mayor, get free stuff. However Where is putting a slightly different spin or check-ins and local deals. The company is now going to be exposing people to local coupons and deals at the moment they check in:

When using WHERE to help discover local places, consumers will now receive coupons from local merchants when they check-in to a location. WHERE offers one of the most comprehensive collections of mobile coupon and offer inventory available from restaurants, retail stores, spas, and other service providers. With hundreds of thousands of deals presented daily, WHERE is a leader in helping mobile users find great deals nearby. 

Where is aggregating deals from multiple sources (as with its local ad network) including the new DealMap

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Rather than a loyalty tool, rewarding people for their repeat business, this version of mobile coupons/deals become more of a new customer acquisition tool for local businesses nearby. 

Microsoft Turns to Tellme for Bing Mobile's Voice Navigation

In this post, Microsoft's Justin Jed highlights two new features that ship with the latest version of the Bing App for Mobile, designed for phones running the Windows Mobile 6.x operating system. First is a new look for the apps "Home Page" which, like its counterparts running on desktops, laptops, iPhones and Androids, sports some stunning photography. But more important is the one-touch access to popular uses and features that emphasize local activities: Movies, Traffic, Maps, Local, Directions and Favorites.

Of greater interest from our point of view is the integration of Microsoft's Tellme service into the Windows Mobile mix - this time as the foundation for voice-based turn-by-turn driving directions. It has been over a year since Greg Sterling posted this assessment of Tellme Mobile and its ability to support voice-based search, messaging and call origination. As one of the originators of the whole "Voice Portal" concept, Tellme has had the ability to offer turn-by-turn directions for a number of years. Starting with the first Droid and its "car mount" (introduced in October 2009), smartphone makers have had their sights set on the Personal Navigation Device (PND) market.

Just last week, Nokia stepped up competition by creating a marketplace for "own voices" to provide turn-by-turn directions for its OVI Maps application. Making turn-by-turn directions part of the Bing Mobile application makes navigation an integral part of the local, mobile search experience and is a very nice touch. Microsoft already incorporates directions (sans the "voice guide" feature) into the Bing app on iPhones and Android devices. The new application is designed to work on the Sprint, T-Mobile, or AT&T networks, and could emerge as an important differentiator in what is emerging as an increasingly competitive market.

In his column on Search Engine Land, Greg Sterling added: There are a lot of installed Windows Mobile smartphones but their share, at least until Windows Mobile 7 comes out later this year, is declining. A provocative question to ask is: will this feature come to the excellent Bing iPhone app? Google has been holding back Navigation from the iPhone (my guess is to try and differentiate Android handsets). A free voice-guided navigation app as part of the Bing iPhone client would probably be widely used by iPhone owners and probably motivate Google quite quickly to bring out Navigation for the iPhone. RIM users would also welcome the new Bing functionality I’m sure. While the scenario immediately above is speculation on my part I would be surprised if Bing didn’t try and populate this across the top smartphone platforms — perhaps even Android.

Public Transit Generating More Engagement with Foursquare

In October of 2009, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) partnered with Foursquare to promote public transit use:

Bay Area Rapid Transit has become the first transit agency to partner with the location-based mobile network Foursquare, with the goal of encouraging public transit use. . . .

"A lot of BART riders are already having fun with this game," said Timothy Moore, BART website manager. "We hope this partnership will encourage them to check out different stations and neighborhoods, and will show people who aren't already BART riders some of the great things to do that are easy to get to on transit."

The agency released the results of a consumer survey (1/10 - 3/10, n=446) conducted earlier this year. It appears to be creating more "fun" and engagement around public transportation for the riders using Foursquare:

  • 23% percent of respondents . . . said they had earned a BART frequent rider badge; 7% said they had become "mayor" of a BART station.
  • 38% of respondents said "it's more fun to ride BART" as a Foursquare user
  • 17% said they had used Foursquare to connect with friends on the train or at the station
  • 43% had used Foursquare to recommend a destination near BART in the past three months
  • 19% had used BART because of a Foursquare recommendation

Finally:

Nearly a third of respondents said they typically ride BART five days per week; a third also said they check in regularly on Foursquare at BART stations. Fourteen percent said they're riding BART more often because of their interaction with Foursquare.

So the experiment and unlikely partnership appears to be a success. With more riders, hopefully BART can hold off the relentless fare increases. 

New Look for Google Mobile Results

Google has updated the look of its UI on the PC, with new search options. There's also been a corresponding change in mobile. It makes search options/filters more prominent and easier to access. They're also more colorful. According to the Google Mobile Blog:

When you go to Google.com in the US on your iPhone or Android-powered device, and enter a search, you can now tap on the button to the left of the search box on the results page to see a new search options menu. Then, selecting any item in the menu will refine your search. For example, if you are looking for recent results for "Mother's day gift", simply tap the "Past week" option.

Here are a couple of screens I just pulled on a search for "camera." On the left is the default view. The right shows the new, more colorful search options, which you can access by tapping the ">>" icon to the left of the search box:

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Not all the same tools and filters appear to be available in mobile as online. You can, in my example, find local stores that carry cameras and currently have them in stock (at least via big boxes). In order to do so, you need to select "products" and then the "in stock nearby" link associated with particular, desired item in Google Shopping. 

There was reportedly also supposed to be a "reviews" filter, which would be very useful on the go. But that isn't in this version of the rollout. 

AR Browser Maker Launches 'Paid Layer'

Netherlands-based Layar has launched an "app store" of its own -- a "paid layer" on Layar. The augmented reality (AR) browser says it has 1.6 million users. In a bid for more usage and a business model, the company has announced that it will offer users the ability to unlock paid apps or content that can then be viewed within the AR browser environment:

The Layar Payment Platform is setup to support multiple payment providers and multiple currencies, ready to serve the different local markets. Layar deals with legal, administrative and tax rules enabling the publisher to focus on their core activities: creating valuable experiences. The first payment provider is PayPal, supporting payments to residents of United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. More countries, currencies, payment methods and payment providers will be added regularly . . .

The first publishers to seize the opportunity include among others:

Berlitz City Guides: Berlitz helps people experience the city’s highlights: the best attractions, coziest restaurants, most comfortable hotels, coolest places to shop and most fashionable nightlife.
Mouse Reality for Disney World and Disneyland: Helps find and navigate all attractions, shows, shops, dinning, transportation, and more in Disneyland and Disney World.
EyeTour: Explore Puerto Rico’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage through exclusive video content of historical sites, museums, restaurants, parks and more.
UK sold prices: ‘Sold House Price Data 2010′ – Check the latest UK residential Sold Price information as recorded by the Land Registry while on the move.

Here are a couple of screens from the Berlitz city guide app within an app:

Picture 90

This makes great sense for the company and may help it offer something different vs. competitor Wikitude and eventual competitor Google (Goggles). The challenge here is to have high quality, unique and/or branded content that is not readily available otherwise. Otherwise, free content and local information on other apps will prevent this from really taking off.

AR will have a future as a quick way to get access to more information or content about a place, product, person or object (e.g., a painting or building in front of me) vs. keying in or speaking a query. But today it remains mostly a novelty and not a daily utility.