Like other folks this morning I received a press release from Skyhook Wireless PR that said Motorola was replacing Google's core location services with those from Skyhook Wireless:
Skyhook Wireless, the worldwide leader in location positioning, context and intelligence, today announced that Motorola, Inc. will deploy its Core Location across much of the company’s portfolio of Android-based mobile devices. Skyhook-enabled Motorola smartphones, which will begin shipping later this year, will have the ability to better support a new wave of location-aware applications by leveraging Skyhook’s precise, reliable, and fast-performing location engine.
Reportedly some Android developers are not entirely satisfied with Google's accuracy. In my casual observation and usage I've never found Google location positioning to be incorrect or bad. But I'm not a developer. Let's assume that greater accuracy is what Skyhook can offer Motorola.
I don't know whether or how this will affect Google services like Navigation on future Motorola phones. That's an interesting question for another more technically inclined person to answer. Reportedly it won't affect Android developers.
This would appear to me, however, to be another statement of independence from Motorola vis-a-vis Google in relation to Android. I infer from this as well as other moves that Motorola wants to prevent its brand and handsets from being totally subordinated to Google or becoming simply a vehicle for Google-branded services.
I've reached out to Motorola for comment about the rationale. I may not get a response but I would imagine if I do it would focus on Skyhook's accuracy or the quality of the service rather than say anything inflammatory or controversial.
Foursquare is a little over a year old and it seems that it is now looking at $100 million buyout offers from a range of players that are rumored to include Yahoo!, Microsoft and Facebook. I had long ago predicted that Facebook would buy Foursquare, but Facebook probably doesn't have to if it does location right.
Facebook was also rumored to be looking at Loopt, which is now the equivalent of the Palm of LBS services.
We previously wrote "How ‘Geo-Social Gaming’ Is Changing Local Mobile Search," and Foursquare is the most visible of the companies in the segment. Foursquare would be a tremendous asset to Yahoo or Microsoft, but would they be able to keep its momentum going? That's not clear. Large companies that buy startups often sap the vitality of those smaller companies over time.
It would probably be a different matter at Facebook. But, as I said, Facebook likely doesn't "need" Foursquare, especially if its Open Graph strategy succeeds; it will have more valuable local information than any other player in the market. It could then do a wide range of things with that data.
Foursquare has recently started paying more attention to the (small) business side of its services. But winning in the SMB market is a tough, long-term slog. It also has a number of high profile deals with cable TV companies and publishers. Those are more promising in terms of near-term and maybe even long-term revenue.
But the temptation for CEO/co-founder Dennis Crowley is to take the money and run vs. try and build Foursquare into a sustainable business. I can tell you that if I were him I would probably take the money.
Yelp declined to be bought out by Google and instead took a $100 million round of financing. Yelp told me that will partly fuel international growth and engineering hires but a large chunk of that will be devoted to salespeople, needed to obtain ad revenues from SMBs.
If Foursquare continues on as an independent entity it will be going up against that very same Yelp, yellow pages, Google, (maybe Twitter), newspapers and eventually Facebook, among numerous others. Just getting SMB attention is a big challenge, let alone selling anything to them.
While it's tempting to argue "we don't know how big Foursquare could get" and take a big round, I would bet there will be an acquisition.
The Mobile Marketing Association has released some pretty compelling survey data about location-based services and advertising. The survey was conducted among 1,071 US adults in March; 91% of the survey sample had a mobile phone. Here are some of the top-level findings (nearly verbatim):
(Emphasis is mine.)
As the iPhone user numbers point out, smartphone owners are much heavier users of these services. In a 2009 AOL survey, for example, 73% of smartphone owners were users of maps and directions. The new datapoints are the following:
At the AD:TECH conference earlier this week I was able to sit down briefly with LocalAdXchange's Craig Hagopian. The company was formerly V-Enable and in the mobile directory assistance business. But the recession and some other now fortuitous circumstances forced the business to change its model and the company is now a profitable local ads provider.
It doesn't sell ads directly; rather it sits between ad sales on the one side and distribution on the other. It also seeks to optimize ads for maximum performance and CPMs to publisher partners and scores all adds accordingly.
Its partners include SuperMedia, AT&T Interactive, 4Info, JumpTap, Multiplied Media and a number of others. LocalAdXchange does a few things outside of mobile but it's predominantly a mobile network. Other local-mobile ad networks include Where, CityGrid, LSN and Google of course. Most mobile ad networks serve geotargeted inventory but don't specialize in this area or have the capacity to provide high levels of fill with quality local ad inventory. CityGrid is an exception to that generalization and also operates on the PC side.
Hagopian told me LocalAdXchange can provide 80% fill rates and sees roughly 10% CTRs on ads. Of those ads that consumers respond to, roughly half generate a phone call, according to Hagopian. LocalAdXchange serves both PPC and PPCall ads to its partners.
Many studies and surveys now have established the appeal and greater efficiacy of LBS advertising on mobile devices vs. other ad categories.
Correction: LocalAdXchange does have direct advertiser relationships, though most ads come through partners.
Yellow Pages Group yesterday introduced a nouveau iPhone app called "Urbanizer." It's highly social, focused solely on restaurants and very nicely designed. Yellow pages branding is almost non-existent. The app is intended to appeal to a young, urban demographic that might not associate the yellow pages with "cool" restaurants and entertainment.
The app incorporates data from YPG's CanadaPlus cityguide as well as recent acquisition Restaurantica. It utilizes Facebook Connect to build the social graph into the app as well as to broadcast information back through the Facebook news feed. One of the novel dimensions of the app is the ability to make restaurant choices by "mood." According to the press release:
With Urbanizer, urbanites can now discover local places by telling the app what they are in the mood for. For example, users can choose from a selection of pre-defined moods such as "romantic dinner" and "hipster snack" or use Urbanizer's equalizer function to create a custom mood based on combinations of cuisine, ambiance and service categories.
Urbanizer also enables users to tag places by "mood" and shows a "mood map" (vs. a heatmap) of the various cities it covers in Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. Here are some screens from the app:
Yellow Pages Group has recently been making very interesting moves in buying a number of online verticals and diversifying its sources of traffic. Like AT&T's Buzz.com (which has a mobile component at m.buzz.com) Urbanizer represents an effort to reach into new demographic segments and build vertical sites/apps that offer both targeted traffic and leads to advertisers but also offer new user experiences to consumers.
A slew of announcements came out of JumpTap over the past 24 hours. The most interesting and important of those is the introduction of a consumer dashboard that enables users to manage ad-category settings, much like the Google and Yahoo! online privacy and ad management dashboards. JumpTap CMO Paran Johar told me yesterday that no one else in mobile has done something like this. And he's correct.
Here's how the press release describes it:
The new feature -- scheduled for release mid-year -- is an industry first, advancing Jumptap's lead in providing superior performing advertising solutions powered by "consumer intelligence." It also signals a mobile advertising market shift, away from an increasingly siloed world of competing mobile advertising platforms to a single, open platform with the consumer in control.
Rather than a privacy dashboard it's more of an ad personalization dashboard that allows consumers to indicate interests (or a lack thereof) in a menu of different ad categories. They can also entirely opt-out or turn it off, though they will still see ads. This isn't opting out of mobile advertising. It simply turns the additional personalization off. I told Johar that JumpTap will need to make that clear to people.
It's a novel and potentially important approach that mirrors what's going on online, as ad networks and the IAB try to get out in front of potential privacy regulation. This could well be the start of an industry wide effort to adopt a unified approach to ad targeting and disclosure across platforms -- or at least a mobile-wide parallel approach.
Consumers want and respond to "relevant" ads and giving them some measure of control over what ads they see is beneficial for both them and for marketers. The challenge with such a system is getting people to engage with it. But if people understand what it means and how it works they likely will.
Anything that makes mobile advertising more "opt-in" will improve response rates and overall satisfaction. The new dashboard will be available in the next couple of months.
The company also announced a new "Unified Rich Media Ad Platform" that delivers a wide range of rich media ad units. Simultaneously JumpTap said that it received its sixth mobile advertising patent. It now has an impressive and broad patent portfolio, which adds to takeover appeal.
Borrell Associates put out its mobile ad forecast, which seeks to be comprehensive. The forecast includes mobile "advertising" and all forms of what the firm calls "mobile promotions," which include coupons, SMS and other spending that doesn't involve actually buying ad inventory in a traditional sense.
The report is highly bullish and the numbers are massive:
Last year online marketing captured about $44 billion in spending; mobile marketing reached $2.7 billion. We expect total online marketing to grow at about 13 percent compounded annually, to around $80 billion by 2014. Mobile, by contrast, will grow at 84 percent per year and hit $57 billion by then.
A subcategory of mobile marketing is mobile advertising – and local is where the action is. We foresee “local” growing at an unusually brisk pace – doubling every year for the next three. Local mobile advertising totaled $285 million in 2009; we’re expecting it to double this year to $586 million, then spike upward to $11.3 Billion by 2014.
Here are a couple of charts that illustrate the forecasts and the growth they envision in the mobile market:
Borrell is right to try and capture this broader universe of mobile spending because SMS, couponing and other mobile marketing will comprise a big chunk of the pie. However these numbers are really really big and the timeframe is aggressive. They're also US only figures and estimates.
I would potentially also quibble with the "national' vs. "local" distinction because many companies that are "national" will be sending mobile users into local outlets, stores and dealers. However it refers to the interest and category of the advertisers, not the "location" of the eventual consumer spending or action in response to the ad or offer.
Indeed, many otherwise "national" campaigns will include a local component (e.g., find a dealer, find a store) to make them more "actionable." Fewer ads on mobile devices will be pure awareness campaigns, although there will be some of that.
Most companies in the mobile space will welcome these aggressive numbers as validation of the mobile opportunity and fodder for their pitches to the market. Expect to see these data in a great many slide decks in the future.
Nokia has acquired MetaCarta, a company that can take unstructured data about location and organize and make sense out of it. MetaCarta's main client was the US Department of Defense. The company has the capacity to comb/search through massive amounts of data and "understand" and organize it by location.
One of the company's "civilian" efforts was a project called news maps in which news stories were associated with particular locations. The company worked with the BBC and Reuters, among others. There were also more ambitious plans analogous to Google's Place Pages in the works. However the company's resources will now be shifted to Nokia's efforts to build better "local search" and geo-intelligence.
Nokia already owns Navteq and has made navigation free, following Google Navigation. I suspect the company doesn't know precisely how it will use MetaCarta's technology but sees several applications and implementations associated with organizing content by location. In its release Nokia made the relatively broad statement, "MetaCarta's technology will be used in the area of local search in Location and other services."
The irony here is that all the location platforms and APIs coming out make it possible to tag most user-generated content (UGC) with location information relatively easily, which creates structure around it. So MetaCarta's core competency may be less important over time.
Arguably associating UGC with location won't be the problem going forward. The bigger challenge will be fltering meaningful from "noisy" information in all that location-tagged content.
There is nothing more local than GPS. Last month GPS navigation provider/platform TeleNav released data gathered in December, 2009 about the top US searches and business categories that people were seeking using the network of mobile and PND units powered by TeleNav. The lists are disappointingly mundane, mainstream and even predictable.
Here are some of the top-level data that TeleNav released:
With Walmart as the top destination (haven't you been there already?) and pizza (what again?) as the top food category searched, it's no wonder the US is a nation of obese people. At least I didn't say "stupid, fat people."
Skyhook Wireless this morning announced a new developer SDK that enables anyone to add location to their content and apps. According to Skyhook there are roughly 8,000 location-enabled apps in the iTunes store, out of roughly 160,000 total. Since its business is about location and local is the "heart of mobile," the company wants to further enable developers to add location in a painless way.
Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan also makes an interesting argument that location is a kind of "gateway to community." Morgan believes that learning about what people around you think is valuable or interesting can help these apps build community and loyalty. Location becomes a basis for community because it makes abstract ideas and content such as news, photos, music more concrete in a local or offline context. Location offers a shared circumstance or experience that can enable people to discover and connect with one another.
To that end Shyhook has created a "Local Favs" SDK. According to the press release:
Local Faves helps developers create engaging communities within apps, driving user loyalty and more opportunities for monetization. In a Local Faves-enabled iPhone wine app, users could check-in to a restaurant via the wine they’re drinking, giving the wine app developer the opportunity to directly broadcast user location. Local Faves features fully customizable content tagging, allowing users to indicate that that they loved, hated, ‘favorited’, saw, or read a piece of content within an app, and enables sharing of this content, and exactly where it was experienced, via Facebook and Twitter.
Morgan demo'd the functionality with a dummy app the company had created around drinks. They took the Esquire drinks database and created a very slick iPhone app around it. The idea is that users identify where they consumed, say, a Pina Colada or a Cosmopolitan or Sex on the Beach, etc. The location is captured and can be shared socially: I'm in Manhattan and just had a Martini . . .
Over time, you'd get a sense of the favorite alcoholic beverages in different areas of the country: Boston likes Scotch while Oregonians like beer -- hypothetically.
Skyhook's SDK provides all the pages and functionality, making it very easy for developers to plug in these local and social features. Because of that and the fact that it's all free, it's a missed opportunity not to use this.
Social search/answer engine Aardvark was recently acquired by Google for $50 million. Now former Facebook employees have created a very similar new service, Quora, that very much resembles Aardvark and to a lesser degree competitors kgb and ChaCha, which recently launched a Facebook site/service.
Quora offers users the ability to specify areas and topics of interest and expertise, and ask the community open-ended questions on any subject. There are some other novel features, such as the ability to follow topics, specific questions and people. It also reminds me a little bit of LinkedIn Q&A.
Quora has reportedly raised $11 million in funding.
AOL's MapQuest has added voice support to its MapQuest4Mobile iPhone app, which is free. It offers basic turn-by-turn voice prompts. In addition to Google Navigation and the now-free Ovi Maps with directions, this marks another nail in the coffin of paid-GPS devices and services.
According to the updated features listed on the iTunes site:
Because Google Navigation (with turn-by-turn directions and voice prompts) isn't yet available for the iPhone, this app has a good chance to gain widespread adoption -- provided it gets sufficient promotion and word of mouth.
It's now been repeated in a couple of places and attributed to two separate Google employees (Paul Feng and Diana Pouliot): roughly one third (33%) of mobile search has a local intent.
This number will now be repeated and repeated. Let's be careful. It's one important data point but not necessarily gospel. I'm going to follow up with Google and clarify what this means.
Earlier this month, at the SMX West conference, Microsoft presented information that suggested local intent is behind an even higher percentage of mobile search queries:
Source: Microsoft (data are from 2008)
What this argues is that "local intent" queries are at least 50% (in this data set). With that said, people look for lots of information on their devices that has little or nothing to do with their immediate location: news and sports being chief examples. But almost all the commercial queries that are run through a search engine are going to ultimately be about the offline world.
It's not clear in the Google example whether apps are being factored into the figures. I suspect not.
Comscore has said that roughly 12% - 13% of online search is local (using a very conservative methodology). Does that mean that mobile search is almost three times more local? I would argue because of the context mobile search is more local but not that much more if we consider the actual point of purchase or fulfillment for the majority of transactions -- offline.
Local-intent search is simply more "visible" or "transparent" to everyone in a mobile context than it is on the desktop. It's also true that people on mobile devices doing commercial queries typically have a more immediate need than those on a PC -- they're closer to the point of sale literally and figuratively.
I don't think we should take the 33% figure as definitive but rather as a directional indicator of the importance of location on mobile devices.
Earlier this week Yahoo released a new search app for the iPhone called "Sketch a Search." I had seen a demo of this several months ago at a general search event at Yahoo! The new app is novel and interesting -- it builds to some degree on Yahoo! Local's longstanding PC "radius search" -- and allows users to draw a custom search area on the app and then find restaurants and bars within that area:
As you can see from the image in the lower left above that there's an Urbanspoon-like carousel element, although that's a function of the iPhone OS rather than an attempt to copy Urbanspoon.
The virtue of this app is that it's different and uses the touchscreen in a compelling way. As it stands however this should be considered more of an experiment than something that is likely to be a big mainstream hit. On a larger screen tablet device, such as the iPad, it might be more useful because the areas could be drawn with greater precision.
Yahoo! also released a new search app for the iPhone, built on it's earlier Inquisitor app. Sketch a Search should be incorporated as a feature into that broader Yahoo! search app. The combination of the two would be both useful and fun.
In conjunction with its big Las Vegas trade show CTIA has come up with some new rules guidelines for use of location information in the delivery location-based content and advertising. The document is called "Best Practices and Guidelines for Location-Based Services." Below are a few excerpts:
The Guidelines primarily focus on the user whose location information is used or disclosed. It is the user whose privacy is most at risk if location information is misused or disclosed without authorization or knowledge.
The Guidelines apply whenever location information is linked by the LBS Provider to a specific device (e.g., linked by phone number, userID) or a specific person (e.g., linked by name or other unique identifier).
The Guidelines do not apply to location information used or disclosed:
The CTIA document goes on to discuss consent for the use of location and revocation of that consent by users, among other related issues. One thing it sidesteps is subject of illegal government survelliance of mobile subscribers. It says those involved with "legal process" don't implicate consumer notice or consent. (That implies warrants for surveillance, which the government hasn't felt it needs to obtain in the recent past re accessing telco records.)
The reason I wrote the headline above the way I did is that opt-in consent for LBS is already widely used on the dominant smartphone platforms, and in particular the iPhone. There are undoubtedly others that need this education and these guidelines (for the mobile Web) but best practices are arguably already pretty well established by existing systems and methods in use today.
For its part the MMA hasn't yet opined on the matter. In September of last year the trade group said:
The MMA recognizes the need to provide guidelines for location based advertising. However, models for using location currently vary, and do not allow identifying the most appropriate guidelines at this point in time. MMA’s mobile advertising committee has started exploring the opportunities of using location in advertising and plans to come up with guidelines for location based advertising. In the meantime, MMA encourages experimentation in this space and invites companies to share best practice with the MMA mobile advertising committee.
The MMA will feel some pressure to get its guidelines out now. Either they will mirror (or simply duplicate) those promulgated by CTIA or they'll vary. If they vary at all will that create confusion among marketers and publishers? Probably. But we'll have to wait and see what emerges.
Yesterday we met with Andy Miller, the founder/CEO of Cardstar. Until recently I hadn't heard of the company, although its iPhone app has had over a million downloads and has received some fairly extensive coverage in the NY Times and other tech blogs (where was I?). Miller is not the same Andy Miller who is the CEO of Quattro, in case you were wondering.
We had a long conversation about the app, some of the use cases and future scenarios and about the fascinating data being collected in the background. The data this company has is a retail gold mine. But that's a story for later.
The company started because Miller was carrying around too many loyalty cards in his wallet. This app, coming soon to Android and other platforms, allows users to enter their loyalty card account numbers and keep them all "on file" in a single place:
Part of the "secret sauce" here is that the company can generate a scannable barcode for any loyalty program -- that we're told works with current scanning technology.
The app, which Miller said has much more retention and usage than the majority of "lifestyle" apps in the iTunes store, also becomes a platform for push marketing to users and a way for SMBs to create loyalty programs in addition to the traditional big companies on the list above. As I mentioned, the data that Cardstar is collecting on usage (by demographics, location, etc) and engagement literally represents a treasure trove of "best practices" advice for grocery and retail marketers.
There's an intriguing and widening roadmap for this product, which began as a convenience for consumers.
A novel element of the service, Cardstar allows users to create a physical "master card" that can carry up to six loyalty barcodes on a single piece of plastic, to minimize clutter (for people who don't have smartphones or want a backup for their most frequently used cards). You enter the account numbers on the Cardstar site and then receive a physical card in the mail.
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.
These numbers are amazing and show that "mobile marketing" and opt-in loyalty programs will be an increasingly important part of companies' mobile strategies -- or should be.
Last week in my discussion with Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan he told me about today's launch of "SpotRank," the company's aggregated data about location and local activity, now being made available to third party developers. According to the company's release:
SpotRank data is based on hundreds of millions of anonymous location lookups processed daily through Skyhook’s Core Engine. This location platform powers positioning requests on tens of millions of devices and applications around the world. Skyhook continually mines this data to create detailed behavioral intelligence profiles for over half a billion 100 meter “spots” around the world. Providing brand new insight into the movement of crowds through out urban areas, these profiles are based on historical trends in location lookup volume and time of day.
Developers using SpotRank will be able to add surprising and game-changing new dimensions to their apps. Public transit or traffic apps could use SpotRanks to suggest new routes based on predicted traffic volume at a specific location. Music apps could suggest playlists based on activity in an area, with upbeat songs at peak hours. Social networking apps change up venue promotions based on the typical number of people in an area at a given time of day.
Skyhook's servers see 300 million location lookups every day. All of this data, captured anonymously, is now available for third parties to use and mash up in any way they see fit.
The applications and implications are many and varied. The most obvious of which is predicting crowds and movement, with traffic patterns being the first and most obvious. But equally one could imagine OpenTable or other restaurant apps using this to make recommendations about when retaurants are likely to be less crowded. Alternatively one could predict for example which days of the year a favorite amusement park, say Disneyland, was least crowded and make travel decisions accordingly.
Morgan and I discussed several hypothetical scenarios like this but he said he was frankly waiting for the creativity of developers to be unleashed on the data. It's interesting information with all sorts of practical (and potentially marketing) applications -- and it's all real, behavioral rather than predicted or modeled based on sampling.
I realize "game-changing" is something of a cliche and in fact it's used in the language of the release itself. But this is a massive new dataset to bring to mobile developers. Individual versions of this are also starting to appear in Foursquare's history for example.
Verizon's LiveSource DA service has added the ability to search by intersection, landmark and neighborhood to its capabilities. The database that enables this is from Call Genie.
While this is a nice enhancement comparable capabilities have existed for some time on competing services. DA services in general face double-digit usage declines at the hands of smartphones and most DA providers are scrambling to answer the question: should we simply manage this business as a "cash cow" or compete aggressively with new features and capabilities?
A majority of the market still consists of non-smartphones and on these handsets there's still an opportunity to grow usage.
Again and again survey data show that smartphone owners are especially interested in money saving deals and promotions. Compete's latest smartphone report simply confirms this.
Our previous survey data show that even larger numbers (43%) are interested in offers from local merchants. And there's data going back two years or more that show similar interest in deals and coupons in mobile.
The issue now is getting the coupon or deals inventory to people on those handsets. However that "infrastructure" is quickly evolving and developing.
The other piece of public data released by Compete shows daily usage patterns among smartphone owners:
Note that the concentration of smartphone usage is at home and during "downtime" or waiting, as well as during shopping. In short people are using these devices throughout the day. But these data suggest what people have been saying for quite some time that smartphone usage largely complements PC usage.
At some point dayparting will play a larger role in mobile advertising as more usage data become available and some "best practices" start to emerge.
Related: Mobile buying site Groupon launches an iPhone app.
Directory publisher Yell has added augmented reality (AR) to its iPhone app. Superpages' Android app also features augmented reality, as does Yelp, among others (Layar, Wikitude). While there are some use cases where the current incarnation of AR makes sense -- you're in front of a location and want reviews or additional information about the business -- it remains a novelty more than a feature that would be used on a daily basis.
Still it adds some "sizzle" to the yellow pages app. The Yell implementation looks like a thoughtful version of the current mode of AR.
Below is a video that shows a demonstration of the app in action:
Related: Canada's Canpages also offers augmented reality.