The size and shape of the mobile speech ecosystem has taken on new proportions as AT&T throws its research chops, as well as working capital into the ring with mobile speech specialist Vlingo. The two companies have forged a licensing agreement and strategic alliance whereby AT&T is acquiring a "minority stake" in Vlingo (without making the terms public). The move marks renewed interest by AT&T's in speech recognition with special attention to the mobile user experience. This is a bellwether for anticipated revenue growth and marketing activity surrounding mobile speech on a global basis. In a recent conversation Vlingo CEO Dave Grannan asserted that mobile speech adoption has hit an inflection point. Apparently AT&T agreed. In a not-so-veiled swipe at IBM and Nuance, Grannan asserts in a press release that, Vlingo has "seen significant accuracy and performance gains with Watson compared to other core speech technologies that will allow us to create a dramatically improved user experience."
In fact, Vlingo told us that it reached the 2 million user mark based on the accuracy and automation rates attainable with its current recognition engine, licensed from IBM. We do not have a "lab" here at I2Go but have been told that the today's recognition engines from Nuance, IBM, AT&T Watson, Novauris and Microsoft can all be tuned to reach accuracy rates in the 90% range in the field. This is a marked improvement from the 40% or less achieved with early services. Because accuracy can never reach 100%, the next step in marketing and service development will be to start managing user expectation so that failure to recognize that one word out of 10 is not the equivalent of a PC's "blue screen of death."
Over the years, Vlingo has made great strides in promoting a mobile voice user interface and defining distribution plans and pricing strategies. On the Blackberry, for instance, it offers a free version that supports Twitter updates, Web-based search and voice dialing and also offers a premium version ($17.99) to add text messaging and email origination. AT&T's renewed interest in mobile speech provides some market validation and portends heightened competition among a set of well-heeled leaders (Nuance/IBM, Microsoft/Tellme, Google) and a group of service-oriented innovators that includes Vlingo (now with AT&T), Novauris, Yap, Ditech Networks (with Simulscribe) and a couple dozen others.
Opus Research delves into the market in great detail in this report called, "Mobile Speech: Unlocking Personal Apps, Features and Functions."
According to published reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is going to begin charging for mobile access in the next couple months. Reuters explains how the pricing would work:
Under the plan, people who do not subscribe to the Journal would pay $2 a week for mobile access, and subscribers would pay $1 per week. Subscribers to both the print and online version of the paper will get mobile for free.
News Corp., the WSJ's parent, is going to start charging broadly for access to its content online. This effort is consistent with the new approach. The WSJ of course has been one of the few publications that has been charging for access to its articles and content since "the beginning." And it represents a rare success story in that regard. The Journal however is not representative of all publications because so many people either get the publication for free via their companies or write it off as a tax deduction.
Effectively then the subscription is subsidized but the US government or corporate employers. In that larger context I would expect that many people will pay for access via mobile. However I certainly will not.
We will see many more publishers seeking to charge for mobile access. But what about when the tablets start to hit? Will that simply be an extension of "online" or will it be considered a separate mobile offering? I'm getting a bit ahead of myself when I ask that question but in three years we will have a bunch of connected tablets in the market and it will be a relevant issue then.
Related: All 30 McClatchy publications join the AP Mobile news network. According to Editor & Publisher:
"Mobile is a key component of McClatchy's overall digital strategy," Christian Hendricks, McClatchy's vice president, interactive media, said in a statement. "Adding all our websites to AP Mobile makes it easier for consumers to access our local news and helps expand overall readership in our newspapers' markets."
Aardvark, which is now describing itself as “social search engine" is really more like an "answer community." Regardless of the label the company uses to describe itself it has launched an app for the iPhone. I've written about Aardvark several times in the past and wrote up today's announcement at Search Engine Land.
This may turn out to be the turning point for the company (like Pandora or Urbanspoon's iPhone apps). We'll see. But that's my intuition.
The thing that struck me as I spoke to co-founder and former Googler Max Ventilla is that with the arrival of the iPhone app people will start to "get" what Aardvark is all about and see use cases more clearly: word of mouth on the go. People have been able to get to Aardvark via mobile but not in a simple way (SMS is still a way off). But it's a broader service that isn't simply about "need it now" recommendations. I can ask where to go on my 10 wedding anniversary or who won the 1957 world series or what's the best pinot noir for under $20.
The services that it most directly competes against are ChaCha and kgb. The difference is that Aardvark is trying to build a community of user contacts to respond to queries vs using professional or semi-professional agents. And building that community is where the challenge resides.
To that end Aardvark leverages both Facebook (and Facebook Connect) and Twitter as "entry points." If Aardvark can gain traction in mobile it can build momentum toward faster and more comprehensive answers, which right now take from about 2-5 minutes to receive. But the quality of responses has been good so far for me.
The PC-mobile integration will also benefit loyalty and engagement.
I asked Ventilla about speech and voice interfaces. He said they had built one but that alpha testers were not ready for the additional "complexity" it apparently introduced. Ventilla isn't abandoning speech, he's just defferring it. He also told me that, like speech, there are many more enhancements coming in future versions of the app.
Nokia's Navteq is getting (really) serious about mobile advertising. The company has announced the acquition of mobile marketing firm Acuity Mobile. The two firms have been working together since March, 2007, when Acuity's technology was selected to deliver LBS ads via Traffic.com (a Navteq subsidiary). According to the Navteq press release issued this morning:
The acquisition of Acuity Mobile, a US-based company with approximately 18 employees prior to close, underscores NAVTEQ's commitment to and investment in location-based advertising technology and solutions. Earlier this year, NAVTEQ launched NAVTEQ LocationPoint(TM) Advertising which enables advertisers to reach and engage consumers where and when they are making shopping and purchasing decisions. NAVTEQ has been leveraging Acuity Mobile technologies to meet the increasing demand for location-aware advertising services as the volume of location-aware devices and applications has grown . . .
NAVTEQ LocationPoint enables clients to target consumers with geographic precision. In turn, consumers will have advertising move with them, as their mobile mapping applications present ads, offers, coupons, or other promotions, based on their preferences. Advertising capabilities include audio, rich graphics, or calls to action such as routing to the closest advertiser storefront.
Acuity delivers LBS ads but with other targeting layers as well, including time, context and user preference. The acquisition helps stabilize a broader range of mobile advertising capabilities for Navteq, which has seen the PND market (one of its primiary outlets) look less and less viable with the rise of smartphones.
I'm wondering aloud whether Acuity will remain within Navteq or integrated more broadly into Nokia Interactive Advertising. I would also look for more Nokia mobile ad platform/network acquisitions in the near term.
Late last year or early this year Google CEO Eric Schmidt said there would be roughly 18 Android devices in the market by the end of 2009. It's starting to happen. Last week Motorola introduced its first of two Android phones. And today LG announced its first Android device, the unmemorably named LG-GW620:
The new LG-GW620 features a 3-inch full touchscreen and slide out QWERTY keypad to meet the growing needs of consumers who rely on their mobile phones for more than just making calls. The LG-GW620 benefits from an operating system that was created from the ground up to take advantage of the many mobile applications and services developed by search leader Google.
Simultaneously (and curiously) the company reminded everyone of its commitment to the Windows Mobile platform in the same press release:
In addition to the Android model, LG announced in early September that it will be introducing a minimum of 13 new smartphones over the next 16 months that utilize Microsoft’s Windows Mobile. The newest release, version 6.5, was announced just last week.
I've argued in the past that it will be potentially difficult for consumers to differentiate these various Android phones and similarly challenging for the OEMs and carriers to create and highlight differences -- which has been the history of Windows Mobile to date as well.
Running a promotion in conjunction with the Oprah show in the US, T-Mobile is offering a $100 discount on the MyTouch3G Android phone. That reduces the price from $199 to $99 (for as long as it lasts). Separately, INQ, which is wholly owned by Hutchison Whampoa, said at Mobilize that it's getting into the Android business. INQ previously announced "social mobiles" that have built in apps for Facebook, Twitter and Skype.
That means the companies with announced or existing Android handsets include:
How will all these phones separate themselves from one another? Motorola and HTC are trying software layers and services. We'll see how different these other phones are from one another when they show up. Regarding pricing, there are now a slew of "smartphones" selling for $150 or less in the US and a bunch at $99:
As I've argued, the de facto price ceiling on smartphones is $199 and it may be going down if the recent price jockeying is any indication. Anything above $199 won't be viable as a mass market device.
Today at the Mobilize conference Motorola announced it's long-awaited first Android phone the "CLIQ" (from T-Mobile) with "Motoblur." For about 10 minutes it wasn't clear what the phone was called. It seemed like it was called the "Motoblur" but then T-Mobile took the stage and called it the CLIQ. It's officially called "Motorola CLIQ With MOTOBLUR."
This is some of the most confused branding in recent memory. To compound matters it's being called DEXT with MOTORBLUR in the UK and Europe. Putting all that aside, the phone is interesting for a few reasons:
The "MOTOBLUR" social software (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter) is the type of thing that carriers arguably should be doing (i.e., customizable home screen) to remain relevant to end users. Instead, they're building apps stores, which in my mind face very mixed prospects.
Lots of people are writing the obituary for Windows Mobile. Here's the latest piece to do so: "Does Microsoft Windows Mobile Have A Future?" I was in that camp too, arguing that Microsoft should ditch WinMo and buy Palm, etc. I was a pretty harsh critic of the OS (and had been a 6.1 user for a long time). Compared to the iPhone or Android it was really lacking.
But upon seeing 6.5 in video demos (though not in my hand) I changed my tune. To me Windows Mobile 6.5 looks much improved and as though it has a fighting chance when combined with elegant hardware. And if Redmond can continue to innovate and improve the user experience it will be competitive. After all there are 30 million users of Windows Mobile handsets today. Those folks presumably would stay with the platform if it continues to improve.
A big challenge for Microsoft is how to position "Windows Phones." Are they for business users (vs. RIM), are they for consumers (vs. Palm, Apple, Android)? Microsoft says both. But Microsoft doesn't control the user experience and hardware integration as fully as RIM, Apple and Palm. It's most like Android in that regard.
An improved user experience and competitive pricing (especially the latter) will drive sales of 6.5 phones while we wait for a stronger experience in Windows Mobile 7. But I now believe it's much too soon to count Microsoft out in mobile. It would be somewhat different if Microsoft were in denial and not aware of its challenges in mobile, but the company seems to be (behind the scenes at least).
Also, the OneApp "platform" for feature phones could see some great success. Recall that feature phones constitute more than 80% of the market.
At Apple's "Music" event today a number of things were announced, notably video cameras for the iPod Nano (and not for the iPod Touch). But of interest here is the expansion of the "Genius" feature of the iTunes store to iPhone apps to facilitate discovery and more revenue. In the next version of the iPhone software (3.1) a new Genius button will offer apps recommendations to users.
Steve Jobs, making his first event appearance since his Liver transplant surgery, ticked off some new usage and sales figures:
Two "top-tier" mobile apps previously missing from the Android pantheon are now available: Facebook and Pandora. Though not as complete as its iPhone cousin, the Facebook Android app is pretty functional. Here's a video demo of how it works.
In hardware news, Palm has now launched the Pixi (formerly EOS or Pixie). It promises to be cheaper (maybe $99) than the Pre, which is coming down in price to $149 to boost sales. Here's a "hands on" video of the new Pixi from Engadget:
It uses the WebOS like the Pre and in some ways appears more functional than its more expensive sibling (you don't have to slide the keyboard open to enter characters or queries). It also reportedly has a better keyboard. If the price is $99 it's going to be a much bigger hit than the Pre for sure. The big differentiator is that the Pixi has no WiFi; however that's not going to be an issue for most buyers who jump at the lower price point.
The larger point here is that smartphone prices are creeping downward amid intensifying competition. The new Android Hero (from Sprint) is going to come in at $179. The Pre is now $150 and the Pixi may be $99. The iPhone 3G is $99 and Verizon was clearing out the Storm (in anticipation of Storm 2) for $50.
These kinds of prices will drive big smartphone sales, which drives mobile Internet usage.
Video: Google improves the Android Market. Right now it's a pretty mediocre experience and not very conducive to discovery of new apps.
The Samsung Rogue, which is being rolled out by Verizon Wireless today, has received some very positive reviews as a "text messaging dream" (albeit in this press release from Nuance). It is a very sleek "slider" model with a bright touchscreen display backed up by a full QWERTY keyboard. It also ships with a broad range of popular entertainment and social networking applications and features, including "one-touch" access to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and Photobucket. It carries a modest retail price of $99 (after a mail in rebate from Verizon Wireless).
Yet, what is really interesting about the Rogue from the point of view of i2Go is that it arrives with the capabilities of Nuance Voice Command pre-installed. Samsung was one of the first manufcaturers to integrate VoiceSignal's VSuite software in its feature phones. With the push of a button owners are prompted to "Say a command". In response they can manage their phonebooks, access music in the phone's library, voice dial, and initiate a number of "Go to" commands which support speech-initiated Web browsing, access to calendar entries, game playing and the like.
The Rogue also ships with Nuance VoiceMode, which is a speech-to-text rendering technology designed to run on mobile phone, specifically to support text messaging. It's called a "texter's dream" because the spoken word has been proven to be the fastest way to enter text messages. Still, the companies recognize that the subject matter of many a text message calls for the silence of the keyboard. That's why the Rogue has a four-row physical QWERTY keyboard, as well as a "soft" keyboard that can be displayed on the touchscreen. Entry of text through either means can be accelerated through the use of the T9 "predictive text" software that is also baked into the unit.
Yahoo! announced this morning that it has launched three stand-alone properties for the iPhone, BlackBerry and mobile Web:
It's just coincidence that all three of these start with the letter "F."
Each site has a range of features, including customization. For example, mobile Flickr allows direct uploads from the camera (as you might imagine) with geotagging for both still images and video. Finance and Fantasy Football have a number of specific features and should also be extremely popular.
The mobile Web versions of all these properties can also be accessed from Yahoo!'s mobile site. The apps provide a somewhat richer experience, but the mobile Web versions are very good.
I've been noticing a slow growth in the number of apps on my Pre. But to make the device trully competitive there need to be many more. Android now claims about 10,000 apps to the iPhone's 70,000 (ish). The Pre has maybe 30. That's right fewer than 100.
However an InfoWorld article claims that Palm's Pre is now favored as a development platform vs. Android. That doesn't really seem possible. However the article uses "buzz" as the metric to argue that's what's happened:
Judging by buzz alone, the Palm Pre seems to be current the hot smartphone among developers. It's no surprise, considering how much effort went into its developer platform . . .
But all is not well in Android-land. A year after the platform's launch, second-generation Android handsets are now available to U.S. consumers, but they're hardly leaping off the store shelves. According to the research firm Canalys, Google Android commands only about a 3 percent share of the smartphone OS market, while Apple's iPhone has shown an astounding 627 percent growth in the past year.
No surprise that Android developers are starting to grumble. Google is learning the hard way that building a developer community isn't enough; you'd better also have the goods to back it up.
This argument is contrary to earlier evidence that developers were not embracing the Pre. Handset sales will largely be determinative of developer attitudes toward platforms "going forward."
Related: HTC introduces the Tatoo, which is the second Android HTC handset to feature the "Sense" interface. It also offers more customization capability. It will be available in Europe first (next month) and then the US later.
Wikitude is an augmented reality (AR) "browser," the second I discovered (the company said it preceeded Layar). AR apps are starting to emerge and proliferate on both the iPhone and Android platforms. As one high-profile example, there's an AR element of the new Yelp iPhone app. For more background see:
Wikitude offers a number of ways to diplay and view content: as a list (conventional search results), on a map or through a camera-based AR display. Giving people these various options makes the application much more useful than if it only offered the camera-AR display.
There are currently three data sources that feed into Wikitude results: Wikipedia, the community and UK local search provider Qype (US data are also in the app). There's also a Wikitude AR naviation system, which is potentially more useful than the Wikitude AR local search functionality. Here's a video of the "augmented navigation" in action:
Wikitude is a product of Austrian company Mobilizy.
As a search tool, AR starts to take advantage of the unique attributes and features of the mobile device, rather than just being an extension of the PC with better location awareness. That said, AR is in its infancy and still not that useful. As I said previously:
There are use cases and scenarios that will emerge over time that will be very well suited to this new interface and search tool. Today what we have however is a kind of demo version of future experiences that will be truly useful and impressive.
Facebook's new mobile iPhone app is a considerable upgrade over its previous one. I won't do a review of the app, but it offers much more utility than before (including chat, notes, photo uploads, etc). We'll continue to see new features and various enhancements in future versions too (next up is probably video uploads). There's also been some speculation that it could become a mobile apps platform within an app (others are pursuing this approach). While all but a relatively small number of highly successful Facebook apps basically languish online, mobile offers an opportunity to reinvigorate the strategy.
There's also Facebook's payments strategy, which could expand to mobile (it's already got a relationship with Zong using mobile phones to pay for virtual goods online [watch for a potential acquisition of Zong by FB]). Then there's the recently announced expansion of Connect from the iPhone to the broader mobile Internet.
Facebook also just announced a relationship with Nokia integrating Facebook (via "Lifecasting with Ovi") into the N97 and new Nokia N97 Mini phones. Here's a promotional video showing how it works:
The company also said in August that it has 65 million users globally who access the site from mobile devices. That's reportedly more than triple what it was in December, 2008.
Clearly mobile is a very key part of Facebook's strategy now and could make it a dominant globaly player in mobile across a number of fronts, including, potentially advertising. It's probably only a matter of time before Facebook becomes an ad network. Indeed, if I were Facebook I would take a look at buying one of the leading mobile ad networks top accelerate that development.
Mobile speech specialist Vlingo is making some aggressive moves into Western Europe. Versions of its flagship product are now available in UK English, German, Spanish and Italian - all downloadable from Nokia's OVI Store for selected handset models. The "Basic" version of Vlingo is available as a free download from OVI. It enables mobile subscribers to use their voice to open mobile applications or features, send a limited number of text or email, find contacts and dial numbers, search the web, and create notes.
Following the now-famous "freemium" model (credited in Wikipedia to VC Fred Wilson, but perpetuated by Tom Evslin in his blog and Chis Anderson in his recent book "Free"), the company offers "Vlingo Plus" for a one-time "upgrade" fee of £12.99 or €14.99 (roughly $21 by today's exchange rate) or for a monthly fee of £3.49 / €3.99 (roughly $7.70). In the UK, Germany, Italy & Spain, Vlingo Plus gives users the ability to originate (by speaking) an unlimited number of text and email messages.
Another breakthrough for Vlingo was revealed today when Nokia announced that the basic version of its software will be pre-loaded on two of its smartphones. Both the he Nokia E72 (which vies for the business market with the likes of the Blackberry 9630) and the recently released QWERTY-keyboard-with-slider-and-touchscreen N97 (which is vying for attention versus the iPhone, Android and Pre) will ship with Vlingo on board. Nokia N97 PR 2.0 software users will also be able to update their Facebook status by voice. Dave Grannan, president of Vlingo, pointed out to us that wireless subscribers can upgrade to the Vlingo Plus at the touch of a button thanks to Nokia's deployment of OpenBit licensing management software that supports multinational, multicarrier billing. Once the decision is made to upgrade, the process is essentially frictionless.
It is no surprise that Nokia has opted to pre-package Vlingo on the E72, as well as the N97. The application has had tremendous success among message-hungry users of RIM Blackberry. So much so that a ranking of "bestselling paid apps" that appeared in the August 31st issue of Fortune Magazine placed Vlingo Plus (with its $17.99 price tag) at the top of the list. There is no better testimony to the value of the voice user interface than the way mobile device owners vote with their wallets.
The Android market is pretty anemic compared to the iPhone apps store, although there are apps in there that are not available on the iPhone. There are probably a range of reasons for this:
However, CNET is reporting (with screenshots) that the Android Market is about to get a face lift and make it more user friendly. It's not particularly user friendly right now, though not terrible. One big complaint is the need to individually update apps rather than being able to "update all."
As more Android devices make their way into the market and more users adopt them the number of apps will inevitably grow.
According to a post out this morning, the next group of "Windows Phones" will be out on October 6. They feature interim OS 6.5. There's considerable skepticism in the market about the ability of 6.5 to boost Microsoft's fortunes in mobile. The company has recently lost ground in an increasingly handset competitive market.
Having seen video demos of the improved OS (and having been a 6.1 user) I'm impressed and much less of a critic than I was previously. Microsoft said recently on an analyst call that there were 30 milion users of Windows Mobile globally. Here are the details on who gets the new phones:
Perhaps more interesting than the release of 6.5 phones is Microsoft's new "OneApp," which "enables feature phones . . . to access mobile apps like Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger, and other popular apps and games." It makes feature phones more like smartphones (to a degree). There's even an app store of sorts:
One issue, however, is whether feature phone users will get the dataplans necessary to support these apps. They're feature phone users because they're more price conscious. Regardless, given that the overwhelming majority of handsets are "feature phones," Microsoft has a potentially tremendous opportunity with OneApp.
And if you combine voice/voice search with OneApp's apps, you've got something really interesting.
The mobile ad networks have gotten together and carved out a day to woo brands during Advertising Week in New York later in September. Dubbed the Mobile Advertising Summit, the event is sponsored by four mobile ad networks:
The agenda is full of agencies, with some big names from traditional ad agencies, including:
among others . . .
The iPhone has profoundly affected the design of smartphones. It also appears to have affected the marketing of one of the iPhone's primary competitors: the Android Magic/MyTouch3G.
This weekend I saw the T-Mobile MyTouch3G commercial for the first time. What immediately struck me is how the TV ad looked just like an Apple commercial (and thus subtly invoked/evoked Apple and the iPhone). But the ad equally tries to compete with and distance itself from the iPhone by suggesting (without mentioning it) that the iPhone is generic, with the MyTouch3G can be personalized.
At the end of the commercial the alleged personalization capability of the device is emphasized. Watch the video: