It flew under just about everyone's radar when Apple purchased Placebase earlier this year. But the first fruits of that acquisition has led to a tremendous amount of discussion among industry analysts. Most thought positions Placebase as a "Google Maps killer", but that's highly unlikely given the number of local search-based applications (including Goog411) that use the Google Maps database to support location-aware query-and-response activity. Over at Screenwerk, I2Go's Greg Sterling gives a telling example of how ads are being baked into links generated when iPhone users generate queries on GoogleMaps.
It is a statement by Google that it has a mechanism to generate revenue from location-aware applications on the iPhone. At the same time it demonstrates how Google might be vulerable to location-based attacks on new revenue streams if the likes of Placebase or Bing Maps is able to displace it on key mobile platforms (specifically the iPhone or the forthcoming Windows Phone).
Suddenly video is everywhere on mobile devices, it seems. Earlier this week mSpot introduced full-length streaming movies to a wide range of phones. The model is a mix of Red Box and Netflix. Movies cost $4.99 each or there are tiered pricing plans available through club memberships like Netflix.
BlackBerry also introduced a TiVo app, which doesn't allow for live show streaming at this point. But it eventually will have to. Of course there's also Sling, which streams live TV via the phone. And then there are the paid services such as MediaFLO, MobiTV and other subscription-based TV offerings. The cable companies aren't far behind either. The land rush is on.
However Nielsen reports that mobile video satisfaction is down and there's high churn among the ranks of mobile video users:
I've long believed that most people will not pay for mobile TV subscriptions. It's frivolous thing right now. However they will potentially regard video/TV as an incentive to step up the the next subscription level that may include other benefits such as unlimited data and/or calls. Sprint throws in TV with its unlimited plan, for example.
Yet it's also pretty clear that mobile will be an important video/TV platform and distribution vehicle over time. Beyond technology and user experience issues, the question is how to drive more penetration. It won't be through separate subscriptions unless the monthly fees are almost trivial.
There's an emerging sense of what might be described as "app best practices," although the rules aren't entirely clear. This extends to pricing and update strategies. One thing that's hard to estimate is how much people will use a particular app or whether people will simply download and discard it after some initial curiosity.
What types of apps do people hold on to and use with any frequency? In my case there are scores of apps on my iPod Touch but I only use a handful with regularity, let alone daily. These questions were examined by mobile analytics provider Flurry in a 90 day study of 19 categories of apps from the iTunes store. The most retained categories of apps over 90 days were the following, in order:
But these weren't all used equally. Medical is long retained, though infrequently consulted, while news drives both usage frequency and loyalty. Here are two views from the company of retention and usage frequency:
Related: Business Insider reports iPhone gaming stats (e.g., 65% of apps downloaded are games, which seems to directly contradict the above data). See also Mobile Marketer on how mobile advertising drives mobile app downloads.
Unless you're selling something specifically directed at mean, women are the most important audience online. They make many if not most household purchase decisions and are generally more responsible for word of mouth and social network sharing than men. However to date men have outpaced women on the mobile Internet, chiefly because they dominated the ranks of smartphone owners in the past.
But that has all changed. And now Nielsen shows that women are becoming a larger and more important part of the mobile Internet as well, in some cases dominating audience composition, as the chart below indicates:
While men continue to make up a larger portion of mobile Web users versus women, comprising 53 percent of the audience in July, the growth of female visitors outpaced the growth of male visitors during the month, with women increasing 43 percent YOY as compared to a 26 percent growth among men.
In the chart above, note AT&T search, MySpace and Facebook (now majority female usage). For their part, teens are still mostly focused on SMS rather than mobile Web:
Independent, cross-platform app store GetJar launched what it calls a App Download Page, which enables publishers and developers to consolidate their apps and drive more downloads through their own sites (as opposed to the app stores). Essentially this is a hosted, white label offering that enables a mobile site to detect a user's phone and offer the correct version of a mobile app to download (BlackBerry vs. iPhone vs. Android vs. Windows Mobile vs. Symbian vs. Java). Hence the headline of the press release "GetJar Launches Service to Convert Mobile Visitors Into Application Users."
According to research by comScore and AdMob (n=1,117 US users, 8/09), there are a range of ways that apps are discovered (word of mouth, apps stores, ads, etc.) But the proprietary apps stores and their rankings are the principal way:
GetJar CEO Ilja Laurs told me that with the App Download Page GetJar's initial partner Facebook was driving "a million downloads a day" through its site during the trial period. Now that has tapered off to a million a week reportedly.
Apps have become strategic for many publishers to offer a better mobile Web experience and drive higher levels of engagement and loyalty. In a future webinar we'll feature an apps vs. mobile Web debate with GetJar.
One of the more interesting discussions going on in mobile is the one that surrounds the question of whether apps will survive permanently or the mobile Web will take over as the primary way that users get content on mobile devices. Google and Opera contend that ultimately the mobile Web will win -- "it has to" -- especially as browser based applications become richer and more app-like.
The mobile Web argument also asserts that software developers won't want to develop apps for six smartphone platforms. That's logical but companies like Rhomobile and Appcelerator, among others, have platforms that allow developers to "write once" for multiple operating systems. VMare not long ago also demo'd virtualizaton for mobile handsets (multiple OS platforms running on the same device, as on the PC). So these are possible solutions for the smartphone OS "fragmentation" problem.
On the pro-app side, clearly, is Apple, which sees the iTunes store and its large number of apps as a key competitive advantage. In fact, yesterday the company announced that the two billionth app had been downloaded:
Apple today announced that more than two billion apps have been downloaded from its revolutionary App Store, the largest applications store in the world. There are now more than 85,000 apps available to the more than 50 million iPhone and iPod touch customers worldwide and over 125,000 developers in Apple’s iPhone Developer Program.
Today, iPhone and iPod touch customers in 77 countries worldwide can choose from an incredible range of apps in 20 categories, including games, business, news, sports, health, reference and travel. With the recently introduced iTunes 9, it’s now easier than ever to organize and sync your apps right in iTunes and they will automatically appear on your iPhone or iPod touch with the same layout.
With the possible exception of Windows Mobile, those numbers dwarf everyone else. A recent post on GigaOM argues that apps are critical to BlackBerry's long-term success. That again begs the question of the role of apps in the mobile ecosystem over the long term. By my count BlackBerry App World has slightly less than 3,000 apps. The Pre has less than 100.
Apps and the mobile Web are likely to co-exist for some time to come; Apple has probably made sure of that. In addition the ideal of "one Web" is unlikely to be realized in the foreseeable future. But to the extent that mobile browser functionality (see HTML 5) improves, and more sites are optimized for mobile, the strategic importance of apps will diminish. But apps are a near-term necessity. Platforms don't need 85,000 apps to be competitive, they just need enough -- probably fewer than 5K. They also need a stream of new apps to keep users engaged.
If BlackBerry has enough apps, can improve its browser experience and build high quality handsets (holistically) it can offset the iPhone's app store advantage. But it has yet to do so.
A recently released report, commissioned by Microsoft, argues that the newly available "white spaces" analog TV spectrum could be worth as much as $100 billion over the next several years. According to a discussion of the report in MarketWatch:
The study, by consultant Richard Thanki of Perspective Associates, suggests that by augmenting current unlicensed wireless networks, such as Wi-Fi hot spots, the white spaces could generate between $3.9 billion and $7.3 billion in value annually over 15 years. That would be the result of increased use of consumer electronics and other factors, according to the study.
If you don't remember, the US Federal Communications Commission approved a plan to allow unlicensed broadcast TV spectrum to be used by companies to create wireless broadband services that amount to “WiFi on steroids” according to Google co-founder Larry Page.
The idea is to create wireless broadband using this spectrum to ensure continuous and near-universal coverage for internet-connected devices (fixed and mobile). Unlike conventional radio/wireless spectrum, the “unlicensed” part of this means that no one has to pay anything to the FCC to use it. That stands in contrast to the nearly $20 billion paid as part of the recent 700MHz spectrum auction last year (dominated by AT&T and Verizon).
Google envisions white spaces as a way to reach rural customers with broadband speeds without laying down the infrastructure of urban networks. But the implications are much broader in my mind. I don't have any knowledge of the technical limitations or the full reach of the spectrum, though I believe it's nationwide in the US. But here's what I envision:
Lots of companies in the online local space have developed an app at this point: directory publishers, Yelp, Google and others. Then there are a host of companies that are mobile only: Geodelic, Aloqa, Where/uLocate and many others.
For traditional media and online publishers, mobile has quickly become a strategic part of the business with the expectation that it will only grow in importance and that an online-mobile strategy is critical for success "going forward." Just ask AT&T.
I recently did an evaluation (not published) of yellow pages iPhone apps. What I found was that there are some differentiated features but most of them are quite similar overall. MobilePeople calls this "Local discovery 1.0." Now, even at this early stage many companies are trying to figure out what's next; what is "Local discovery 2.0"?
One incorrect answer to that question is "augmented reality." AR is a piece potentially of an overall local user experience, along the lines of what Yelp has done with monocle. As it matures it will become more and more interesting. But right now it's quite limited and awkward in most respects.
MobilePeople is well established in Europe and Asia but has less visibility in the US. As part of its informal US market launch the company spoke to us about its vision for "Local discovery 2.0." MobilePeople is building this on its "Liquid" platform and offering a range of interfaces and user experiences, depending on the publisher and potential use case.
What we saw was a prototype demo that was impressive; it combines some fairly radical interface options with back end innovations. The ultimate idea is that, beyond location, there are layers of context that come into play in offering content or search results to users.
The company described a range of very interesting applications for its technology for different publisher types (directories, magazines, others). These are less about narrowly defined location-based searches -- or simply duplicating Internet experiences on the small screen -- and more about a holistic experience that travels with the end user throughout the day, fulfilling a range of tasks and objectives in the demo we saw.
It will be very interesting to see the practical implementations of this as they start to roll out.
Google's mobile app, with location, is now available for Windows Mobile -- the last of the major smartphone platforms to get it I believe. Microsoft has/had a very strong competitor in its own local-mapping client. I'm not clear when the Bing version comes out. Also, Windows Mobile 6.5 is supposed to include Tellme integration at a deeper level. We'll see what that's like when 6.5 actually arrives. Reportedly it's coming to 30 handsets before the end of the year.
Across the Atlantic, the Palm Pre is coming to UK carrier O2 next month, which has also been the exclusive UK provider of the iPhone. It's rumored that the iPhone is soon going to be available through Orange in the UK but that is not confirmed. Orange and T-Mobile are combining their operations in the UK to create the largest carrier there.
But back to the Pre, unless the pricing is dramatically different vs. the iPhone (read: less expensive), there's no way that the Pre can compete with the Apple device. As a Pre owner I have grown accustomed to my phone, but I remain ambivalent and annoyed by many of the awkward aspects of the device. And there are many:
Hopefully some of these issues can be addressed by software updates and some will be remedied in future devices.
Related: Report finds Pre "second only to iPhone in consumer mindshare."
Nokia seems like a confused company, confused about its identity and strategy. TechCrunch is reporting that travel-oriented social network Dopplr is being acquired by Nokia. Dopplr isn't widely used but apparently has a small, loyal following. TechCrunch says that the acquisition price is between €10 million and €15 million.
This is just the latest in a series of acquisitions for Nokia that include social networks, mapping sites and mobile ad networks. At a high level each of these can be justified but they also suggest to me a quality of drift or a potentially lack of a coherent strategy.
Separately there's a rumor being reported by Reuters that Nokia may be interested in buying Palm:
Palm Inc. shares jumped to their highest level in nearly two years on Tuesday, fueled by short covering and renewed speculation that the smartphone maker may be a takeover target.
Why would it buy Palm? For the handsets, for the WebOS? It has both sets of assets, although Symbian is lagging -- hence the introduction of Maemo. I'm reminded of Yahoo, which bought so many properties over the past three years only to shutter many of them. It's kind of like a corporate mid-life crisis.
Windows Mobile 6.5 is vastly superior to 6.1, though there aren't any 6.5 phones that consumers can get their hands on yet. However the DigiTimes of Taiwan is reporting that there are going to be more than 30 in the market (from 15 handset makers) "before the end of the year." That leaves only three months to get busy and get them out. But here's what the paper said:
Handset vendors which have expressed their support for Microsoft's new mobile OS include HTC (High Tech Computer), Acer, Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics (LGE), Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, and Hewlett-Packard (HP), according to market sources in Taiwan.
In addition, telecom carriers from around the globe, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, NTT DoCoMO, Softbank Mobile, SKT, Telstra and Telus, have also voiced support for Windows Mobile 6.5, the sources added.
One question in my mind is how will carrier salespeople distinguish Android from Windows phones made by the same OEM -- for example HTC. Just imagine the conversations. Accordingly, what guidance will HTC provide to its carrier partners to distinguish the HTC Hero (Android) from the Touch2 (Windows), especially as it layers its properitary "Sense" interface over both types of handsets?
Perhaps that's one of the reasons why Microsoft is opening its own retail stores, a la Apple.
The world of Augumented Reality (AR) on mobile phones is rapidly evolving, although it's still very immature. Even what defines "augmented reality" is in some sense up for grabs; for example, does it require use of the camera or not?
Regardless there were three AR-related announcements at roughly the same time over the past 24 hours:
I played with World Surfer a bit yesterday on Android and it offers a choice of search tools and a pretty rich experience. It uses the phone's compass and location awareness, but (as far as I can tell) there's no camera involvement. Interestingly also the Android version is free while the iPhone version costs $2.99.
Zong uses mobile carrier billing and SMS to enable users to pay for online virtual goods and other small items with their phones. The individual transaction limit (set by carriers) is $9.99. And previously Zong could only be used for individual transactions, but the company has now expanded its services to allow for recurring billing.
According to Zong's release:
Photobucket, the premier standalone photo and video sharing site with 45 million unique monthly visitors, and OMGPOP, a real-time social gaming platform with more than a million daily game plays, are each extending Zong’s Recurring Payment Service as a payment option to their users. Photobucket users interested in upgrading to the site’s Pro service and OMGPOP users interested in upgrading to its Star Membership no longer have to enter up to 70 characters of identifying and financial information. Instead they can bill the membership fees to their mobile phone simply by entering their 10 digit mobile phone number online, receiving a four digit confirmation PIN by SMS text, then entering that PIN online to complete the purchase. The monthly membership fee then appears as a line item on the user’s monthly mobile phone bill.
This service first rolls out in the US and later across the globe. Here's our previous write up of Zong and how it works.
Coffee purveyor Starbucks launched two iPhone loyalty apps: MyStarbucks, which is essentially a store locator with menus, and Starbucks Card Mobile. The latter is intended to be a replacement for the Starbucks loyalty card and/or gift cards. It allows you to check your card balance and reload your card, among other things.
However at 16 locations Starbucks is testing a mobile payments system that uses a 2-D barcode scanner, so it functions as a wallet.
No single element of what Starbucks is doing is new; however the company has the clout and visibility to "mainstream" mobile payments in a way that few others do. If Starbucks deems the test a success and rolls it out to most of its locations you'll see other major QSR chains (e.g., McDonald's) follow suit. You can bet they'll be watching this.
We should also see more loyalty cards transferred onto mobile apps, specifically the iPhone in the near term, in the same way. The only challenge will be scanning/reading at the point of sale to capture the customer activity. In a parallel effort, AOL's Shortcuts program links online coupons with existing, physical loyalty cards to avoid the need to remember to bring paper coupons to a grocery store. The swipe triggers the discounts when the card and coupons are linked online.
ValPak simply has users show their iPhone app coupons to merchants to redeem them. It's up to the merchant to record or otherwise figure out how many redemptions occurred.
Related: See this write up MoloRewards which offers Shortcuts-like POS integration.
Multiplied Media's Poynt for BlackBerry app has been wildly successful, now with over a million downloads. One could argue that Poynt "owns" local search on the BlackBerry. Today the company announced that it had partnered with V-Enable for directory listings and corresponding advertising in the restaurants category:
Multiplied Media Corporation, an award-winning, Calgary-based provider of mobile local search services, and V-Enable, Inc., a leader in local search and advertising solutions for mobile and internet, are pleased to announce an agreement to deliver local directory related content and listings for the restaurant section of Poynt, Multiplied Media's flagship mobile local search application ...
V-Enable has partnered with multiple information and advertising providers to assemble one of the largest national local business listings and advertising networks offered through an automated turnkey platform that matches user inputs based on their search activity.
V-Enable, which came out of the directory assistance world, distributes local listings and ads from a wide range of directory and mobile advertising partners. Here's a video demo of Poynt in action on the BlackBerry Storm:
The North American Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) recently surveyed its 4,000-strong "U.S. and Canadian newspaper, magazine and business membership to learn more about publishers’ current mobile initiatives, their strategic plans, and ABC’s potential role." What the organization found was the there's growing interest in mobile and most publishers increasingly see it as a critical distribution platform. This includes the emerging eReader/Tablet segment.
Here are the survey's key findings:
Here are some charts from the report:
Souce: All Charts ABC
In terms of the eReaders or tablets that publisher-respondents thought would have the greatest impact on the market:
Direct mail/coupon advertising provider ValPak now has an iPhone app. It's nicely executed and offers a number of ways to get access to deals: searching, browsing by category and a map-based view that shows users all the deals across categories in a specific area.
Previously, after launching a new PC site that was better optimized for mobile, the company saw a big uptick in mobile coupon "prints." In fact the company told me that there was a 25% conversion on average from mobile visitors. In this case "print" meant clicking through to a particular screen that showed a code.
A seach in the iTunes apps store reveals almost 30 apps that represent themselves as coupon providers or offer coupons in one way or another.
I was speaking on Friday to a big online coupon site and they were raising questions about POS redemption of mobile coupons as a barrier. ValPak has solved that problem by simply asking users to "show coupon to business when placing order."
Coupons are a big area of opportunity for mobile. We have plenty of data that support this proposition. Compete's recent smartphone survey also shows that mobile deals/coupons are of high interest to mobile consumers:
Palm is on the mend, though not "back" yet. The company reported quarterly results today. Palm said that it sold 823,000 smartphones, most of which were the Pre. The company did not specifically report Pre numbers:
The company shipped a total of 823,000 smartphone units during the quarter, representing a 134 percent increase from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2009 and a year-over-year decrease of 30 percent. Smartphone sell-through for the quarter was 810,000 units, up 76 percent from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2009 and down 21 percent year-over-year.
In addition Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein, an Apple alum, said that the company would no longer support Windows Mobile and was making phones using its WebOS only going forward. This is a return to the past when Palm made smart devices only with its then Palm OS.
This isn't really a blow to Microsoft, since Palm device sales had been slowing and it has plenty of OEM handset support from LG, HTC and Samsung. Though there are questions regarding whether Motorola will continue to support Windows Mobile.
Recently the Pre's price was lowered (with a 24 month contract) from $199 to $149 to boost sales. In addition the company announced a lower-cost WebOS device, the Pixi. I speculated that the Pixi might gut future Pre sales. This comment on the analyst call might explain Palm's strategy regardint relative positioning of the two devices going forward:
"The Pre is also being adopted as a popular business device," [Rubinstein] told analysts on a conference call. "Deployments of the Pre within large companies are on the rise."
Palm might then be positioning the Pre to compete with BlackBerry in the enterprise and using Pixi as its mainstream consumer device at a low price point.
Opera has released its Opera Mini 5 browser. It represents a significant leap forward and ahead of Skyfire. There are a great many upgrades and improvements. At the moment I'm unable to download it onto my Android phone. But here's the feature list:
It's also optimzed for touch-screen phones such as Windows Mobile, Android phones or the BlackBerry Storm. It's not available for the iPhone or Palm Pre. The user experience represented in the video below is superior to the Android's own Webkit browser:
Not long ago I spoke with Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner. Among other things we talked about the ongoing apps vs. mobile browser debate. He sides with Google and believes that most content and activity on mobile devices will ultimately be through a browser. One might expect the CEO of a company that makes a mobile browser to say that. In fairness, he and Opera have been articulating a "one Web" vision for some time.
Accordingly, von Tetzchner argued that the mobile Web was today like the PC Internet in the beginning, with competing closed systems: Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL, etc. I found the analogy persuasive. However I don't believe that the mobile Web and PC experiences will be identical (except maybe on tablets). Publishers and advertisers will have to optimize for the mobile Web. That optimized experience could be delivered via a Web browser or an application. But as browser experiences improve there will be more engagement across more mobile platforms through the browser and the "balance of power" will shift somewhat.
Opera Mini 5 makes both BlackBerry and Windows Mobile more competitive user experiences (vs. the iPhone and Android). Neither mobile IE nor BlackBerry's browser are currently up to competitive snuff. So Opera is a great asset to both. BlackBerry recently acquired a webkit development shop, which may result in a strong homegrown browser from BlackBerry (this is what the company has promised).
Eventually I believe we'll see Opera on the iPhone, after Apple begins to recognize it's not a compeitive threat. Meanwhile Fennec is still waiting in the wings and currently still only available for Windows Mobile and (I believe) Nokia's Maemo.
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."