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."
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.