Mobile Platforms

Skyhook Releases 'How To' (Make Money) Guide for Apps Developers

Skyhook Wireless has released a white paper entitled "Developer’s Guide to In-Application Advertising: How developers today can make money off apps" (.pdf). As the title indicates, it's aimed at mobile app developers or would-be mobile developers. The document offers a range of "how to" information and advice, including best practices.

It's a kind of crash course on mobile advertising and the mobile ecosystem for those unfamilar with the wonderful world of apps or how to make money with them. In addition, there are also interesting bits of data sprinkled throughout, from Skyhook's recent survey of mobile app developers. For example, location and demographic targeting appear to be the most desired capabilities or qualities among developers:

Picture 4

At the end, the report also features a list of vendors: ad networks, analytics providers and "ad enablers."

Video of Improved Windows Mobile 6.5 in Action

From the UK-based Inquirer comes a video demo of Windows Mobile 6.5 in action on a HTC Touch Diamond 2. The entire experience looks to be dramatically (indeed radically) improved from WinMo 6.1.

Click here or on the image below to take a look at the video (it's about 10 minutes long). The interface has taken a cue from Zune according to the speaker. He explains, "6.5 will co-exist with [Windows Mobile] 7 when it comes out; 6.5 with be a breadth play, be a lower cost device. 7 will be a premium hardware experience." 

(In the US at least, $200 is the de facto ceiling [w/subsidy] for smartphones; will $99 then be the "lower-cost" device category he refers to?)

He says that Windows Mobile 7 will incorporate all the key user experiences in the current smartphone market including multi-touch, which to date only the Pre has (and the forthcoming Android Hero) among iPhone competitors. There's also "full flash support." Microsoft is also banking on multiple applications running in the background as a differentiator. 

There's also a discussion/demo of "My Phone," which is cloud storage for Windows Mobile devices, essentially the same as MobileMe from Apple. At the end there's a brief demonstration of "Microsoft Tag," a propreitary barcode reader/system that will be pre-installed on Windows Mobile phones. 

Windows Mobile 6.5

Will iPhone Apps Become 'Portable'

The Windows Blog is reporting a successful case study on how to port an iPhone app to the Windows Mobile platform:

Thompson’s case study shows, that even though there are some challenges in porting a multimedia-rich application from the iPhone to Windows Mobile, the task can be accomplished, especially with the help of developer-friendly tools like Visual Studio, the richness of community content that is available for Windows Mobile, and last but not least by planning the project ahead and doing all the necessary research in advance. Thompson’s experience should save you time as you port your own applications to Windows Mobile.

If Microsoft can show developers how to do this quickly and easily, it may help to dramatically accelerate the development of the Windows apps marketplace. A rich selection of apps is a key element in the future competitiveness of the Windows Mobile platform. The Pre, for example, is a fine phone and mobile Inernet device but plainly less competitive because of the paucity of apps today. 

Separately companies such as Appcelerator and Rhomobile are developing tools that make it possible to develop mobile apps once that run on multiple smartphone platforms and operate like "native apps."

FCC Wades Deeper into Apple Apps Controversy

Last month, prompted by four US Senators, the US FCC began an investigation into carrier-handset exclusivity in the US. The focus is on the iPhone's relationship with AT&T. All that got kicked up a notch with the recent rejection of Google Voice on the iPhone (following the similar rejection of the Latitude app). Now, as you've probably already read, the FCC is asking questions of Apple, AT&T and Google to determine why Google Voice was rejected as an app and whether there are anti-competitive motivations at play.

Here are copies of the letters to the three entitities (courtsey CNN Money):

Here are the questions (verbatim) that the FCC is asking Apple:

  1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store? In addition to Google Voice, which related third-party applications were removed or have been rejected? Please provide the specific name of each application and the contact information for the developer.
  2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice. Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple’s decision in this matter?
  3. Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications generally (or in certain cases)? If so, under what circumstances, and what role does it play? What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or any non-contractual understandings) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?
  4. Please explain any differences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications that Apple has approved for the iPhone. Are any of the approved VoIP applications allowed to operate on AT&T’s 3G network?
  5. What other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone and for what reasons? Is there a list of prohibited applications or of categories of applications that is provided to potential vendors/developers? If so, is this posted on the iTunes website or otherwise disclosed to consumers?
  6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications? What is the approval process for such applications (timing, reasons for rejection, appeal process, etc.)? What is the percentage of applications that are rejected? What are the major reasons for rejecting an application?

The iPhone app approval process is increasingly being regarded as capriciuous. As question four above implies: why should Apple have approved Skype or Truphone but not Google Voice? (People also don't remember that Voice Central allows one to use Google Voice on the iPhone today.)

A Google Voice app currently exists for Android and BlackBerry and will presumably be coming to other smartphone platforms. 

Until these questions are answered we won't know whether Apple or AT&T or both are ultimately responsible for the rejection and what the precise motivations are. Questions five and six may be somewhat overbroad, but the fact that the FCC is doing this is probably good for the market. 

Windows Mobile vs. iPhone or Android?

The past 12 months have been a "tough year" for Windows Mobile, according to Microsoft's Robbie Bach, president of Entertainment & Devices. Bach addressed financial analysts yesterday during an all-day meeting. We weren't there but Bach reportedly promised better execution in the future and a better mobile Internet experience than on the iPhone coming in Windows Mobile 6.5:

“To date, we haven’t done as good a job as I would like building relationships and getting the right integration with our hardware partners,” Bach said. “You’re going to see dramatic improvement in integration.”

"You will have a very rich browsing experience on 6.5 devices that will give you access to more Web sites than you will be able to get to on an iPhone that will work actively and work well. It really is a much better experience"

I have yet to see Windows Mobile 6.5 in action, despite several efforts. But I pulled out my old Windows Mobile 6.1 HTC phone last night and it seems almost prehistoric by comparison to the iPhone, Android or Pre (which I don't love but generally like). It's thus hard to imagine that the leap from 6.1 to 6.5 is going to be that radical to justify the statement above. 

In addition, it appears that Motorola has all but abandoned Windows Mobile in favor of Android, according to Om Malik's interview with Sanjay Jha, co-CEO of Motorola:

As part of our conversation, Dr. Jha stressed that handset makers need to pick a single smart phone OS and devote resources to it in order to win. He pointed to Nokia and Symbian, Apple and its iPhone OS and RIM’s Blackberry OS. He used that as a logic to justify why his company was betting the farm on Google’s Android. Why? Because it’s the best option for the company right now.

“I didn’t have any other compelling option,” he said. “The other OS got pushed.”

And long-time Windows Mobile partner HTC seems to be shifting toward Android (or at least diversification), although sales thus far have been less than expected. Palm's WebOS may mean that it doesn't produce future WinMo devices. Although, on the other side, Korean OEM LG has made Windows Mobile its primary smartphone OS. And Samsung works with WinMo. 

All the attention at Microsoft appears to be on the iPhone but Windows Mobile is really up against RIM and Android. RIM dominates the enterprise, Microsoft's traditional stronghold and Android is the open-source equivalent to WinMo: a software OS separated from hardware that can be customized by developers and OEMs. In that sense Android is a direct substitute for Windows Mobile and it's free. It's not like Google Apps vs. Office, where Apps aren't at parity in terms of features and functions. Android is a much better mobile OS and offers a much better user experience than WinMo 6.1.

Here are IDC's US smartphone market share numbers:

  • BlackBerry: 48%
  • iPhone: 19%
  • Windows Mobile: 15%
  • Android: 7.5%

But mobile Internet usage and browsing is not aligned with the handset market share numbers. Per AdMob:

  • iPhone: 64%
  • BlackBerry: 14%
  • Android: 9%
  • Windows Mobile: 6%

Notwithstanding Bach's prediction, Windows Mobile 6.5 is unlikely to dramatically alter Microsoft's new underdog position in the smartphone market. Windows Mobile 7 might be able to really deliver on Bach's promise of improved browsing and usability and make the OS much more competitive than it is now. Beyond this, Microsoft's forthcoming retail stores might also help showcase Windows devices.

But the stores and 7 are still a year or more away.

Are Carrier 'Apps Stores' Destined to Fail?

Although they've had mobile applications for some time, US carriers are now trying to raise their apps profiles more formally -- most visbly Verizon and AT&T. Yesterday AT&T introduced a meta-social networking app:

AT&T today announced the availability of AT&T Social Net, a free mobile social networking application that combines access to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and customizable news feeds within a single application.

“Five of the top 10 searches on our mobile Web portal are for social networking sites, a clear indication of the growing popularity of mobile social networking,” said Mark Collins, vice president of voice and data products, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets . . . 

Through a single carousel menu, users can view and manage their social communities, communicate and track events in real time, and get live news feeds from over 35 leading news, sports, and entertainment sites. Once a user populates the application with his or her information, users can see and respond to tweets, status updates, wall posts, profile comments, photo activity and friends’ news feeds across their communities. Users can also access new or unread articles from their customized content feeds.

And yesterday also at its developer conference, Verizon Wireless formally launched its Vcast application store. The store will open in Q4 of this year. It will mimic the 70-30 payment split that Apple uses, with 70% to developers. RIM has also announced that it will support the VCast store. (The repositioning or expanded positioning of VCast suggests that the mobile TV service is not doing well.)

Carriers have access to customer data and have a billing relationship with subscribers. This gives them some "built in advantages." However I have doubts whether carrier apps stores can duplicate the success of the iPhone or Android. They might enjoy modest success, but carrier apps stores are probably better suited to lower-end handsets rather than smartphones.

Ironically carrier apps stores are party of a "dumb-pipe" avoidance strategy re smartphone owners -- to make them relevant to users beyond the billing relationship. However, smartphones minimize the carrier relationship with the subscriber. The device OEM is at an advantage with smartphones. And all the major smartphone OEMs are in various stages of launching their apps stores. So the question, for me as a consumer, is why would I buy from VCast if I can buy from BlackBerry Apps World directly? 

The reasons would be:

  • Payment: it's quicker and eaiser to buy the app through Verizon
  • Unique: it's an app that's not in Apps World
  • The overall Verizon apps store experience is better 

The fragmentation of the smartphone market will be reproduced for developers within a single carrier apps store because they will have to be available for multiple handsets with multiple operating systems. Developing for VCast means dealing with Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and so on.

If I were developing apps for the BlackBerry I would develop first for Apps World and second, if at all, for VCast (unless the financial deal from VCast was better than Apps World). If my app could go both places for more exposure, so much the better. Thus the carrier apps store potentially becomes a secondary marketing vehicle for the developer.  

Finally, the carriers are just not good at user experience design. Collectively all these variables and factors make me believe that they're not going to be able to pull this off and the handset based apps stores will largely prevail.

Bango Introduces 'WiFi Operator Billing'

I was ignorant of the fact that operator/carrier billing won't work if a user is buying something over a WiFi connection (e.g., a ringtone). But apparently:

While mobile operator payments deliver significantly more successful transactions than traditional payment methods, mobile content revenues have been impacted by the increasing popularity of smartphones, such as Blackberry and iPhone. Because these devices can connect to the web through Wi-Fi, operator billing that normally relies on traffic coming through operator gateways, becomes unavailable, making it difficult for consumers to buy content. 

Bango's payment system facilitates these WiFi-based transactions and enables users to pay on their carrier bill. Bango began as mobile payments company and then began emphasizing analytics. But the payments space is hot again with companies such as Zong, Boku, PayPay, Obopay, Monetise maneuvering for position in this emerging market segment.

Micro-Hoo Mobile: Comments from the Conf. Call Transcript

This morning's conference call with Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer covered a broad range of topics related to the Microsoft-Yahoo! search deal. Here are some excerpts from the call transcript related to mobile:

Bartz:

We want to invest in what is really important to our future success, including winning audience properties, display advertising capabilities, and mobile experiences . . .

I'm excited that this agreement provides us with the focus and the resources to invest in our audience properties, display advertising leadership, and mobile experiences . . .

We have the option of using the Microsoft technology for the mobile Web experience. It's not exclusive as it is on the PC. But we certainly have the benefit of it, and we will start, in fact, exercising that right to do it.

So, the only difference is it's not exclusive. If somewhere down the road we wanted to switch, we could, but there's no intent in that arena.

Ballmer: 

I think all of us would say we don't know what we don't know about all of the scenarios that we're going to try to invest in, in the mobile case. If -- and Carol can speak for herself, but it won't make sense to do a whole separate crawl of the Internet for Web sites to do mobile search, and yet what that really looks like, even whether the ad model for mobile search looks like the ad model frankly for PC search, I think that's an interesting question, and this gives Yahoo! flexibility to consider that broadly.

Bartz:

think the thing is for us is what we're very interested in, just like by the way with PC-based, we're very interested on doubling down on the mobile experience to integrate search as part of that, to integrate our content such as our normal finance, news, sports, homepage, that sort of thing. So, being able to have an integrated search is important, and it also frees us up to, as I said, really invest in the other areas of the mobile experience.

So, again it's a partnership that is very supportive, and allows Yahoo! to do what it does well, and that's really be the center of information, entertainment, friends, family, activity, and that sort of thing, both the desktop and the mobile experience we're looking for.

What this means is that Yahoo!, although not required, will be using Bing algorithmic search index for mobile. It makes sense from an economic perspective. Part of the reason Yahoo! is doing this deal is to outsource technology development and reduce costs. It would thus make no sense to invest in search for mobile and not on the PC. 

Mobile search monetization and how that will go is a little more unclear. One version of the story is: direct overlap between PC and mobile. But that's been more Google's approach. Yahoo! has treated PC and mobile search separately. So I'm unsure how this will play out. In the broader relationship Yahoo! will sell "premium search" (complex campagins to large advertisers) while Microsoft will handle the self-service aspect of the business. Yahoo! will thus manage the PC + mobile search and display ad campaigns for large advertisers.

Separately, there are open questions about how differentiated Yahoo! Search and Bing will be on the PC side, but they will certainly be very differentiated on the mobile side (compare m.bing.com with new.m.yahoo.com) despite the fact that they will use the same index. 

Microsoft & Yahoo Strike Deal: Mobile Thoughts & Implications

Microsoft and Yahoo! announced their long-awaited search deal this morning. Here's the press release which includes videos from both CEOs. Here's a site set up to explain the deal and here are the terms laid out by the release:

  • The term of the agreement is 10 years;
  • Microsoft will acquire an exclusive 10 year license to Yahoo!’s core search technologies, and Microsoft will have the ability to integrate Yahoo! search technologies into its existing web search platforms;
  • Microsoft’s Bing will be the exclusive algorithmic search and paid search platform for Yahoo! sites. Yahoo! will continue to use its technology and data in other areas of its business such as enhancing display advertising technology.
  • Yahoo! will become the exclusive worldwide relationship sales force for both companies’ premium search advertisers. Self-serve advertising for both companies will be fulfilled by Microsoft’s AdCenter platform, and prices for all search ads will continue to be set by AdCenter’s automated auction process.   
  • Each company will maintain its own separate display advertising business and sales force.   
  • Yahoo! will innovate and “own” the user experience on Yahoo! properties, including the user experience for search, even though it will be powered by Microsoft technology.   
  • Microsoft will compensate Yahoo! through a revenue sharing agreement on traffic generated on Yahoo!’s network of both owned and operated (O&O) and affiliate sites.
  • Microsoft will pay traffic acquisition costs (TAC) to Yahoo! at an initial rate of 88% of search revenue generated on Yahoo!’s O&O sites during the first 5 years of the agreement.   
  • Yahoo! will continue to syndicate its existing search affiliate partnerships.   
  • Microsoft will guarantee Yahoo!’s O&O revenue per search (RPS) in each country for the first 18 months following initial implementation in that country.
  • At full implementation (expected to occur within 24 months following regulatory approval), Yahoo! estimates, based on current levels of revenue and current operating expenses, that this agreement will provide a benefit to annual GAAP operating income of approximately $500 million and capital expenditure savings of approximately $200 million. Yahoo! also estimates that this agreement will provide a benefit to annual operating cash flow of approximately $275 million.   
  • The agreement protects consumer privacy by limiting the data shared between the companies to the minimum necessary to operate and improve the combined search platform, and restricts the use of search data shared between the companies. The agreement maintains the industry-leading privacy practices that each company follows today.

According to remarks made on the conference call, Yahoo! doesn't have to use Bing/MSFT's technology in mobile. There's more flexibility there for Yahoo! to maintain a separate search technology or work with other partners if it chose to do so. However it sounded like Yahoo! would be using the MSFT/Bing technology there as well. Part of the "flexibility" on the mobile side comes from uncertainty regarding how mobile advertising will play out.

Here's a paraphrase of remarks made by the two CEOs regarding mobile:

Bartz: We have option of using MSFT technology for the mobile experience. It’s not exclusive as on the PC. If somewhere down the road we want to switch we could.We’re very interested in doubling down on the mobile experience. Having an integrated search is important.

Baller: We don’t know all the scenarios involving mobile search. This gives Yahoo flexibility on the mobile side.

The two companies on the PC side are creating a single paid search market. There's more gray in the mobile execution. However I suspect that it will also play out the same way in mobile: a combined market for mobile paid search. On the PC side that means the reach of a combined Microsoft-Yahoo is approaching 30% market share; it will be something comparable on the mobile side. 

Partnership Puts 2D Barcodes on Bus Shelters in Paris 'Quartier Numérique'

French 2D barcode platform vendor MobileTag and outdoor advertising company JCDecaux have announced a deal to put 2D barcodes on 19 bus shelters throughout the area of Paris known as the "Quartier Numérique" primarily in the 2nd arrondissement. The area is WiFi enabled. The barcodes provide access to "practical, historical, cultural and entertaining content using flashcodes." According to the release:

To obtain content, users simply shoot one of the flashcodes (2D barcodes) located on either side of the bus shelter with their mobile phone's camera which then gives instant access to the mobile portal via their Internet connection.

The technology works with smartphones and feature phones (with a camera). However the technology is not so instant. MobileTag's software must be installed for the content to render on phones. This software/application download requirement is a barrier to widespread adoption of 2D barcodes. However, apps stores are conditioning smartphone users to download software so this may be less of a barrier over time.

The eBook Is Really Here

Quick: how many ebook readers will there be in the market next year? Five? Six? Seven? Indeed:

  • Kindle
  • iPod Touch 
  • Plastic Logic reader
  • Apple Tablet (rumor)
  • Sony eBook Reader
  • Fujitsu FLEPia
  • Samsung SNE-50K

Putting aside the iPod Touch and the rumored Apple tablet, there are at least five competitors going after this growing market. The WSJ looks at the new entry from Samsung, the SNE-50K ebook device, formerly called Papyrus, which is not available outside South Korea for the immediate future:

Samsung's reader is slim at nine millimeters and weighs 6.5 ounces, less than the 10-ounce Kindle.

Samsung is still working on versions of an e-book reader to sell in other countries and executives said they aim to show prototypes at an industry trade show in January . . .  Samsung's initial e-book reader doesn't support wireless downloads or connections to the Internet, as Amazon's Kindle and readers by some smaller firms do. Instead, a customer must download a book to a PC and then into the device.

There are other hardware OEMs also looking at building e-readers. The emerging critical mass of hardware devices means that publishers and booksellers will take the market seriously, which is indeed happening.

The right form factor and user experience are still very much in development. I believe that the winning devices in this segment will offer ebooks, magazines and newspapers but also be Internet capabile and have color screens. They will also need to retail for less than $300. 

____

Related: See this video demo of the new Samsung Mondi (WinMo) "WiMax Tablet"

Microsoft's 'Race to Market Challenge'

There's something ironic in the name of Microsoft's competition for apps developers: Race to Market Challenge. That's because the name of Microsoft's developer contest is also what Microsoft is facing -- a race to regain momentum in mobile. That may sound somewhat harsh but Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS and related handsets have been almost totally overshadowed by the likes of the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and most recently the Pre.

Yesterday Redmond opened up it's Windows Marketplace for Mobile to developers in 29 countries. According to the contest site: 

The Race to Market Challenge will reward the developer whose paid application earns the most revenue within the contest period and the developer whose free application is downloaded the most within the contest period. Winners will receive a prize package including a Microsoft Surface table and developer kit, free online marketing and promotion of their application, plus a one-of-a-kind trophy.

Todd Brix, the lead for Microsoft's Windows Marketplace, reportedly told PC World that the installed base for the Microsoft apps marketplace was 30 million globally. Assuming that figure is correctly reported it would mean that Apple already has a substantially larger customer base than Microsoft Windows Mobile, which has been around for many more years. On its recent earnings call, Apple reported that the combined number of iPhones and iPod Touch devices in the market globally was 45 million:

Timothy D. Cook

Sure, Mike. You know, I don’t want to talk very much about what we have planned in the future but if I just sort of summarize just what’s happened in the last 90 days, we have just shipped the next major version of the world’s most advanced mobile software platform with iPhone 3.0 and the App Store is now available in 77 countries, and reaches an installed base that is now more than 45 million. That’s the sum of iPhone plus iPod Touch.

The App Store I think by any measure has been an unprecedented success with over 65,000 apps now in the store and over 1.5 billion apps downloaded. As you may remember, if you look at the App number, the over 65,000 from the store, that compares to the latest numbers we have for RIM and Nokia put them between 1,000 and 2,000 each. And the latest published number that we’ve seen on Android puts it less than 5,000.

Expected to come out later this year, Windows Mobile 6.5 offers improved usability and a better browser. An improved OS combined with a better mobile Internet browser are critical to the outlook, so to speak, for "Windows Phones." (Mozilla's mobile browser, Skyfire and Opera are available for Windows Mobile devices.) But a rich apps store will also be an important element of a "comeback." Recently AdMob reported that on its network Android devices had overtaken mobile browsing by Windows Mobile handsets -- a remarkable thing given how small the Android base is by comparison.

The North American smartphone market is arguably the most competitive in the world and Microsoft faces competition in the smartphone segment that is far more intense than in the PC market. RIM now dominates the enterprise and the iPhone right now has most of the mindshare in the consumer segment. 

Microsoft is opening retail stores to boost its brand and products among consumers. If they're successful they could well help the company in the mobile space by giving consumers the ability to get "hands on" with devices in the same way that Apple's stores help showcase Apple's products. 

Microsoft's recent deal with Verizon for mobile search and advertising gives the company a strong base for its mobile advertising business. But there's lots of work to be done regarding the user experience on its smartphones. With an improved OS, a better mobile browser and lots of useful apps, Microsoft will become competitive again in the smartphone market. But there's a way to go before that happens. 

Latitude on the iPhone: Falling Short of Its Potential

Google finally released Latitude for the iPhone and iPod Touch device. When Latitude first came out we wrote about it and saw its potential for Google:

Latitude is very likely to succeed because it presents a compelling, simple proposition: “see where your friends are in real time.” It’s also easy to adopt and, as mentioned, built upon large installed bases of existing Google users, in the form of Google Maps for Mobile and Gmail. 

Yet the iPhone implementation is curiously "flat." It's currently missing the messaging feature of the Android version, "shout outs," which makes it much more interesting and useful.

In Android, Latitude is integrated directly into the Maps app and there's a map view and a list view, which provides access to IM/Twitter-like updates (shout outs) with those to whom I'm connected. While it's difficult to describe in the abstract, it's essentially mobile IM (a la Google Talk). Thus Latitude becomes a location-based messaging platform, beyond a simple friend finder.

The Google Mobile Blog explains why the iPhone version of Latitude is a Web-based app, rather than a native app for the iPhone:

We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles.

Google, like Apple, continues to push for improvements in web browser functionality. Now that iPhone 3.0 allows Safari to access location, building the Latitude web app was a natural next step. In the future, we will continue to work closely with Apple to deliver useful applications -- some of which will be native apps on the iPhone, such as Earth and YouTube, and some of which will be web apps, like Gmail and Latitude.

Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates in the same way that we can for Latitude users on Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Window Mobile.

As a Web app I'm guessing it can't do messaging, which is why the shout outs/IM functionality doesn't appear.

The paragraphs above from the Google Blog post are strange and interesting. Google is explaining why Latitude may fall short on the iPhone and it's also gently criticizing Apple for deficiencies in the functionality that Latitude is able to deliver:

"Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates . . ."

This line: "After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles" is also very interesting. Apple wanted to avoid "confusion." Hmmm . . . Confusion may be a euphemism for something else.

I think Apple wanted to avoid Google totally taking over the the Maps app on the iPhone, one might say "colonizing" it. Even though Maps on the iPhone has Google branding and data, it's not completely Google centric at this stage.

As a consequence of all this Latitude for the iPhone (in its current form at least) will probably fall short of its potential. 

Yahoo! Mobile Loses Fixtures Davis, Bayle

TechCrunch first reported that Marc Davis has left Yahoo!. Davis was Chief Scientist, Yahoo! Mobile at Yahoo! and VP of ESP (Early Stage Products). We also just ran into Michael Bayle at MobileBeat, who was until very recently, Senior Director, Global Mobile Advertising at Yahoo!

Bayle had been a fixture at mobile advertising conferences and I was surprised by his departure, as I am by Davis leaving. At Yahoo! the mobile group was one that seemed to be relatively free of executive departures -- until now it would appear. 

There are still many smart and capable people at Yahoo! Mobile but it can't afford to lose too many more folks. The market is too fast moving and dynamic and the competition is to intense. 

Here's Yahoo!'s formal statement about Davis's departure:

"Marc Davis left Yahoo! to pursue other opportunities and we wish him the best in his future endeavors. We continue to have a world-class team of researchers dedicated to helping Yahoo! uncover the social and economic potential of the Internet using leading edge science and technology.”

Mobile Apps Building a New 'Mobile Internet'

What exactly is the "mobile Internet" and what does it include? WAP/mobile Web, apps, SMS, Internet sites rendered on mobile browsers? Regardless of the definition, and what's in or out, one might see the apps phenomenon as the construction of a distinct universe of content for mobile devices within the larger world of the Internet.

Over the course of the past week there has been much discussion of mobile apps vs. the mobile Web, prompted by remarks made by Google's Vic Gundotra about the mobile Web winning out over apps over time. Today, the BBC's Maggie Shields has a piece on mobile apps becoming "as big as the Internet" and then declining: 

"Apps will be as big if not bigger than the internet," according to Ilja Laurs, chief executive of GetJar, a leading independent application store.

"They will peak at around 100,000 by the end of the year. That will be a tipping point and after that there will be a gradual fall in the rate of development.

"The full blossom will come in ten years and mobile apps will become as popular as websites are today with consumers," Mr Laurs told BBC News.

Mobile apps are the effective equivalent of PC websites. But the question of what the "mobile Internet" looks like over time and how prominent apps are will in part depend on whether mobile apps developers can make a living. It will also depend on whether apps truly take hold beyond the iPhone on the other platforms. That will in turn depend partly on content development and software tools that enable developers to minimize the cost and complexity of writing software for multiple platforms. 

There's no question that mobile apps offer a more compelling user experience than a PC Internet site simply rendered on a mobile device. This is especially true for branded applications that support customer loyalty (e.g., Pizza Hut's new iPhone app).

Citi's IAB Mobile Conference Takeaways

The IAB held its mobile conference on July 13 in New York and here are Mark Mahaney's (director of Internet Research for Citi) takeaways:

  • Per MAGNA, the US mobile ad market was $160MM in 2008 and is expected to grow to $410MM by 2011. 1H09 mobile ad spend was flat. Ad networks expect mobile ad spend to be up in 2H09.
  • Per Dynamic Logic, mobile bested online campaigns in terms of brand awareness, ad awareness, purchase intent and favorability of ads
  • CTRs and conversions on mobile phone are much higher than on PCs (at least 2x). Mobile CPMs are 5-10x vs. PC CPMs: range from $2-5 (low end) to $5-10 (high end)
  • Compete says 80% of mobile Internet users search, and over 90% use Google. 60-70% utilize social networking sites, and more than 70% use Facebook

Comments: much of the CPM inventory may be converting to CPC in a land grab by several of the ad networks, exerting downward price pressure. The Compete numbers re search and social networking are high in our view. Frequency and engagement vary dramatically and are obviously highest on smartphones.

Regarding the Dynamic Logic study, Insight Express has data that mirror those results.

Google Earnings Call Mobile Comments

Google reported Q2 earnings ($5.52 billion) on Thursday. Here are the mobile-related comments made during the earnings call from the Seeking Alpha transcript

Google CEO Eric Schmidt: 

In mobile and android, another area of innovation in new businesses, mobile devices are becoming an extension of the Internet. We all know this. And more and more Google searches are coming from mobile phones of all kinds. So we are focusing to innovate in this space. So for example, we’ve done great news with Android, with somewhere between 18 and 20 Android powered phones on the market by the end of the year, which is phenomenal.

Product SVP Jonathan Rosenberg:

We also run product development by encouraging teams to make big product bets on key technical insights. We believe that our most innovative products historically, if you consider say search, maps, Gmail, news and Chrome, all of them are based on technical breakthroughs, or BETS. Recently we’ve become bullish on a new emerging standard called HTML 5 and it’s helping to make the web the platform for very powerful and rich applications. It’s especially important in mobile where the high-end phones with very rich browsers are becoming the norm.

And this quarter, we launched mobile versions of Gmail and mobile web maps that run in the browser using HTML 5. Their performance really is remarkable.

We believe that the runway to innovate due to the power of computers on these mobile devices is nearly unbounded at the moment. We are also making another technical bet with Google Chrome OS. A whole new generation of web-based apps demand a much better, faster user experience and once you have all your stuff online, you ought to be able to just open up your computer and get there in a matter of seconds.

We are also innovating and driving monetization with mobile and YouTube as well. Mobile monetization picked up a good bit of momentum as search traffic grew, again driven mostly by the smartphones. And we’re seeing that users on these high-end phones are very active and engaged beyond search, so display advertising on those phones is actually emerging as an interesting mechanism.

From the Q&A portion of the call: 

Schmidt (on mobile ads): 

On the mobile search side, one of the key things we’ve done in the last few months is we’ve started to show the desktop ads. It turns out that the separate mobile ads have their own formats. Typically there wasn’t enough demand, there weren’t enough kind of creatives and so forth. So we started showing the desktop ads on the mobile browsers of high quality and these of course include the iPhone and the Android phone and anything that’s a web-kit inspired browser.

All of a sudden we started seeing a tremendous number of searches and also very good click through rates. So they monetize at a similar level, if they are desktop-based because of course they are in the same auction.

It makes sense over time that those ads should perform better than on PCs because on a mobile device, we know more about the person and we could have an even more targeted ad but we don’t do that today.

Rosenberg (on mobile cannibalizing PC search traffic):

I don’t think there really is a cannibalization dynamic. We see that mobile searches tend to complement desktop volume. Mobile goes up when people are away from their desk, so weekend tends to be higher for mobile traffic. And of course, the reverse is true for the desk top.

Apps and the Mobile Web: Or vs. And

Apple has made much of its apps store's first anniversary. It now features 65,000 apps, with more than 1.5 billion downloads. Those numbers are very impressive and far ahead of competitors. However Skyhook Wireless discovered that a percentage of those 65,000 apps are so-called "bulk apps" or multiple applications produced by a single developer or publisher that use a template and simply substitute different data or content.

From Skyhook's most recent LBS apps report:

One important discovery made in the Apple App Store was the existence of “Bulk Apps,” local search or travel apps that are released in mass by a single author. These apps make up a large portion of the Apple store, and suggest an interesting trend in app marketing . . .

For example, Molinker Inc. sells over 850 travel apps based on the same template, but switches out content based on specific locations, e.g. Travel to Paris or Travel to Costa Rica. Around 1/3 of Apple LBS apps are mass‐produced local search or travel guide apps. View more details about Bulk App producers in the table at the right.

Bulk LBS Apps Developers

Picture 62

Source: Skyhook Wireless

I spoke with Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan and Kate Imbach, Director of Marketing and Developer Programs. They said their latest report was taken a little out of context in some of the more inflammatory articles that tried to use it to suggest that Apple was somehow misrepresenting the scope or extent of the apps store. 

An interesting, related issue being debated today online comes out of comments made yesterday at the MobileBeat conference by Google's Vic Gundotra, who has reiterated Google's position that the future of mobile lies in the browser and not native (smartphone) apps, like those for Android or the iPhone. This is a position that Gundotra has articulated before, most recently at Google's developer conference I/O. Summarizing Gundotra's remarks at MobileBeat, the Financial Times reported this morning:

[Gundotra] claimed that even Google was not rich enough to support all of the different mobile platforms from Apple’s AppStore to those of the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Android and the many variations of the Nokia platform.

“What we clearly see happening is a move to incredibly powerful browsers,” he said.

“Many, many applications can be delivered through the browser and what that does for our costs is stunning.

“We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that’s where Google is investing.”

Gundotra said something quite similar at I/O: the complexity, time and cost of developing native apps for multiple platforms combined with the power of HTML5 in the browser would cause people to migrate to Web apps development. This position is entirely consistent with the logic and momentum of where Google is headed more broadly: "browser as development platform, Chrome OS, the cloud, access content from any device" and so on.

Wired quotes a number of pundits who disagree with that native smartphone apps will disappear. My view is similar but based on a range of factors. First, there are three categories of experiences in mobile (for smartphones):

  • Native application (e.g., Urbanspoon)
  • Smartphone/iPhone optimized mobile Web site (e.g., Gmail, Google Calendar, MapQuest)
  • PC site rendered on a mobile brower

Google sees itself playing in the second category, although it has greatly benefitted from its native app on the iPhone. The company also wouldn't deny the short term strategic importance of apps for the success of the Android platform. However in my view it is true that Android is more about mobile Web than apps on balance.

Mobile Web and native apps will co-exist probably for the foreseeable future. I believe this because:

  • Developers generally can't make money off Web apps
  • Native apps offer a better user experience overall and the range of things that can be done in native apps is more extensive and compelling than on the mobile Internet
  • Apple's success has established the primacy of the app and the other major smartphone platforms and several carriers are copying the apps store concept
  • Apple has shown that people will download and pay for software on their mobile devices if the experience is easy and intuitive. This will cause more development and investment in the apps space; more than $100 million has been invested to date in apps companies essentially. 
  • A one-size fits all approach doesn't work in mobile in the same way it might work for the PC
  • Vendors such as Rhomobile and its competitors are addressing the problem of writing for multiple smartphone platforms and we will soon have true "write once" tools and products. Flash could also help address the problem too. 

Gundotra might feel that his remarks and position are being exaggerated for the sake of creating drama or controversy. And he's right that it's easier to develop for a rich browser environment than five smartphone platforms.

Many people may not remember that Google's announcement of Android was intended to simplify the market by being a standard of sorts or a platform that could develop critical mass because it was open source. That critical mass could then simplify the world for mobile developers. As it has turned out Apple is the platform that mobile app developers are most focused on (so far) because of iPhone usage patterns and device critical mass (40 million iPod/iPhone devices).

Android and RIM are also very important. It remains to be seen whether the Pre develops a large ecosystem. Clearly Microsoft already has a large developer ecosystem for WinMo; it now has to make that more accessible to consumers. The jury is also still out on Ovi. 

Stepping back it's not really going to be mobile apps vs mobile Web. It's not really going to be "or" it's more like "and."

Aloqa: App Store within an App Store Goes Live

Don't call it an LBS service," Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO of Aloqa, told me when I spoke to him a couple weeks ago. He prefers the term "context-aware." Aloqa officially launched yesterday on the Android platform and announced $1.5 million in funding. Other smartphone platforms are coming soon. Aloqa currently works in the US and Germany.

Agrawal, preparing for his presentation at yesterday's Mobile Beat conference, was trying to come up with a quick way to describe Aloqa. The metaphor he often uses is cable TV channels or an "app store within an app store." I didn't stay to see his presentation, but it must have been successful because the company won the "people's choice" award at the show. 

Aloqa has a menu of content modules or channels (image at right), which can be "owned" or developed third parties. (There will be an SDK soon.) This is almost identical to what MapQuest has done on the PC with its Local site.

Those modules range from brand finders to news, events, restaurants and social networking. All are location enabled. In explaining what differentiates Aloqa, which had been around for roughly two years before Agrawal joined as CEO, he points out that location on Aloqa can be calibrated to the specific app and may tap into different location technologies as appropriate to the use case. "If it's Starbucks you only need accuracy within 500 meters, but if it's your kid you need GPS level accuracy," he says.

I asked Agrawal about potential similarities between Aloqa and other "discovery" oriented local mobile sites or apps such as Where, Earthcomber, AroundMe or Places Directory among others (Yahoo! and AOL also had third party platform/apps strategies at one point). He explains that Aloqa can be entirely personalized and, more significantly, has push/notifications that rely on "dynamic data." And like the Android apps marketplace itself third parties are welcome to build their own channels; however Agrawal said there would be some oversight to prevent spam or other undesirable content. (This is again like MapQuest Local on the PC.) 

Because the data in the various modules are coming from dynamic feeds he says that they're potentially changing all the time. News for example from Topix or events from Eventful will change continuously and notification of those changes are pushed to the user in the form of icons on the channel buttons. 

The details page of any event, location or listing (depending on the content module) allows users to visit the site for more complete information, show the location on a map, call the business or share the listing. 

Agrawal also points to Aloqa's Facebook channel, which allows users to set up what amounts to a temporary social network through Facebook. All those participating must have Aloqa on their phones, but if they do they're notified when their Aloqa-Facebook contacts are nearby. All of this is permission based. 

Aloqa's channels can be added or subtracted with relative ease. The app is not without some bugs and awkward dimensions. But those will be found and addressed I'm sure. Agrawal envisions multiple revenue streams that could also include white labeling the service and premium channels for consumers. 

A number of companies have developed or are developing location-aware apps that seek to be comprehensive or nearly so. Geodelic is one and MobilePeople is another, among some of those I mentioned. Apps stores are mostly vertical marketplaces at the moment. Aloqa and its competitors seek to go in the opposite direction and provide a "one-stop shop," literally and figuatively.

Conceptually I like the strategy because people don't want to have to constantly go in and out of apps, as a general rule, in getting to different categories of information. In terms of challenges, getting good data isn't always easy and developing the right UI/UX is another challenge.

MobileBeat 2009 - Exposing Growing Pains for Mobile Marketing

MobileBeat2009 opened impressively with VentureBeat's Matt Marshall moderating a "Fireside Chat" among Vic Gundotra from Google; Michael Abbott, SVP applications and services from Palm; and Dr. Tero Ojanperä, Executive Vice President Services at Nokia. The resulting talk generated some true gems of insight emanated from the discussion, forged from disparate views of how the market is maturing. For Google, for instance, the course is set around the World Wide Web. "We believe the Web has won and that's where we're investing," Gundotra explained. Later, he elaborated by saying "The 'Killer App' on mobile is a wonderful Web browser", but added the condition that it also requires an inexpensive, unlimited data plan.

Palm's Abbott largely agreed with Google. After all, with WebOS as the application platform for its newly launched Pre, the primacy of Web-based applications speak for itself. However the issue of "openness" in support of application developers came up front-and-center as Abbott acknowledged that it had to be "methodical" in terms of rolling out apps. It just released the SDK (software development kit) for the Pre and is exhibiting caution in order to ensure a quality experience for users.

In that respect (addressing the user experience), Nokia's Ojanpera was in agreement. "Open versus closed is not relevant," he said. "It's what is best for the users" that is most important. He added that the OVI Platform "will be open" in a selective sort of way. using exposure of the Map API as an example. He regards OVI as "in the cloud" and notes that, in addition to Maps, APIs for both Location and Music will be opening up and that they already have interesting partners.

Without carriers on the stage, these producers of smartphone application environments charted a worldview where growth is the result of the proliferation of smartphones and low-cost, high-speed data links. Questions from the audience drew attention to the realities of today's mobile economy and ecosystem. One questioner even asserted that there is a slowdown in smartphone sales, but was countered by Gundotra who observed that "Google sees the move to smartphones accelerating (based on unspecified, empirical observations of the mobile activity on Google's various properties).

Nokia, which has global marketshare leadership across all categories of phones, sees a "polarized" market emerging, with high-end phones (in the $700 range but selling for a subsidized $199) co-existing with a broader base of low-end phones whose subsidized price will vary from $0 to $99. The low-end are the prime candidates for services like Nokia's Life Tools which support a range of services for emerging markets.

Yet the conversation kept returning to the viability of Google's vision for a persistent, low-cost data link along with more functions on the browser (including geolocation and application caching in mobile versions of Firefox, Chrome and Opera). The underlying economic model continues to come into question with members of the audience asserting that Google's ultimate aspiration is to by-pass the wireless carriers. To this Gundotra pointed to the search giant's experience in Japan, where carriers KDDI and DoCoMo integrate Gmail into their service offerings under a formal partnership agreement.

Based on this evidence Gundotra noted that "People misunderstand our ambition to cut the carriers out." This was the only line that elicited audible laughter from the audience.