By now you're read it, Verizon and Apple are allegedly talking at a "high level" about bringing the iPhone to the largest US operator. According to USAToday:
The New York-based telecom entered into "high-level" discussions with Apple management a few months ago, when CEO Steve Jobs was overseeing day-to-day business, these sources say. They declined to be named because they aren't authorized to speak publicly.
Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg hinted at this in remarks to the Wall Street Journal roughly a week ago:
Mr. Seidenberg also addressed the notion of Apple Inc.'s iPhone ever coming to the Verizon Wireless network, saying it is more likely that Apple would be willing to work with the carrier under the fourth-generation, or 4G, network, which follows the same technology standard as AT&T Inc.'s 4G plans. He said Apple never seriously considered making a CDMA version of the iPhone because it didn't have as wide a distribution opportunity.
However on the recent Apple earnings call, COO Tim Cook seemed to reaffirm Apple's relationship with AT&T. I didn't listen to the earnings call but according to ZDNet, Cook described AT&T as “the best wireless provider in the U.S.” and further said the company does not plan to change partners.
Some people are speculating that this rumor has been floated to make AT&T nervous, given how well the iPhone has performed for the carrier. However, I doubt that's the case.
If the USAToday report were true, there would be a number of technical issues and challenges to overcome. Verizon's network is CDMA while the iPhone uses GSM. It may be that the alleged talks contemplate a couple of years down the road with LTE/4G is rolled out and the AT&T contract extension has expired.
Related: iPhone appears to drive data-plan adoption at O2 in the UK vs. other carriers.
When I was the Ad:Tech conference earlier this week I spoke at some length with Todd Leiser of ValPak. We were talking about coupons in the recession and his deal with RetailMeNot. I was also talking to him about how, in our research, we've found high degrees of receptiveness to mobile couponing and its equivalents -- despite ambivalence or hostility toward other forms of mobile advertising from many respondents.
In our most recent survey (3/09, not yet published) we found that 57% of respondents agreed "strongly" or "somewhat" with the statement: "I'm interested in any ad that offers me a discount or way to save money." Here's a related question and answer from and online survey we conducted in August, 2008 (n=789):
What ValPak told me in a follow up conversation on the phone is that they quietly optimized ValPak.com for mobile in March. Leiser said they were happily surprised by the adoption and response with no promotion or formal announcement.
Now for the significant information: I was told that for every four site visitors to ValPak.com on the PC the company sees one coupon print (25% response/conversion) on average. But in April, with a smaller base, the company saw four coupons selected/downloaded for every mobile site visitor (400% response/conversion). This grew from 200% in March.
Though mobile users of the site are at this stage a much smaller group, their engagement is striking. It's evidence of the demand for coupons in a mobile context and the potential performance of those offers.
Quattro, Skyhook, uLocate, Nuance and others in the mobile space are all in Boston, which is starting to become something of a hub or HQ for mobile and local-mobile companies. Witness the growth in investment capital flowing into Boston-based companies with mobile ties:
Beyond the interesting "takeover ad" on the NY Times site, it's worth marking the download of the billionth iPhone app. Apps existed before Apple, so did smartphones and touchscreens. But the story was almost the same with the MP3 player; all the components were there but the iPod's upgrade of the user experience and intangible "cool" factor won the day with consumers.
The iPhone, dismissed initially as an elitist device, has almost singlehandedly transformed the smartphone market. Now, with few exceptions OEMs are making touch-screen handsets with full browsers. And everybody has an "apps store." Android may have been working on this experience but the iPhone cemented it and created the standard that the others are now following. Voice interfaces, cameras as search tools and "augmented reality" may one day set new usability and UX standards but for now it's the iPhone.
When Yahoo announced Q1 earnings on Tuesday, CEO Carol Bartz spent a good deal of time discussing what she believed were Yahoo's strategic assets, in which the company would continue to invest. Prominently discussed among those assets was mobile.
Here are Bartz's mobile-related comments from the earnings call transcript:
On my first point, the best candidates for focused investment and renewed innovation are those products that generate the majority of our traffic and corresponding economic value. These include the homepage, sports, news, finance, entertainment, mail, search and mobile . . .
Yahoo! also continues to improve the way people connect to the experiences that matter to them most, regardless of time, place or device. For example, for the NCAA basketball tournament we created an integrated experience that provided fans with access to their brackets and breaking news anywhere at any time via their PC’s and mobile devices.
Speaking of mobile, I really have to tip my hat to that team. Our mobile team has clearly demonstrated that innovation is alive and thriving at Yahoo! They wowed the mobile world at the recent CTIA Wireless Conference. We received overwhelmingly positive response from users and press to our Yahoo! Mobile for Web and Yahoo! Mobile and Messenger iPhone apps. They are applauding Yahoo! Mobile’s simple and clean design and its easy customization. One reporter praised it as the “most comprehensive and attractive personalized mobile home page yet.”
Yahoo! Mobile on the browser is now available on more than 300 devices around the world and the iPhone app is among the most popular in the Apple iPhone app store. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check it out on our Mobile site or on the app store. All of these examples speak to the power of Yahoo!’s network to attract and engage users through great products delivered in any format on any device.
According to Ars Technica, sources tell them that voice/speech is coming to the next software upgrade for the iPhone: iPhone OS 3.0:
Sources speaking to Ars have discovered evidence of new voice control features coming to iPhone OS 3.0. Apparently going by the code name "Jibbler," it looks like it will provide not just voice synthesis, but also voice recognition for the upcoming iPhone OS 3.0.
Beyond the rumor itself it's not clear how deeply integrated speech will be with the device or whether apps developers will have access to voice/speech (as they do with location). We can at least expect voice dialing and perhaps access to apps via voice. Assuming it's true it will be quite interesting to see what appears in June.
Gomez, Inc. and dotMobi have come out with competitive benchmarketing of site performance for three categories on the mobile Web: search, banking and airlines. The criteria used and ranking methodology were as follows:
Yahoo was the top performer in the mobile search category. Here are the complete results:
In the two other categories Bank of America and AirTran were the winners:
As the five criteria above suggest, this study measured overall mobile web performance. The irony of this study is that dotMobi is a domain that will be almost worthless as more of the mobile Web is about "full HTML" and mobile applications downloaded directly onto devices.
Google released Q1 earnings yesterday, beating expectations but posting its first quarterly decline in revenues. There was a fair amount of discussion on the call about mobile, which was identified as one of three growth areas for the company. The other two were apps (enterprise) and display advertising.
Mobile continues to be a major area of strategic focus for the company and it appears there will be many more devices running Android (or announced) by this time next year. The following are comments from the earnings call transcript relevant to mobile.
CEO Eric Schmidt
Look at the success of Android and the mobile space in general. By improving the mobile web experience people search many, many times more than they did in previous mobile devices. We benefit both in terms of end-user happiness as well as ultimately in strong revenue growth from that area.
SVP Jonathan Rosenberg
Patrick highlighted in his remarks that Google has rigorous management of expenses, but we also have a history of making big investments based on technical insights and we are going to continue to do that today, especially in areas like display, mobile, and Android . . .
On the mobile side, more people are accessing the web from their phones. The number of mobile searches has gone up five times in just the last couple of years and this new generation of phones has eyes, a camera; ears, a microphone; skin; a touch screen; and they know their location. This makes them a great platform for very compelling applications.
We launched Google Latitude which you can use to share your location with friends with a fun Google news cluster just this morning on Latitude helping catch a thief in San Francisco. If you go to Google news and type in Latitude thief.
We are also investing in Android to make a great mobile web experience available to everyone and over 8% of mobile browsing is now conducted through Android, which is second only to the iPhone.
Spencer Wang - Credit Suisse
On mobile, can you give us a sense of what the click view rates look like on mobile relative to traditional search?
I don’t have specific data on click through rate. We are certainly seeing more advertisers are choosing to run their ads on mobile devices. You can see examples if you query auto insurance on the iPhone or an Android device. And the RPMs on the iPhone and Android are high, even though we’re in very early days of the mobile ecosystem, but I don’t have any specific data on how click through rates differ.
Sandeep Aggarwal - Collins Stewart
[W]hat kind of traction you are seeing for Android on mobile and what do you think about the potential of Android on the netbook?
Overall it looks like Android is going to have a very, very strong year. We are already aware of many, many uses of Android, which as you know is open source, where literally the devices we hear about near the announcements, so the open source part of the strategy is working. We have also recently just announced an upgrade in new software for Android which is out now among the technical community and again, the stability, the proof points are really there now.
There are announcements happening between now and the end of the year that are quite significant from operators and new hardware partners in the Android space, which I won’t preannounce except to say that they really do fulfill much of the vision that we laid out more than a year ago.
On the netbook side, there are a number of people who have actually taken Android and ported it over to netbook or netbook-similar devices. So we think that’s another one of the great benefits of the open source model that we’ve used. We’re excited that that investment is occurring. And again, largely outside of Google, which we think is great.
Nokia announced its Q1 numbers, which look pretty bad, but are better than lowered analyst expectations. Sales fell 27% and net profits were down a staggering 90%. Nokia still has a 37% global handset market share, which is unchanged from Q4 and down two points from a year ago.
The economy and intensifying competition are the culprits.
In the press release, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said:
I am especially pleased with the performance of our first mass market touch product, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. Together with Comes With Music, it is a great example of Nokia providing solutions that consumers value.
Dubbed the "poor-man's iPhone," the 5800 is cheaper than its rival. As we argued yesterday that strategy is likely the key to any hope of market share gains in the US.
JumpTap debuts a new PPC mobile ad marketplace today called tapMatch. CMO and agency veteran Paran Johar says that tapMatch is distinguished from other mobile marketplaces (e.g., Google mobile AdWords) because it offers the most sophisticated targeting available: content, keywords, demographics, handset type, carrier, location and publishers.
The demo video shows the creation of a mobile banner campaign but the system equally accommodates text ads. What was impressive to me was its simplicity:
When JumpTap briefed me a couple of weeks ago, we digressed into a number of other discussions related to mobile advertising. One of the issues Johar and I discussed what whether it was desirable to make the click the coin of the mobile marketing realm in the same way it is online. That metric may be appropriate for mobile search advertising but not necessarily beyond that. However in a bad economy people are more inclined to pay on a PPC basis rather than CPM, as a general matter.
Clearly Johar personally believes that a broader range of considerations should determine mobile ad performance -- he discussed those at our Internet2Go event earlier this year. But online marketers live and die by CTRs so it makes sense that the metric would transfer over -- marketers already "get" it.
However mobile offers more options to advertisers and agencies than simply direct response. I believe it's wise to reflect and be a bit cautious about turning the click-through into the uber-metric of mobile marketing.
According to the Android Developers Blog, the new Android SDK ("cupcake") includes some anticpated upgrades and other features:
This new version (which will be 1.5) is based on the cupcake branch from the Android Open Source Project. Version 1.5 introduces APIs for features such as soft keyboards, home screen widgets, live folders, and speech recognition. At the developer site, you can download the early-look Android 1.5 SDK, read important information about upgrading your Eclipse plugin and existing projects, and learn about what's new and improved in Android 1.5.
There are a wide range of improvements, notably a virtual keyboard. Here are just a few from the long list:
In addition, VentureBeat offers a thoughtful article on why Asia may see more Android phones and devices than the US or Europe. (Hint: cost.) The authors cite a prior Qualcomm statement that part of Android's strategy is to push down the overall cost of smartphones (to drive adoption). Adoption of smartphones equals more mobile Internet usage and search. Google is currently the mobile search leader.
In our most recent mobile consumer survey (not yet published), 19% of North American respondents who didn't currently have a smartphone indicated that they were thinking about getting one in the next 12 months. Another 21% indicated a similar intent but weren't clear on the timing. Pricing of dataplans and quality of experience (handset, speed) are the major factors driving mobile Internet usage.
HTC and Samsung will be releasing new Android devices this year in the US and EU. We may in fact see the G2/Magic (HTC) from T-mobile announced later this month. Samsung has said that it will be developing phones on the Android platform but not making "Google Experience Devices."
Android will eventually show up in Netbooks and other devices. CNET reports that there's a set-top box based on Android coming.
Like with most other social networks, communities form around certain services. Where Loopt seemed to be full of gay men, Brightkite seemed chock-a-block with savvy Web 2.0 marketers, pitching their brands, something personal users have grown wary of. I followed three couples on their meetup escapades, and here’s what happened:
The mildly mocking video associated with the article argues that location-aware social networking is mostly about dating. There are two forms of "mobile social networking": accessing social networks (e.g., Facebook) on a mobile device and finding out who's nearby right now (e.g., Loopt, Brightkite, Latitude).
In LMS/Opus consumer data just pulled (and not yet published) we found that just over 15% of social network user-respondents were accessing their network(s) from mobile devices. That's more than double the number we found at roughly the same time last year (6%).
ADCENTRICITY is a digital out of home (OOK) technology provider and aggregator of ad inventory. There are literally more than 100K digital OOH screens at various locations around the US (supermarkets, franchise stores, gas stations, malls, retail stores, movie theaters, etc). ADCENTRICITY makes it easier for brands and advertisers of all stripes to buy these screens and get access to the audiences in these places.
With Impact Mobile as the mobile service provider, this offering will provide advertisers with hyper-targeting capabilities to increase interaction with audiences on-the-go through mobile devices and help extend campaigns across even more channels. Capabilities include:
- Call-to-Action: SMS, votes, polls, sweepstakes, contests, promotions, coupons, call-back request, text4info, surveys
- Retail & Redemption: Mobile coupons (bar codes), unique PIN numbers (drive2web), ticketing
- Content Deliver: Rich content, ringtones, wall papers, games, videos
- Mobile Applications: Mobile Internet Sites (WAP) & Smart Phone Applications (more comprehensive and customized solutions)
Consumers engaging with digital out-of-home media are on-the-go and the interaction with mobile can be used for example, to send pre-programmed, customized messages to specific geographic targets throughout the life of the campaign. A mobile component to any digital out-of-home campaign can also help to drive a call to action, increase brand awareness and point-of-purchase sales.
Digital OOH is a fascinating (and effective, according to reports) marketing platform that can be used for both branding and direct response. Combining it with mobile makes it more actionable and dynamic in a range of ways implied by the release excerpt. For example, it can motivate someone to go to a point of sale (POS) and buy immediately with an offer or discount; it can get someone to sign up for alerts; it can motivate someone to download an application and so on.
Mobile can do this type of thing in general for traditional media (i.e., newspapers, mags, TV, radio) as well. And, eventually, most traditional media will (or should) offer some sort of mobile tie-in both to extend reach and to measure effectiveness. However, digital OOH is like combining TV and mobile at or near the POS.
Yet these dynamic capabilities and the integrated marketing campaigns they imply are still quite a bit more sophisticated than the advertisers who would potentially be buying them.
Related: Here's some additional color on the announcement from MediaPost.
Apple says it's rapidly approaching its billionth app download. It also made a list of the top 20 downloaded apps to date in both the free and the paid category. In the paid category it's all about games, although Smule's Ocarina appears as well as iFart mobile.
In the free category, here are the top 20 according to Apple:
Compare comScore's list for February (only).
A review from FoxNews argues that the Palm Pre will be the first true competitor to the iPhone. However, the Pre is not likely to see the iPhone's success in hardware sales or potentially in app development. It's somewhat late to market and exclusively on Sprint, initially.
An article on VentureBeat has some anecdotal feedback from developers regarding their attitudes and frustrations with the various non-iPhone smartphone platforms (bad news there for WinMo, RIM, Palm and Symbian). But it's anecdotal so don't generalize too much.
Here's the Skyhook data about developer interest in the various mobile platforms.
Related: MediaPost reports on iPhone app usage frequency based on a new report from Compete, Inc:
According to an upcoming report on smartphone usage by online market research firm Compete, 39% of iPhone users cited weather-related apps as one of the three kinds of applications they use most frequently. (The Weather Channel app specifically was cited by 13%.)
A quarter of iPhone users said Facebook's was one of three apps they accessed most often, followed by game apps, at 20%. More than 10% pointed to music-related apps. After that, the more than 100 individual apps or types of apps cited by users fell to single-digit percentages, with most less than 2%.
There's an impending branding change coming to Microsoft's Live Search. But for the time being Live Search is still the Microsoft brand online and in mobile. And Microsoft is making its Live Search client app (with voice search) available on a broader array of BlackBerry devices including the Bold and the Storm.
I haven't been able to use it for awhile given that my WinMo HTC phone's touchscreen phone broke. However I like the Live Search app and used it when I had the phone. Until the Pre comes out I'm using an iPod Touch for WiFi mobile Internet access and a very low-end feature phone on the go.
Separately, Yellowpages.com (AT&T) is the direct beneficiary of Microsoft's mobile distribution when local searches are performed:
When the iPhone and apps store first launched it was unlikely that the device and its sibling the iPod Touch would become such a hot mobile gaming platform. Consistently, however, the most downloaded apps are games, according to the "top lists" on the iTunes store and comScore, which put out some new data on the subject yesterday.
The following chart reflects comScore data on the top iPhone apps for February:
Among the few non-games here, in order of popularity, are:
Here are today's top free and paid apps, according to Apple (note Skype at #2 and Yahoo! Mobile at #10):
comScore also offered the following observations about the apps audience:
Skyhook Wireless, which provides location aware WiFi and cell-tower positioning to the iPhone, chip makers and mobile developers generally, has released results of a survey of mobile developers. It's a small sample (n=100) but it's likely representative of current attitudes among mobile apps developers. What it shows is that they don't have equal interest in all platforms:
56% of all developers surveyed will port their app to other platforms. Developers are most interested in Android. 58% of non-Android developers plan to port to that platform, while 40% of non-iPhone developers plan to port an app to that platform. 26% will port to RIM, and 20% will port to Windows Mobile.
Developers are least interested in Palm and Symbian, with only 8% and 9% of developers planning to port their applications to those platforms, respectively.
This could of course change, but it suggests that the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry will have the strongest apps stores and offerings and that Symbian and Palm will suffer and lag behind.
If, for example, the Pre really sells well it would likely attract developers to the platform. But there's a catch 22 of sorts potentially operating here. The lack of a competitive apps offering could impact demand for the hardware, which in turn could affect developer interest in the platform. First movers have an advantage, assuming they continue their momentum.
While Symbian and Palm might see these data and be very concerned, Microsoft also might find some cause for concern with only 20% of the developers saying they were going to build Windows Mobile versions of their apps. Attitudes and behavior are two different things. But Windows Mobile is an established platform in the US with millions of existing users. So the apparent lack of interest should be of concern. (To its credit Microsoft is trying to be highly responsive to developer feedback.)
Here are some additional findings from the Skyhook survey:
Here are two charts from the Skyhook report, showing the distribution of location-aware apps across platforms and the level of location targeting required by the apps:
Source: Skyhook Wireless
Two independent location-based mobile social networking providers BrightKite and Limbo have merged. The Brightkite brand will be the surviving one, but the company will be headquartered in Burlingame, CA (Limbo's offices). The companies also have access to the $9 funding round that Limbo recently received.
The two services combined will have several million reported users on a global basis. Both offer location based advertising and their merger is an attempt to gain more scale on the user side and to offer a stronger play for advertisers.
Mobile social networking is a segment ripe for consolidation, as the combination above suggests. It's a space that will be dominated (it already is) by established Internet brands such as Facebook and MySpace.
There will be a few independent companies that succeed but most will not. Loopt is probably the highest profile independent mobile-LBS company in the US, while Mocospace is on the pure social networking side. However the quality of ad inventory on Mocospace has been repeatedly criticized in private conversations I've had with people.
Recently Whrrl, a mobile-centric site like Yelp reinvented itself around the concept of storytelling (tied to place). As more and more people adopt the mobile Internet, the desktop brands have the advantage of a built-in user base. The audiences are thus theirs to lose. Independent, mobile-only companies must offer a user experience that is especially compelling and/or the PC-based companies moving into mobile must essentially botch the mobile user experience to create an opening for the independents.
Expect more such consolidation in the coming months. (As they used to say in the earlier days of blogging, hat tip to Perry Evans for alerting me to the merger via Twitter.)
Verizon announced that it was integrating 411 with VZ Navigator in those instances when the wireless caller is a VZ Navigator subscriber. According to the release put out by Verizon it works as follows:
After using 411 Search to find a phone number or address, Verizon Wireless said its customers with VZ Navigator-capable phones can now have a Place Message with that destination sent to their phones, simply by pressing "1" when prompted. The customer can then use VZ Navigator to display the location on a map or navigate to that location. Connecting these two services means that details for a listing found with Verizon Wireless' directory assistance can be provided to Verizon Wireless' VZ Navigator location-based service (LBS) so that customers can access audible turn-by-turn navigation to their destinations, the company noted . . .
Jon Wells, vice president for product development at Verizon, said, "We found that many customers were using the 411 service with the hopes of finding directions to that location, so we launched the integrated VZ Navigator with 411 Search nationwide to provide customers with a one-stop shop for listing information and directions. The service offers convenience and value while eliminating the need for customers to manually enter their destination information, especially when driving."
This is a novel tie-in between 411 and directions. We wonder if Google will do something similar for Android with the GOOG-411 service. (VZ Navigator functionality is provided by Networks in Motion.)
Users will pay $1.49 (411) + their VZ Navigator subscription fees ($9.99 per month) for each use. As smartphones like the iPhone and Android start to offer improved turn-by-turn directions capabilities the market for subscription services like VZ Navigator will be diminished. Indeed, smartphones with GPS threaten the entire PND market over time. That's why Garmin has become a smartphone maker.
Google has upgraded its mobile Web-based Calendar and GMail for the iPhone and Android. GMail now has added features that make it more like the Web-based version of GMail. Most of the upgrade is on the back end, making the system faster and perform better.
The company is trying to make the PC and mobile experiences as similar as possible. Here's a video of the new version of GMail in operation.
In addition, Google Calendar now allows users to respond to meeting requests, something that wasn't previously possible.
Separately, Google is bringing Google Voice (formerly "GrandCentral") to the iPhone and the iPod Touch.
These moves reflect the degree to which Google views the mobile experience -- as well as the linkages between PC and mobile ("the cloud") -- as critical to its success going forward.