We're living in a very interesting time (for many reasons). But the confluence of several factors may be set to reshape computing:
Witness the success of netbooks, which appeal mostly because of their low cost but also because they provide a more mobile Internet experience than a conventional laptop. Remarkably, as of this hour, among the top 10 bestselling computers on the US Amazon site, only one computer (a Mac) is not a netbook. All of them are priced under $500.
The NY Times writes about how the PC industry may not recover its margins given the economy and new popularity of these small laptops. I'm less interested in the computer industry's margins than the birth of this new class of devices -- or classes I should say.
If we arrayed Internet devices on a spectrum you'd have the desktop computer on one end and smartphones such as the iPhone on the other. Between them would be netbooks and the even more nascent category of MIDs, mobile Internet devices.
From a desktop or laptop perspective netbooks don't offer a great experience; their screens are quite small and keyboards often cramped. Many also feel like toys. However, if you compare the Internet on a netbook vs. a conventional smartphone it's great. And if you think about how easy they are to transport you're also pretty happy.
Netbooks have full physical keyboards whereas MIDs (or Internet tablets) rely mostly on virtual keyboards. But they're also potentially more versatile than netbooks and offer a much broader range of use cases (Acer and Intel are making their respective moves in this area but so are Samsung and others). Microsoft may or may not be able to equip all these devices with a version of Windows; they open the door for more Web-based/cloud computing.
Apple, for its part, has clearly said that it's not entering the netbook segment. COO Tim Cook (acting CEO) put those rumors to rest (for now at least) on last week's Apple's earning's call. Here's what Cook said about netbooks:
We're watching that space. But, right now from our point of view the products in there are principally based on hardware that's much less powerful than we think customers want. Software technology that is not good, cramped keyboards small displays... And so, we don't think that people are going to be pleased with those types of products. But we'll see.
We are watching the space, as you know about 3% of the industry or the PC industry last year was in this netbook kind of category. And so, it's a category we watch. We've got some ideas here. But, right now we think the products there are inferior and will not provide an experience to customers that they're happy with.
Even if it won't offer a netbook, Apple may eventually come out with a touch-screen tablet -- it may be a larger version of the iPod Touch, without the iPod -- that sits between the current iPhone/Touch and a Macbook. The right price point for Apple here is sub-$500. (Someone else has already created a Mac OS tablet. Recall the Apple Newton, which was ahead of its time and died; will a retooled "Newton 2.0" rise again?)
It will be very interesting to see the many IP-connected devices (MIDs) released over the next couple of years. The Amazon Kindle is, of course, one of these. Manufacturers will be experimenting with form factor, memory, software, pricing and so on. We're in a "Darwinian" period right now with all sorts of new computer species trying to establish a foothold.
The final issue or challenge with all these devices is connectivity. Will they require a wireless card or similar subscription or will they be like the Kindle with the network built in? Or will the hardware be free or almost free as a lure to pay for the connection service, as in the case of the recent AT&T-Acer-Radio Shack deal or the forthcoming AT&T-Dell deal.
Regardless, connectivity is an integral part of the proposition of these MIDs/netbooks. They are thus potential substitutes for smartphones in one sense. And the Internet on a netbook or connected MID is truly the Internet.
It's not a forgone conclusion that these new categories of devices will capture the imagination and forever change computing but one gets that sense. Some of them will likely take hold and take off. But before that happens they will need to find the right mix of price, hardware/software and overall user experience.
According to a press release out this morning, SMS marketing firm 4Info has received $20 million more from investors:
4INFO, a leading mobile media company and pioneer of SMS advertising and publishing services, announced today that it has raised $20 million in equity and debt funding from all its existing investors and one new investor. Existing investors Peacock Equity -- the joint venture between GE Capital's Media, Communications & Entertainment finance business and NBC Universal -- and Gannett, Inc. led the funding, in addition to US Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Sand Hill Capital. Joining these existing investment partners is new investor Selby Ventures. 4INFO will use this funding to continue expansion into traditional media partnerships for integrated mobile campaigns, as well as accelerated development of 4INFO mobile marketing services and rich media technology.
The company claims 80 million "answers and alerts via text message per month" and 16 million users.
For investors this is a no-brainer because 4Info has already proven itself in the market and says it will be profitable this year. And SMS is the "entry point" for many brand advertisers who want to test mobile marketing or integrate mobile into a traditional media campaign.
4Info will be a featured speaker next week at Internet2Go on a panel discussing SMS-based marketing:
Panel: SMS - Not Sexy but Voluminous
Americans now spend more time texting than talking on their phones. The monthly volume of mobile messages has now reached 75 billion -- with a "B." SMS is also device-independent and can be done on the more than 85% of the market constituted by feature phones. Yet most marketers and pundits appear to be looking beyond SMS to the "mobile Internet." Are they missing a huge opportunity? How should agencies and advertisers think about SMS and where it fits into a mobile marketing plan?
Zaw Thet, CEO & Co-Founder, 4Info
Jay Highley, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Cha Cha
Greg Hallinan, VP of Marketing, Verve Wireless
Alec Andronikov, Chief Mobilizer/CEO, MoVoxx
Wired is running two interesting pieces on location-aware mobile apps. The first is a run down of largely iPhone and Android applications and what they do: Inside the GPS Revolution: 10 Applications That Make the Most of Location. Here are the apps discussed in the article:
The second article is called I Am Here: One Man's Experiment With the Location-Aware Lifestyle.
As the title suggests it's a lengthly first person account of living with and using location-aware applications (mostly on the iPhone). The article discusses a wide array of these apps and also explains the various targeting technologies used on mobile devices, how they work and their relative speed and accuracy: GPS, Cell & WiFi triangulation.
In the end, the article is mildly entertaining, generally informative but also ultimately inconclusive -- perhaps appropriately so. One can't embrace location on mobile devices without some ambivalence because of the privacy issues and potential for abuse in some contexts. But because of their utility and potential benefits, one should not simply dismiss location-based applications either. That would be a kind of knee-jerk "Luddite" stance.
As much as we're proponents of local mobile search, we're also cognizant of the dangers for abuse or improper tracking and monitoring. And this is one of the main critiques expressed in the recent consumer groups' FTC complaint and preemptive strike against mobile marketers, which speaks about the dangers of geo-location in particular.
But as has been said in other contexts, the "genie is out of the bottle." We can't and shouldn't take these applications away from people who want them. The question, rather, is how to balance their capabilities with legitimate consumer privacy concerns.
The Mobile World Congress is coming up in Barcelona, Spain in mid-February. The show is like CTIA in its gargantuan sweep and the barrage of announcements and press that come out of it. ZDNet points to to the nominees for a range of mobile awards in connection with the show.
The list includes some familiar and some more obscure names and companies. Of interest to me are the following categories:
There are many more categories and one could probably argue vigorously with some of the nominations in some of the categories.
Meanwhile Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is going to Keynote MWC (as he recently did CES). There's an expectation of a wide range of mobile announcements, including WinMo 6.5 and a competitor to Apple's flawed MobileMe service, as well as an centralized applications market a la iTunes.
At CES earlier this month Ballmer made the announcement that Microsoft would become the default search provider for Verizon Wireless in the US in a multi-year deal that includes a range of ad types. We'll have to actually wait until the MWC keynote to see what gets announced this time around.
Finally, in recent weeks, Microsoft executives implied that the number of Windows Mobile phones in the market would be reduced. That makes sense because the proliferation of WinMo devices has partly impaired the development of a strong brand identity, which is now necessary to succeed in the newly, intensely competitive mobile handset market.
Gadget blog Gizmodo allegedly has some "spy shots" of the forthcoming HTC Android G2. We wrote about the G2 when the rumor first surfaced. Then, it was supposed to come out in April. Gizmodo is now saying that it has heard the release will be in "mid-May."
Samsung and Motorola are the other two hardware OEMs supposed to release Android phones in the US in 2009. However, Motorola's recent layoffs and financial difficulties raise questions in my mind about whether it will be able to do so before the end of the year at the very earliest.
The original G1 is on sale in the UK and T-Mobile is starting to roll out the device throughout Europe.
The G2 camera is supposed to offer 3.2 megapixels. (I think that better cameras are one potential area of differentiation, especially vs. the iPhone.) Most noteworthy however is the fact that the new Android phone is reportedly thinner, due to the absence of a physical keyboard. The current G1 itself has no "virtual keyboard" but is supposed to get one with an imminent software update.
When I first wrote about the G2 I remarked that the absence of a physical keyboard is an ironic development given that it was promoted as one of the chief benefits the G1 offered vs. the iPhone. Palm's new Pre offers both a physical and virtual keyboard.
AdAge reports on Kraft's relatively new iPhone app, the "iFood Assistant," which costs consumers $.99. It also features advertising as the image below indicates:
The article implies that Kraft is getting away with something by charging and still featuring ads. But, like the Chipotle iPhone app before it (and to a lesser degree the Target and Gap apps), Kraft has created of something of real value for consumers and something of a template for other brand marketers.
The iFood Assistant offers large numbers of recipes, shopping lists, videos, a store locator and other features that take this out of the realm of quick, cynical marketing efforts into something that will undoubtedly build and reinforce a consumer relationship. Kraft can pump all its coupons into this app (where relevant) and it also inserts its own brands at appropriate places into shopping lists.
This is "mobile marketing" par excellence by Kraft. It's a model for others. However, those brands that read about this and would whip up an iPhone app simply to have one will be disappointed. They need to be thoughtfully executed and offer real utility to consumers. This is the lesson of the "flogs" -- fake blogs set up by marketers or their agencies -- from a couple years ago. Accordingly, "flapps" (fake apps) will similarly not be tolerated by users.
The Wall Street Journal is running a story this morning that is interesting for a couple of reasons. The basic news is that the senior Android engineer, Steven Horowitz, has been hired by Coupons Inc.:
Mr. Horowitz was recruited in February 2006 by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who has spearheaded Android, as one of the first engineers to work on the project. He said in an interview, that after “spending so much time and energy” on the effort it was a good time to move on. Mr. Horowitz added that he was also attracted by the fact that the worsening economy has accelerated business at Coupons, which also operates a Web coupon site for consumers. The company plans to hire 40 new employees by the end of the February, he said.
This is a very interesting choice for Horowitz, to move from arguably a cutting-edge project to one that is probably quite a bit more mundane in most respects. Nonetheless, coupons are much beloved by consumers and especially so in this bad economy. It's a giant market offline; yet, coupons have never really hit their stride online despite their early presence on the Internet.
Partly the lack of "inventory" or the easy ability to find them and partly manufacturers and retailers' fears about fraud have held back coupons' advance in the digital world. Surely their (economic) moment has arrived. We'll see what happens over the course of the next couple years and whether they truly take off online and in mobile or continue making incremental steps. (Here's all my past writing about coupons at Screenwerk.)
The other interesting thing to me about the piece was the confirmation that Android is being readied and used for devices other than cellphones:
After focusing on releasing the first version of the software late last year, the engineers are shifting their focus towards making the software work with a greater variety of phones and devices. Mr. Horowitz added that he is aware of companies trying to translate Android — whose software is open source, making it easier to customize — to devices that aren’t phones, like netbooks (a new breed of low-end portable computers), or televisions, but declined to go into details.
This essentially confirms an earlier report that Android would be on so-called netbooks within a year.
Five hundred million downloads; fifteen thousand apps: that's what Apple says has occurred since the launch of its apps store -- a runaway success. It prompted all Apple's smartphone competitors to introduce or announce their own applications download centers: Android, RIM, Palm and Microsoft, which is expected to unveil what is reportedly being called SkyMarket at next month's Mobile World Congress in Spain.
Redmond is also supposed to introduce Window Mobile 6.5 at the show. It's an interim step between 6.1 and WinMo 7, which is not due until 2010.
RIM is also now formally soliciting applications from developers. This follows the announcement late last year of winners of the BlackBerry Developer Challenge. This is the identical pattern followed by Android, which launched a contest and then its own apps marketplace.
While apps by themselves may not trump hardware (or price) considerations, having a "robust" apps market is going to be critical to the competitive success of smartphones.
Yahoo! also has created and enabled third parties to create mobile widgets using its Blueprint language/platform. This is the only "apps store" that works with feature phones to my knowledge. Yahoo could benefit significantly in the market if it aggressively promoted this to the millions of users who don't have smartphones.
As part of cost-cutting and internal focus and streamlining, Google is shutting down a range of under-performing, neglected or little-used services. These include:
These are not the first products/services that Google has walked away from. However, the recession is making the company focus more on products and services that are more central to its objectives and abandon things that have emerged as diversions or are not as successful.
Google acquired the "Twitter-like" Jaiku in October of 2007. Location awareness was part of the functionality of the "micro-blogging" service. Google never really developed the service or its potential. Now it says it will make the code open source for others to use and develop:
As we mentioned last April, we are in the process of porting Jaiku over to Google App Engine. After the migration is complete, we will release the new open source Jaiku Engine project on Google Code under the Apache License. While Google will no longer actively develop the Jaiku codebase, the service itself will live on thanks to a dedicated and passionate volunteer team of Googlers.
With the open source Jaiku Engine project, organizations, groups and individuals will be able to roll-their-own microblogging services and deploy them on Google App Engine. The new Jaiku Engine will include support for OAuth, and we're excited about developers using this proven code as a starting point in creating a freely available and federated, open source microblogging platform.
Google is also shuttering Dodgeball, which the company bought for an undisclosed amount in 2005. It was one of the first mobile-social networks but way way ahead of the curve. After Google brought the service it largely neglected it and others eclipsed it. Here's what the founders said when Dodgeball was acquired:
"We talked to a lot of different angel investors and venture capitalists, but no one really 'got' what we were doing -- that is until we met Google. The people at Google think like us. They looked at us in a "You're two guys doing some pretty cool stuff, why not let us help you out and let's see what you can do with it' type of way."
. . . And when they left in 2007:
It's no real secret that Google wasn't supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we couldn't convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. And while it was a tough decision (and really disappointing) to walk away from dodgeball, I'm actually looking forward to getting to work on other projects again.
There were many things that could have been done with these services, but weren't. At one time Google took what I've called a sort of "Darwinian" view of its products -- either they caught on or they didn't. The company generally allowed them to sink or swim without lots of centralized planning or promtion. There are of course high profile exceptions to this observation. But the approach was a part of Google's culture, which is now changing under the weight of recession.
I wouldn't argue it's "tragic" or unfortunate that these services are being discontinued, although Jaiku will theoretically live on. However it's an illustration that Google misses opportunities and is bogged down by some of the same "big company" challenges and inertia that affect others. It's also true that the mobile universe has evolved substantially since 2005 -- even 2007 -- and the company is now concetrating its mobile push on things like Android, the iPhone and porting its core services and search over to the "mobile Web." The company is building a kind of parallel universe in mobile.
SMS, though used by far more people than the mobile Internet, appears to be less of a priority for Google. For example, Google SMS search wasn't working last week for a number of hours; the company appeared to have a very casual attitude about the outage. (Imagine, by comparison, if Google's mobile site or app or its online search wasn't working for several hours.)
Whatever your attitude it's clear that both Jaiku and Dodgeball represent missed opportunities for Google in mobile.
Apparently, the erstwhile Dodgeball founders are going to build a new version of the app:
So what's next? Well I don't know how many days we have left (30 days? 90 days?), but I've always said that it Google ever kills dodgeball, I'l build you guys a new one, so stayed tuned. (some of you know that me + Naveen have been cooking up some new stuff which is looking kind of hot). We'll hustle to get something for everyone to play with at SXSW.
For almost a year Dell Computer has been contemplating a smartphone of its own, according to rumor and various reports. The prior speculation was that it would be an Android phone (Google had a "default search" partnership with Dell). But now the rumor is that at the upcoming GSM World Congress, Dell will introduce a Windows Mobile phone.
Dell is now Microsoft's search partner and so that would make some sense.
Dell has witnessed the success of the iPhone and is likely saying to itself: the smartphone is the new PC and if Apple can do it so can we.
Not so fast...
Another Windows Mobile phone that resembles an HP iPaq smartphone is likely to fall flat. Given the BlackBerry Storm, G1, Pre and iPhone -- not to mention HTC's efforts to "sex up" it own Windows Mobile line -- it will be very hard for Dell to gain customer attention.
It would have to do something unique design-wise (or radically affordable) to gain consumer interest. In many ways it would make more sense for Dell to come out with a bold new mini-PC, ebook reader, Internet tablet or connected PND rather than a "me too" Windows Mobile smartphone.
Microsoft itself implied that it would be cutting back on the number of Windows Mobile phones in the market. That represents a strategy shift of sorts, given that Redmond was previously trying to get WinMo on as many smartphones as it could, emulating the strategy that has made the company so successful on the desktop.
The problem is that Windows Mobile doesn't really have a consumer brand identity in the market. So tighter hardware-software/OS integration is called for in a newly more competitive handset environment.
Mike Wehrs, erstwhile mobile evangelist at Nuance Communications, has stepped up to the presidency of the Mobile Marketing Association by rapidly responding to criticisms from the self-appointed groups protecting the privacy of mobile subscribers. Prompted by a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Wehrs asked for more specifics. According to a report by Colin Gibb in the RCR Wireless Newsletter, Wehrs took the time to read the complaint and noted that it was long on platitudes and short on specifics.
The filing from the two public interest groups was something of a pre-emptive strike. While not citing specifics regarding violations, it listed several remedies, including a deeper investigation of "the impact of interactive, targeted advertising" on the market; indentification of "marketing practices that compromise user privacy and consumer welfare"; examination of "opt-in procedures to ensure consumers receive full disclosure of what data is being collected and its future use"; and finally, the issuance of "policies and actions that halt current practices that abuse consumer rights" in order to "recommend legislation that prevent such abuses in the future."
General concerns over privacy have had a chilling effect on network-based innovation - with the delay of the roll-out of CallerID as a prime example. Wehrs is right to stand up to general objections and to state that the industry is happy to address specific concerns as they arise, but not at the detriment of companies that are introducing new services that leverage GPS, search and ecommerce.
As Wehrs notes, “The industry needs to be held accountable to behave responsibly. If the industry doesn't behave responsibly there needs to be an escalation path. But I think we have indicated we are behaving responsibly.” Yet according to Gibbs' report, there could be some tightening of enforcement of rules surrounding "opt-in" practices. But they should not be so cumbersome as to discourage introduction of innovative new services.
The blog MacRumors points out that quick service Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle has added iPhone ordering. The company already has online ordering but this is a progressive and forward-looking step that will boost loyalty and potentially store revenues. (Apple filed a patent application around mobile ordering like this.)
The sign-up process is quite lengthy and flawed in that respect. (For example it doesn't tell you you need an eight character password.) However the actual app is very nicely done and will likely be heavily used. Registration can also be done online.
In the sign-up the default setting is "send me special Chipotle offers and news." This means promotions/coupons may go to mobile phone numbers and/or email. This is also smart and potentially very effective to draw people into stores. Imagine an email that goes out at 11 a.m. offering some sort of coupon. I don't know whether the back end supports location targeting but, assuming it does, promotions could be targeted to specific geographic areas (i.e., w/in 5 minutes driving distance, etc.). There is also a store locator in the app.
Chipotle may be ahead of the curve, but it's only a matter time before every major fast-food chain tries mobile ordering.
As Fortune points out, Nokia is the dominant smartphone maker and the dominant handset maker in the world, but it continues to struggle in the US market. The article argues that Nokia's success formula outside the US has limited its prospects in the US:
The problem is not the product. The n97 might not be ready for sale, but Nokia's e71, which looks like a sleeker version of the BlackBerry Curve, has won design awards and dominates many European markets. And it has several phones in its n-series of multimedia devices that boast the best cameras and videocams in the biz. North American president Mark Louison says U.S. carriers will soon support the phones. But ask the phone companies, and they say they have no plans to roll out Nokia smartphones anytime soon.
By lagging in smartphones Nokia isn't just missing out on sales; it may also be losing the attention of software developers that make cool games and applications for mobile devices, a growing number of which operate in the U.S.
Nokia is reinventing itself yet again as an Internet company, a sort of Yahoo.com for your phone. It is trying to woo application developers to its mobile platform through offices in Silicon Valley and Boston. You'd think it would be tantalizing to write software for the world's largest mobile platform. But ask developers worldwide to show you their favorite mobile apps, and they'll probably pull out their iPhones.
The North American market has become the dominant mobile Internet market -- and the most competitive -- in a very short period of time.
The AdMob data show how quickly the iPhone has encroached on Nokia's smartphone share:
Here's a closer look at the US smartphone market; Symbian is flat at less than 5%:
Although the Fortune piece argues that devices/handsets aren't the problem Nokia needs to excite people with a handset in the way that the Pre has appeared to rekindle Palm's fortunes in one stroke. Perhaps the N97 is that phone, although its suggested price €550 ($695) will likely prevent it from becoming mainstream vs. cheaper competitors in the US market.
Failure to gain a larger share of the US and North American market means eventual share losses in Western Europe and possibly elsewhere.
Under the terms of the agreement, Call Genie is providing its CG ADvantage Ad Management system which includes features such as inventory price management, inventory forecasting, field-based campaign proposal generation, auto-campaign creation, reporting and final invoicing. These capabilities allow Yell to effectively manage its 118 24 7 ad inventory in a way that enables product packaging to be defined based on UK region and advertising classification. Additionally, CG ADvantage allows Yell's sales consultants to create real time proposals, based on the available advertising inventory.
Ad inventory will reportedly be segmented by vertical and location. I haven't spoken to Yell about this but it would allow them to sell mobile as a separate ad buy rather than simply push directory advertisers into results. Yell has several sources of mobile distribution, including mobile Web and applications.
Mike Wehrs who was a VP and "evangelist" for Nuance has been named to succeed Laura Marriott at the helm of the Mobile Marketing Association:
As President and CEO of the MMA, Mr. Wehrs will continue to promote its charter to build a sustainable ecosystem for the mobile marketing industry globally, focusing on delivering benefits to MMA members, establishing guidelines and best practices for future growth, and driving mobile adoption worldwide.
This was a surprise to some who see Wehrs as a someone with product and technology expertise rather than a media/advertising background. But as Dan Miller told MediaPost, "I think he's very articulate, patient and a good explainer." My experience of Mike is also that he's quite articulate and measured.
While most brands and agencies have largely deferred mobile efforts in the bad economy, they will eventually be convinced to spend on mobile advertising by consumer adoption of the mobile Internet.
MediaPost has a Q&A interview with Wehrs. Here's the most important part of the interview in my mind:
And getting outside of their own silo. How does the mobile marketing world stop just talking to itself about itself and get in front of the larger media buying community and at the agency level?
Wehrs: There is s a significant opportunity for measuring the ad shift in ad dollars spent. And that is what attracts most of the ad companies to want to participate here. There is opportunity, once we figure out how to do this at a scalable way, and is that going to just represent a share shift from one type of distribution channel to another or is that a net increase they will see in terms of ad dollars spent? They don't want to give up on what they are doing in other channels. And that is an interesting discussion.
At the MMA the important point is you have to unlock it first. You have to get to the point where your Adidases and Coca-Colas and other major brand advertisers view the mobile channel and say, I understand how to use this. I can do this cost-effectively. And I can get to market in a very scalable way from a global perspective. I understand the metrics and the return I am going to get on it.
The pieces that are in place that make them feel comfortable spending those kinds of dollars in television or radio -- when those pieces are in place in the mobile marketplace, then they will of course shift a significant amount of dollars there. Whether it is net or a gross increase, that is an interesting topic and I would love to be in a position where we are talking about that.
This is the precise reason why we're doing Internet2Go.
Call it "attack of the IP-connected non-phones." OK, so that's a bad description. But we're going to see lots and lots of devices coming that are effectively mobile Internet access tools (or some version thereof) and aren't phones. The connectivity issue just has to be worked out.
The model is Kindle, with Sprint's EVDO network built into the proposition. You don't pay for access. Verizon has just said that the company is going to do something similar with third party devices:
Verizon Wireless is poised to have rivals of Amazon's popular electronic Kindle reader use its network to download material such as books and newspapers wirelessly, according to an executive for the wireless service provider . . .
Now Verizon Wireless has certified 29 wireless devices that can run on its network but are sold by independent vendors. So far these are mostly business specific devices such as tracking devices and healthcare products.But this ebook reader support will quickly move to other devices as well.
This ebook reader support will quickly move to other devices as well.
I've talked for a long time about a "two device scenario" where people carry non-phones (e.g., iPod Touch) for mobile Internet access. The examples mentioned above are only the beginning of a broad range of mobile consumer devices that offer some version of Internet access on the go and ride on third party telco or other networks.
As mobile phones have gotten better at providing directions and mapping, as well as offering a host of other types of content and mobile Internet access, PNDs have had to evovle or risk a dwindling market. Dash was the first device to debut with real-time IP connectivity. Quickly, after Dash, the other PND OEMs announced that they too would offer such devices that allowed for two way data exchanges over the air.
TomTom, which owns Teleatlas, has brought out its first such device, the GO 740 Live. It's already available in Europe and coming to the US in Q2 of this year. It will cost a heafty $499 but such devices are much more compelling than the unconnected PNDs.
It offers Google local search, weather, gas price search, traffic and community/social elements:
TomTom Buddies: With TomTom Buddies, drivers can link their TomTom device to those of their friends so they can locate each other on the map, share favorite locations, as well as exchange and share location information and text messages.
TomTom Map Share: Like all TomTom devices, the GO 740 LIVE comes with TomTom Map Share, TomTom’s unique community-based map improvement technology that allows drivers to make specified improvements to their map instantly on their device. Leveraging its base of 25 million users to date, TomTom has received over five million map improvements thus far. The combination of superior Tele Atlas map updates and Map Share allows TomTom to deliver the most up-to-date and accurate maps in the industry.
With Bluetooth, you can make calls through these devices (in Europe). There's also voice command.
So the PND market will likely evolve along the lines of this model -- offering something approaching full mobile Internet access, local content/POIs, SMS/Voice communication, as well as a host of other travel-related content and services.
A bi-furcated market will perhaps also evolve: low-end navigation devices that offer few frills and are relatively cheap juxtaposed with more expensive "connected" devices that offer the kinds of content and capabilities that GO 740 Live provides.
As most of you are aware by now, Microsoft announced two big search distribution deals last night: a three year global deal with Dell and a five year mobile deal with Verizon Wireless. That instantly gives Microsoft access to Verizon's roughly 80 million users. It's a big win for Microsoft and represents one of the company's best chances for stopping Google's march toward early mobile search dominance. It also gives Microsoft the ability to tout the Verizon user base before brand and national advertisers. In one stroke Microsoft "overcomes" the fragmentation problem of mobile marketing -- potentially.
However it very much remains to be seen how many people actually use the search tools that will be integrated and pre-loaded onto Verizon handsets. As I said in my post last night at Search Engine Land:
The irony or paradox of the Verizon-Microsoft mobile search deal is that smartphones are where most of the mobile search activity is happening today. Yet those are the users that the carriers have the least amount of control over and where the “carrier deck” is either marginal or effectively non-existent. Users may simply open a browser and head to the “mobile internet,” visiting whatever sites and search engines they please.
The Microsoft press release describes the implementation this way:
Depending on which device they use, customers will be able to use voice commands and typed queries and even select to use location-aware searches to receive highly relevant search results, including maps, directions, traffic information, information on local businesses, movie theatres and show times, gas prices and weather. In addition, customers will also get search results that include news and entertainment content such as downloadable full-track songs, videos and games. Verizon Wireless customers will be able to access Microsoft Live Search from a device’s home screen, by downloading an application or through Verizon Wireless’ Mobile Web service.
The deal thus offers a range of consumer-facing dimensions, which include its newly upgraded Live Search client application. Having used the Live Search client extensively in the past I was impressed with it. There were some problems early on with data quality, which goes to the underlying listings database, but those it would appear have been addressed. The client offers a broad range of content types, as well as a voice interface.
There's no question this deal is a huge deal for Microsoft -- literally and figuratively. I'm sure there's a generous revenue share or even revenue guarantees. In addition the opportunity to work collaboratively on advertising -- search AND display -- probably had something to do with Verizon's choice of Microsoft vs. Google. Verizon and Google have also previously been antagonists in connection with the carrier "openness" debate and 700 MHz spectrum auction. So that probably didn't help Google.
Yet, ironically, Verizon will be all but compelled to offer an Android/Google phone in the coming years as all its major carrier rivals introduce them. But that's a separate discussion.
The deal also potentially helps Yellowpages.com, which offers local advertising through Live Search. See, e.g., Boston Hotels:
I'm no great fan of WebEx but Cisco has created a fairly compelling iPhone version of the software that allows users to conduct meetings now without being in front of a PC. (WebEx Mobile Meeting allows comparable access for BlackBerry and WindowsMobile smartphones.) It also works globally and on the iPod Touch. However in the case of the latter, users will obviously have to be on a WiFi network and separate cell phone to participate.
There's no question now that the iPhone is a B2B/enterprise device. And the new WebEx app may even spur the internal call from managers and worker bees for enterprise iPhone adoption.
Networks in Motion, which is behind VZ Navigator, AAA's mobile app and other carrier navigation apps, is opening an office in China. This is a good and important move for NIM given that free apps with location awareness may limit the growth potential for subscription-based navigation in the US. That's not going to be true in the feature phone market, however.
Certainly POI data is widely dissemintated in free smartphone applications and mobile search engines.