TechCrunch initially posted that Yahoo! had "abandoned" its BlackBerry app for iPhone app exclusivity. That was an incorrect interpretation of an email that went out. However, later it corrected the report to include a statement from a Yahoo! spokesperson:
"We are reprioritizing some products to help us better deliver the best possible experiences to consumers on mobile. To streamline our services, we will not develop Yahoo Mobile for smartphones to focus our efforts on mobilizing Yahoo, improving Yahoo Mobile for web and Yahoo Mobile for iPhone as well as developing new and engaging experiences for consumers, partners and advertisers. We currently have mobile products that reach hundreds of different devices (including Blackberry), and we continue to expand that comprehensive list."
I spoke to Yahoo! at some length trying to understand what was actually going on. What I was told was that what the company was calling its "smartphone app" was inconsistent with the new mobile Web site and iPhone look and feel. As a result it was being discontinued.
However Yahoo! said it wasn't abandoning the BlackBerry or any other mobile platform. The company told me that it would continue to develop for the BlackBerry and may well develop specialized verticals (e.g., Yahoo! Messenger, Sports) or a broader portal app that was consistent with the iPhone. However those decisions haven't yet been entirely made.
Related: Rhomobile says its open source platform allows enterprises to build "native apps" for all the major smartphone OSs by "writing once." The company has only been around for a few months but already is getting plenty of notice. We'll do a deeper dive later. PhoneGap claims to be able to do something similar but on fewer platforms. However, PhoneGap apps are apparently being rejected with greater frequency. ReadWriteWeb speculates as to why.
These "write once, deploy everywhere" solutions are inevitable and helpful for developers trying to manage at least three or four major smartphone platforms. Yahoo! has one itself in Blueprint.
Some people may be tempted to lump the new Glympse into the category of "mobile social networks" such as Loopt. And some might see it in the camp of carrier-based mobile family tracking tools, which require a subscription. It has elements of both but sits between those two poles; it's also free (goodbye family locators).
Glympse is an online and mobile application that allows users to share their location with others for limited durations (minutes or hours), thus eliminating the privacy concern associated with many location-aware social apps. It launches today on the G1 but other smartphone versions are coming very soon.
Mobile users send a link (a "glympse") to another person or multiple people (whether online or on mobile devices). The person on the receiving end doesn't need to register or download software. Whether online or on an Internet-enabled phone that person will see a map with an icon representing the sender. That icon moves on the map to show the real-time location of that person as he or she, for example, heads toward the meeting:
As the screen above indicates it also estimates arrival time. I met with CEO Bryan Trussel recently. As we discussed Glympse I found the moving arrow on the map somewhat mesmerizing. There's a game-like element here, which is somewhat self-conscious and will aid adoption. Trussel and I spoke about a wide range of use cases and possibilities for monetization and data on the map.
We discussed for example the "concierge scenario" where people in cars call their friends to ask for directions or nearby business locations (e.g., "Where's the closest Chase ATM to me right now?"). With data layers on the map, Glympse would be perfect for that use case. (Also look for third parties to approach Glympse about incorporating the functionality into their apps and sites.)
The simplicity of the product and the fact that the glympse recipient doesn't have to register or download anything should accelerate adoption. And while Loopt has been criticized in some quarters as a dating site, Glympse has relatively obvious practical value in family, business and social contexts. And the Glympse sender retains control over how long the receiver can see him/her, as mentioned.
As I suggest, the fact that it's free should pretty much kill the "family locator" carrier subscription business unless it becomes part of an upsell bundle or premium package that includes other things.
To send (as opposed to receive) a glympse one does need to download software to their mobile handset. The image below shows Glympse on Android.
Windows Mobile 6.5 is now apparently "done." It's widely perceived to be largely a stop-gap until 7 can get to market in 2010. The smartphone OS market is now so accelerated and competitive that 6.5 was necessary to prevent Microsoft from falling way behind RIM, Apple, Android and next up, the Pre.
Unfortunately I didn't get a first hand look at 6.5 at CTIA in Las Vegas. Despite a big usability push and improvements in the touchscreen user experience, the OS has been getting mixed reviews. (Part of that appears to be the result of hurry up development schedule.) My understanding is that 6.5 will become available on phones in the next couple months.
The irony here is that what may help Windows Mobile and retain users more than WinMo itself -- Blackberry is the most direct threat to WinMo -- are non Microsoft browswers such as Opera but more specifically Firefox. Redmond has been competiting with Mozilla on the PC side but the new Fennec for Windows Mobile (the only platform it's on right now) may bridge the gap between some of the mobile browsing experiences on other smartphone platforms and where WinMo is today.
Related: Microsoft is going to allow sharing of apps with friends and family (up to four people) without the need to repurchase for each device. This is a smart move that will also help the platform.
An online survey of 4,000 US mobile users (ages 12 to 64) conducted in January 2009, by Frank N. Magid Associates, found that 51% said they were accessing some type of mobile Internet content on a weekly basis. The study claims to be representative of the population as a whole. If so, that would mean roughly 135 million users in the US are going online at least weekly from their handsets.
In march comScore reported that more than 63 million people were using their handsets to go online at some point during a given month. Thus the Magid numbers emerge as the most aggressive in the market (if extrapolated to the larger mobile population).
Other findings from the Magid survey:
Some of these findings are relatively obvious given that price is a big factor in mobile Internet access and usage, and online social networking is still skewed slightly younger. Here's the smartphone ownership breakdown according to their data . . .
Millenials (18% own smartphone)
Gen X-ers (10% own smartphone)
Boomers (8% own smartphone)
Though the numbers aren't broken out in the release, price/cost and no perception of need are inhibitors. Lack of perceived need and cost uncertainty are the factors we've also found in our surveys regarding why people don't access the mobile Internet:
Source: LMS/Opus Research (3/09)
UK-based Webcredible surveyed 1,100 UK mobile users between February and April 2009 about their behavior. (Calls and SMS messages were excluded.) Here's what the results showed:
In our recent survey just under 30% were accessing the mobile Internet. Here's the mobile content hierarchy (aided) according to those results:
Mobile search was front and center at the ultimate Google insider event, Searchology. Citing statistics that show that searching from mobile devices - especially iPhones, Blackberry's and Android-based handsets - is growing at a much faster rate than search that originates from desktop or laptops, Google execs showcased product refinements that make for better coordination between fixed and mobile searching. Scott Huffman, Director of Engineering, delivered the ultimate prescription for higher quality mobile search, saying it should be "Complete, Easy and Local."
There were a number of other refinements to Google Search Options such as the organization of results into a timeline so that users can see each link's relationship to real time. In fact, the company noted that "real time search" ranks as the biggest challenge facing its engineers. From this, we can conclude that delivering results that take into account a mobile user's location is a relatively easy service to deliver. For example, the company demonstrated a service that is under development that will enable search results delivered to a desktop to be automatically displayed when the same user logs on to Google from a wireless phone equipped with a Web browser.
Closer coordination between PC and mobile search makes sense, especially for iPhone and Android users. This is the major finding of a study that Google commissioned from the Department of Statistics at Stanford University. The research, unsurprisingly, showed that searches orginating from "high-end phones", meaning those equipped with PC-like Web browsers strongly resembled those originating from PCs, in terms of the number of words per query, query diversity and user behavior. Based on these data, the researchers are concluding that high-end mobile phone users see their devices as viable means to find information.
Armed with these data, Google's researchers are building confidence that they can deliver ads that are more relevant to the mobile user.
My Windows Mobile phone broke a few months ago and Sprint wouldn't honor my insurance (but that's another story), so I can't personally test Facebook for WinMo. (I'm now waiting for the Pre to come out in early June.)
The social networking site has come to the Windows Mobile platform after successful launches on BlackBerry and the iPhone. It's not on Android however. But given Microsoft's investment in Facebook and the ads and search partnership the two have, it's a bit curious it took this long. Here are some screenshots of the Windows Mobile interface, which is quite different than the look and feel of the iPhone app.
I would also expect that at some point the search partnership between the two companies will come into play in mobile. Right now on Facebook's mobile sites all you can do is search contacts.
Facebook has emerged as one of the top mobile sites in the US and Europe according to Opera. And Facebook reportedly sees more than 25 million monthly uniques accessing the site from mobile devices on a global basis. Despite these numbers, still only a small percentage of social network users access their networks on their handsets. Our latest US survey numbers indicate that there's been a doubling of mobile social networking (accessing social networks from mobile devices) since last year -- but from a small base.
Here's more discussion of the app from Techmeme.
Pandora was the top free app on the iPhone in 2008. And being on the iPhone has dramatically accelerated Pandora's exposure and business. I now see display ads with great frequency on the device while I'm listening to Pandora (Google AdSense for Mobile). I'm also struck by how many of them are geotargeted. Their "relevance" is still lacking in many cases, but I'm watching the ads get more frequent and more relevant.
MG Siegler at TechCrunch has an interesting post about how much music buying Pandora is starting to drive, especially its iPhone app:
Users are buying about a million songs a month now from these affiliate links on Pandora, CTO Tom Conrad tells me. Of those, a solid 20% are coming directly from Pandora’s iPhone app, which includes an easy link to open the iPhone’s iTunes app, and buy a track. That’s really impressive considering that it’s just one phone that a relatively small percentage of their users use.
Urbanspoon, recently acquired by IAC, owes its entire business to the iPhone and the PR it got from being on the device (even though it has a PC site). Were it not for the iPhone Urbanspoon would have been just another restaurant site. Similarly, Pandora has been "transformed" by being on the iPhone, even though it also offers other smartphone clients.
After reaching out to mobile subscribers with some impressive applications for both the iPhone and Android, WhitePages.com has stepped up its aspirations for ubiquity. Two weeks ago, it launched a mobile Web site (http://m.whitepages.com) "powered by NetBiscuits", extending its reach to virtually any mobile phone running a Web browser. Today it launched a new application, "built from the ground up" and targeting RIM's Blackberries and available from BlackBerry AppWorld for $6.99 for six months of service.
The service is designed for mobile professionals and leverages access to WhitePages.com's database of directory listings into what we had referred to as a "Connectory" (as opposed to "Directory") by supporting:
WhitePages.com is clearly putting the emphasis on heightened productivity. Recent searches are saved for quick retrieval and contacts can be shared with Blackberry's email application.
The attention to Blackberry is well-advised. Recent statistics from NPD Group (as reported in MocoNews.net) showed Blackberry ahead of iPhone in terms of recent units shipped. Verizon Wireless's promotional efforts were given credit for various models of Blackberry accounting for three of the top five in a list of leading smartphones (with Apple in second place and the G-1 Android phone in fifth). On the flip side, the rich amount of data that WhitePages.com has associated with telephone listings and the flexibility WhitePages has exhibited in terms of working with the likes of NetBiscuits and RIM will keep its listings database in the critical path for all mobile subscribers with special attention to mobile professionals.
Facebook is now the dominant social network -- online and in mobile. It's consistently one of the top mobile sites in third party reporting about mobile usage and traffic. Its iPhone app is a huge success. So what the social site worried about?
Clearly Facebook is worried about Twitter. And it's trying to build mobile usage while trying to pre-empt Twitter as the status update vehicle of choice for PC and mobile users. Even though Twitter is still much smaller, it's much leaner and less cluttered than Facebook. I believe that Facebook does have reason to be paranoid accordingly.
Clearly Twitter couldn't replace Facebook under any scenario, in the same way that Facebook didn't and couldn't replace Google. However Twitter growth could potentially blunt or diminish a certain type of usage growth on Facebook, including into mobile. Hence Facebook's new push and nervousness about Twitter.
One could credibly argue that Apple invented in the "personal computer" and even perfected it. But Apple saw rivals overtake it and dominate the PC market for years. Now driven in part by the "halo" of the iPod and iPhone more people are buying Macs but they still comprise a tiny share of the overall market.
The iPhone has been the breakthrough device that's redefined the smartphone category made 2008 truly the "year of mobile" -- at least for consumers. But in Q1, the iPhone saw BlackBerry overtake it to claim the number 1 smartphone spot in North America. This was driven in part by the availability of the BlackBerry from multiple carriers as well as some aggressive price incentives.
According to NPD group here were the top selling smartphones in Q1:
The NPD numbers should convince Apple that if it doesn't want what happend in the PC market to happen in the smartphone market, it has to get out to other carriers. Beyond that, what's impressive in my mind is the success of the G1 given its limited availability. BlackBerry has a large, installed base who are upgrading to the OEM's newer phones. But the iPhone and G1 buyers are switching, seeking the better mobile Internet experience that both devices offer.
VZ Navigator (from Networks in Motion) has been relatively successful as a monthly subscription serivce. But it's under pressure from increasingly competent free apps and tools on smartphones. To remain viable over the long term the service has to remain one or two steps ahead of rivals.
In an effort to do so the service is going global. According to the press release out today VZ Navigator Global:
- Provides business and leisure travelers the ability to find locations and access turn-by-turn directions in North America and Western Europe, including Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom -- additional countries will be added to the service throughout the year;
- Alleviates stress or confusion caused by reading road signs or directions in an unfamiliar language -- VZ Navigator Global customers can choose either English or Spanish as the default language, and miles or kilometers to mark distances;
- Will be initially available on the BlackBerry(R) Storm(TM) 9530 smartphone from Research In Motion (RIM) while VZ Navigator Global capabilities will be available later on additional smartphones; and
- Finds restaurants, gas stations, banks/ATMs and other popular spots in these countries using Local Search.
Domestic VZ Navigator is $9.99 per month. Existing users can upgrade to global for an additional $10 per month. The service costs $19.99 per month and includes the domestic data for new subscribers.
Even more than traditional VZ Navigator, Global probably is a niche product and will have appeal to a very select class of international business travelers.
Tellme is one of the true incumbents in the "voice search" and automated directory assistance segement having been around for a decade. And two years ago to the day Microsoft acquired the company for just over $800 million, making it one of Microsoft's largest acquisitions. Today the company is announcing a range of improvements and upgrades to the underlying core speech technology and consumer-user experience that hold great promise:
These advancements include the rollout of a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) carrier service that reduces customer transport costs, advanced speech services that improve automation of customer service calls, and a new "voice font" technology that delivers a more natural text-to-speech experience.
The new speech services are a result of collaboration between Tellme and Microsoft's Speech Components Group. These jointly designed technologies will be leveraged to advance natural user interfaces across Microsoft products to benefit billions of customers worldwide.
Because Tellme operates as an on-demand service, the new capabilities are immediately available to enterprises across Tellme's platform. In addition, Tellme is now using these technologies to power its mobile services, including the Windows Mobile 6.5 application announced today.
Much of this will play out in enterprise applications, which Dan Miller discusses in a forthcoming report. On the consumer side, Tellme is promoting a single button for voice-initiated calls, SMS and search:
The new service puts many of the most popular phone functions behind a single button. Windows phone users just press the side button of their phone to:
- Send a text by saying "text" to open a text box, then speak the text message and send to call anyone in their contact list
- Initiate a call simply by saying "call" and then the name of anyone in their contact list
- Search the Web with Microsoft Live Search by speaking your request, such as "weather in San Francisco, California",
- "Pizza in Kansas City" or "mother's day gift ideas"
We saw the demo, which was impressive, but we didn't have an extended opportunity to play with the technology. On the search front Tellme says that anything one can or would do "manually" with Microsoft Live Search on the mobile handset one can now do using voice with Tellme.
As the press release excerpt above indicates, Tellme will be "baked in" to Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 at a deeper (network) level. This is a potential differentiator for Microsoft Windows phones but it's not clear whether Microsoft sees the strategic value that voice search and the Tellme user experience bring to its mobile OS.
When we were briefed Tellme presented data from a recent consumer survey that indicated a preference for voice as a way to initiate a wide range of lookups and actions, from making calls to looking up movie showtimes and getting driving directions. We have proprietary data that shows the same set of preferences in the abstract. But the abstract promise of voice has yet to translate into significant changes in mobile user behavior from our observations and tracking of the market.
Tellme also cited Sprint's real-world experience with the Instinct and Tellme voice-powered Live Search as further evidence voice's potential to impact user behavior. The company said there has been impressive adoption and use of voice search on the Instinct. And we continue to believe that voice search (done right) has the capacity to increase usage frequency and deepen user engagment.
Tellme and Microsoft of course have a range of competitors including Vlingo, Google, Nuance and others. That competition and the increasing emphasis on voice search holds great promise for the mobile user experience.
However the proof of whether speech can deliver the kind of mobile UX we've been anticipating and writing about for some time is in the actual usability and accuracy of the consumer experience. But Tellme's novel, unified "call, text, search" approach and OS-level integration with Window Mobile represent a potentially significant evolutionary step in that process.
Opera released its latest "State of the Mobile Web" (reflecting usage on the Opera Mobile and Mini browsers) for March. It covers a broad range of countries in North America, Europe, Asia and now Latin America. I'm reproducing the US and UK charts, which show top sites and handsets on Opera's network.
More data on other parts of the world are available in the full report. Google is the dominant site in most of the countries examined. That may well be navigational as much as it is "search."
Opera also looked at when people were browsing the mobile Web (24 hour clock):
The greatest use appears to be in the block between 4pm and midnight, in particular 8pm and midnight.
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.