Operating Systems

Acer Announces Q3 Android-Based Netbook

Acer, maker of the popular Aspire netbook, has said it will release an Android-powered netbook in the US in Q3. According to Reuters:

Acer was the first PC vendor to officially announce that it was making Android PCs, weeks after it said it planned to launch smartphones -- mobile phones packed with advanced computer-like capabilities -- on the same platform later this year.

There's already a Chinese Android netbook apparently. But this would be the first major OEM to offer one and in a Western market. The fact that Android is open-source means that the computer could be cheaper than comparable Windows XP-based netbook. However, carrier subsidies (AT&T and Verizon) are driving down the cost of netbooks to $99. In the UK mobile operator O2 offered a netbook for free with a service contract.

We'll have to wait and see how it stacks up performance-wise against Windows. If it does it will represent a strong challenge to Microsoft in this emerging and fast-growing segment of the market. As the conventional laptop and PC desktop markets have suffered in the recession so have Microsoft's profits. However the company says that it today owns about 90% of the netbook market, which is actually more than its PC OS share according to Net Applications

In the context of discussing a range of "major announcements" that we would be hearing about this year involving Android devices, Google CEO Eric Schmidt previously said (during the Google Q1 earnings call): 

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.

Google is banking on the browser and The Cloud as a replacement for desktop software. At the Google I/O event last week the company talked at length about HTML 5 and the impressive capabilities it brought to the browser. 

The Mobile Location Infrastructure

The NY Times covers the location infrastucture with a focus on Skyhook Wireless and how it does triangulation:

When an iPhone owner starts up an application that involves location — like the restaurant finder Urbanspoon or the forecast service WeatherBug — the phone calculates whether it is likely to get the best and fastest information from its own GPS chip or from Skyhook’s system. Skyhook says it can provide a fix on location in seconds, versus up to a minute for GPS, although Skyhook is less useful in areas with few Wi-Fi networks.

Skyhook checks a list of nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers against its database and triangulates the device’s location within 30 to 60 feet. The company says it is not connecting to those Wi-Fi networks, just detecting their presence. (As a backup, the iPhone can also use cell tower information from Google.)

In addition it appears that location is coming to the browser in the iPhone 3.0 update. That means websites will be able to tap location without users having to manually enter it and that publishers will get access to user location without having to build a "native app." 

Location in the mobile browser is a parallel development to location on the desktop browser.

Nokia Wants to Emphasize LBS As Differentiator

Nokia spent over $8 billion for Navteq so it should want to leverage LBS. According to the WSJ:

Nokia Corp. is striving to integrate location-based functionalities with other services and social applications available through its handsets, Chief Executive Officer Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said Wednesday.

"The phone knows where you are. It might know where you're going or what you're going to do," said Kallasvuo at the All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, California.

However Nokia won't have any real advantage with LBS given the general emphasis on location across mobile platforms. So it won't materialize as a differentiator in fact. At the D event Kallasvuo also demonstrated the N97, not yet in the US market. Here's how Barrons summarized the demo:

He’s going to do a Demo of their newest handheld computer, the N97, not in the marketplace yet, but coming soon. Will be in the U.S. 5MP autofocus camera. Home screen has collection of widgets. With weather info. Uses GPS to pick out where it is. Facebook feed real time. Email. AP news ticker. Widgets on the Ovi store, their version of the App Stpre. Can post photos, tag them, upload them to Facebook or Twitter or Flickr. Has 32 GB internal, plus micro SD card. Plays MP3s, AAC music tracks. Stereo speakers. Has built in FM transmitter, so works on any radio. In email, there is text to speech. Can read one email, or all of them. Also speech to text to respond. Maps functionality includes 3D, and turn by turn directions. Ovi store will recommend appropriate applications based on relevancy from data on SIM card. Twitter client. And full QWERTY physical keyboard. Browser plays Flash natively on the Web. Can play video in most formats. Can do video chat, with video camera on the front.

Here's our earlier post on the N97

Despite the fact that Nokia is the leading handset maker in the world and continues to enjoy strength in markets outside the US it's in trouble. A range of rivals continue to attack its position with increasing success. It has talked about re-entering the US market with cheap smartphones (not the N97) and that's a good strategy in my view. By contrast the N97 is not a low-end device; the unsubsidized price is apparently a whopping €550 ($695).

Unless carriers are willing to subsidize the N97 and bring the cost down to less than $200 it won't have a chance regardless of its features and capabilities. 

Google's Andy Rubin on All Things Android

CNET has a terrific interview with Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android and now Google employee. Here are a few interesting bits:

How did the goal of Android evolve after it was brought into Google?
Rubin: The goal was pretty much the same, the business model obviously changed. Google's business model is deep into advertising, and so for Google this is purely a scale of the business, we just want to reach more people, and hopefully they'll use Google and we'll get the upside of the advertising revenue.

Did you ever consider doing a phone? A Google phone?
A single product is going to have, eventually, limitations. Even if that was two products that's going to have limitations. But if it's a hundred products, now we're getting somewhere, to the scale at which Google thinks people want to access information.

Why is this [software-based] approach better what Apple or Palm is doing where they control the whole device?
Rubin: Controlling the whole device is great, (but) we're talking about 4 billion handsets. When you control the whole device the ability to innovate rapidly is pretty limited when it's coming from a single vendor.

If this is a revolution, why haven't we seen more of these phones?
Rubin: It takes about 18 months to build a phone from end to end. What we wanted to do for our market entry was make sure that we had one successful showcase product to prove that the product was reliable and robust and ready to go. We chose HTC as our partner for that.

At the moment we open-sourced, November 7 (2007), that's when a lot of these guys got their hands on it. We're still in that 18-month window of building products, and what you'll see coming up is a whole string of products.

Google is banking on third party innovation and marketing to build more scale and drive mobile search and corresponding ad revenues. Google, confident that user behaviors will translate from online into mobile, thinks that it can win simply by opening up the market -- although it has invested heavily in the mobile user experience. So far Google's strategy appears to be paying off. 

With its open platform strategy, disconnecting hardware and software, Google emerges as Microsoft 2.0 in the mobile market. The biggest threat to Microsoft in mobile is probably RIM directly because of its enterprise focus. (I've argued before that Microsoft should consider buying Palm.)

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Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the following about Android on the most recent Google earnings call: 

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.

Gartner: Smartphones Continue Their Climb

Earlier this week Gartner released its Q1 handset numbers. What they show is that conventional mobile phones are off almost 9% YoY and smartphones are up almost 13% YoY:

Worldwide mobile phone sales totalled 269.1 million units in the first quarter of 2009, a 8.6 per cent decrease from the first quarter of 2008, according to Gartner, Inc. Smartphone sales surpassed 36.4 million units, a 12.7 per cent increase from the same period last year.

Nokia continues to feel pressure and lose share in a much more competitive environment:

Global handset sales

 Picture 13

Smartphone sales

 Picture 14

Source: Gartner

If smartphones are 13% - 14% of the market today, we can expect them (depending on pricing) to become 20% - 25% in five or six years. That will mean much more mobile Internet engagment. But it also means that 75%+ of the market will still be on lower-end phones. Lots will happen in the next five years in the mobile market, including the introduction of new tablets, continued growth of netbooks and other IP-connected devices. So it's very difficult to predict mobile user behavior. 

But it's safe to say that most people will not be on these high end devices. Marketers and publishers should be mindful of that. 


Samsung Phone Is a 'Google Experience Device' After All

Samsung announced the Android-based I7500 this morning. Here are the specs:

Samsung I7500 comes with latest multimedia features. The large and vivid 3.2“AMOLED display ensures the brilliant representation of multimedia content and enjoyable full touch mobile experience. Along with supporting a 5-megapixel camera and various multimedia codec formats, the I7500also provides a long enough battery life (1500mAh) and generous memory capacity up to 40GB (Internal memory: 8GB, External memory: Up to 32GB) to enjoy all the applications and multimedia content. The phone also boasts its slim and compact design with mere 11.9mm thickness. 

Previously when Samsung said it would be making Android-based phones it said it would downplay the "Google experience" dimension of the phone:

Samsung also wanted to put its own spin on Android. Hong drew a distinction between devices built on the Android platform and "Google Experience" devices, which not only use Android but are also Google-centric, packed with the search giant's own applications. "Our commitment is more to the Android phone than the Google Experience device," [Won-Pyo Hong, executive vice president of global product] said. In other words, Samsung is doing plenty of customization work on top of the Android platform to make operators happy.

Yet in the announcement this morning the following copy prominently appears:

The Samsung I7500 offers users access to the full suite of Google services, including Google Search™, Google Maps™, Gmail™, YouTube™, Google Calendar™, and Google Talk™. The integrated GPS receiver enables the comprehensive use of Google Maps features, such as My Location, Google Latitude, Street View, local search and detailed route description. Hundreds of other applications are available in Android Market. For example, the application Wikitude, a mobile travel guide, allows consumers to access details of unknown sights via location-based Wikipedia articles.

That's a lot of Google for a purportedly non-Google experience device. It will launch in Europe in June. No word on if/when it will come to the US. However a Samsung Android phone will reportedly make its way into Sprint's line-up this year in the US. 

Is This the First Android Netbook?

On last week's Google Earnings call CEO Eric Schmidt stated that the latter half of this year would see lots of activity and announcements surrounding Android:

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.

Accordingly, there's been speculation for months about Android being an OS for netbooks. It appears the first of those has shown up from a Chinese company, SkyTone

Some have argued that Android isn't ready to be an OS for PCs/netbooks, but SkyTone (among others) obviously disagrees. 

With an open-source OS and carriers willing to subsidize hardware to gain new wireless contracts (AT&T, Verizon, O2) we're probably going to see numerous Android netbooks that are supercheap if not free (over time). With this move into the netbook world all but formally announced, Google is competing not only with Microsoft but with Apple on two fronts. 

It will be very difficult for Eric Schmidt to remain on Apple's board much longer. 

iPhone Nearing 1 Billion Apps Downloads

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:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google Earth
  3. Pandora
  4. Tap Tap Revenge 
  5. Shazam
  6. Pac Man Lite
  7. Backgrounds
  8. Touch Hockey FS5
  9. Labyrinth Lite Edition
  10. Flashlight
  11. Urbanspoon
  12. Movies/Flixter
  13. iBowl
  14. Lightsaber
  15. Sol Free Solitaire
  16. MySpace Mobile
  17. Zippo
  18. The Weather Channel 
  19. BubbleWrap
  20. Remote

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. 

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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%.

 

Skyhook Survey Suggests not All Apps Platforms to Get Equal Love from Developers

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:

  • 73% of respondents want exact location positioning. City or neighborhood-level targeting is not sufficient for most applications.
  • Applications are designed to be used in metro areas. Very few applications are designed for use in rural areas.
  • Quick location results are very important.
  • 48% of respondents say location sets their app apart, or is a core component to their app. 46% say location increases app value, and would not have developed an app without location.

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:

Skyhook location apps dist

Level of positioning req'd

Source: Skyhook Wireless

Google Upgrades GMail and Calendar for iPhones and Android, Readying Google Voice

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

GV Mobile

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.

Samsung to Launch 'Android Phones' not 'Google Experience' Devices

Samsung has said that it will be launching three Android-based phones this year, one in Europe first and then two in the US later. Sprint and T-Mobile are the US partners in all likelihood.

Forbes has more detail, including this interesting bit:

Samsung is known for its ability to hustle important products to market. So why hasn't the company released an Android phone already? Hong said Samsung was waiting, in part, for a go-ahead from its operator partners. "Some operators were concerned about the vision Google has [and] that affected [timing]," Hong said.

Samsung also wanted to put its own spin on Android. Hong drew a distinction between devices built on the Android platform and "Google Experience" devices, which not only use Android but are also Google-centric, packed with the search giant's own applications. "Our commitment is more to the Android phone than the Google Experience device," [Won-Pyo Hong, executive vice president of global product] said. In other words, Samsung is doing plenty of customization work on top of the Android platform to make operators happy.

So Google will reportedly be very much in the background on these Samsung Android devices, at the behest of carriers (though not T-Mobile presumably). It will be quite interesting to see how that approach plays out and the differences in the user experience. 

Samsung is the number two global handset OEM, after Nokia. LG and Motorola are in third place or third and fourth place, depending on whose numbers you consult.

Palm Pre and Microsoft: a Mobile Marriage in Their Future?

We can debate the merits of this statement but it's arguably the case that Palm's WebOS and Pre handset are the first truly worthy rival to the iPhone. Google and Microsoft would undoubtedly object to that. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see Windows 6.5 in action at CTIA so I can't say firsthand whether it represents a significant advance over 6.1. While generally regarded as an improvement over 6.1 in the reviews I've seen, it's also largely seen as a stop-gap measure until 7 can come out next year (probably late next year).

Back to the Pre. There are way too many expectations for the new handset. It will be a success but probably not at the level to meet the over-hyped expectations and those expectations create problems for Palm and its market valuation. If initial Pre handset sales don't put the company on an express train toward higher revenues, investors will probably say goodbye. 

But that creates a buying opportunity for someone like Microsoft. Windows Mobile has been around for a very long time and there are millions of devices that run it, with Samsung, LG and HTC, among others, committed to release millions more Windows Mobile devices in the near future. (One Windows Mobile device that looked cool but offered a disappointing experience in my short time with it at CTIA was the Samsung Mondi.)

But Microsoft is in unfamiliar territory with Windows Mobile now. Its desktop monopoly isn't helping it in mobile and the rise of RIM (the enterprise leader), the iPhone (the consumer leader) and now the open-source Android (the worthy insurgent) threaten to squeeze the OS and potentially marginalize it over time. Rather than the iPhone or RIM, Android may be the real threat to Windows Mobile longer term.

Redmond would need to swallow its pride in seeking to acquire Palm and that may prevent a serious look at the struggling company. It would be an admission that Windows Mobile isn't sufficiently competitive. Microsoft engineers absolutely believe not only that their product is competitive but also that it can win in the mobile space.

However I believe that if Microsoft wants to be truly competitive it needs to take a close look at potentially buying Palm. Microsoft might not want to be perceived to be competitive with its OEM partners via such a move. But it could incorporate WebOS or just swap out most of Windows Mobile for WebOS and not make hardware devices. 

Will Microsoft acquire Palm? I doubt it. But if not, the company needs to take some dramatic steps in the near term to ensure that it doesn't become a kind of also-ran in mobile. 

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Related: RIM posts dramatic results, says now there are 25 million BlackBerry subscribers. 

iPhone Developer Shares Fee vs. Free (+ Ads) Case Study

TechCruch offers an interesting guest post from the developer of the iPhone game app Galaxay Impact. It's a case study comparing response to the app when it was free vs. how it was received when the company charged $.99 for the download. The company also used AdMob to promote and monetize the app as well.

[T]he free downloads vs for-fee downloads is about 400:1. That means for 220,000 downloads, our revenue amounted to $550. It’s obvious that there was no way we could make money out of this with a $.99 list price.

Another lesson learned: before the price change (from free to $.99), average downloads per day was above 10,000 but after price changed back to free, the average rebounced to about 1,000 per day, which continued for a long time. If we had not experimented with charging for the app, the total number of downloads would have been much higher.

Next, we decided to try advertising and updated Galaxy Impact with ads from AdMob along with other new features. There was a huge spike of update downloads with a 30,647 peak of November 22, two days after the update release.

Regarding ad revenue the company said that it's highest daily ad revenue was $16.37 and averages "about $2.50 per day." The company also said that updates didn't really expand the audience even though they increased traffic when they were released. 

The published takeaways were the following: 

  • Free apps have a dramatically larger response
  • Ad supported apps can make more money over the long term than charging for the download
  • The overall ad revenues don't constitute a sustainable business

Caveats:

Many more such case studies need to be evaluated before any firm rules (or conclusions) such as these can be established definitively. For example, Pinch Media came to different conclusions from taking a look at the performance of a range of iPhone apps, suggesting making a paid app first and, if it succeeds, converting it into an ad-supported app. 

Ads and paid downloads are not incompatible; it's not necessarily "either-or" but can be "and." 

Apple & Android vs. Symbian & WinMo

Call it the battle of the incumbents vs. the insurgents. In the one corner is the iPhone and Android, in the other is Nokia's Symbian and Windows Mobile. Both of the latter have been in the market for years, while the iPhone and Android are newcomers.

The press likes to pit Google and Apple against one another because it's fun to write about that "battle" with all its implications: Google gains from the iPhone yet competes against it; Google CEO Eric Schmidt is on the Apple board and must recuse himself from iPhone conversations, and so on. 

Most recently Informa Telecoms came out with a deliberately attention-getting forecast that by 2012 Android would outsell the iPhone. That could turn out to be true, especially if multiple OEMs globally produce desirable handsets and sell them through multiple carriers. So far however Android has sold well but it has, to use a baseball metaphor, hit a triple rather than a home run.

I think the Google vs. Apple discussion misses the larger context and the fact that Symbian and Windows Windows mobile stand to potentially lose more than the iPhone as smartphones take a larger share of the mobile handset market. Symbian has already seen its market share suffer via the increased competition, though Nokia continues to dominate handset sales globally.

The CEO of Deutsche Telekom's large businesses division was reportedly critical of Windows Mobile at this year's CeBIT event in Germany while he praised Android, calling it "future mobile phone operating system standard."

Windows Mobile 6.5 recently was introduced, however it won't be available on handsets until late 2009 apparently. Windows Mobile 7, a more significant and potentially user-friendly improvement is coming in 2010. In the interim Windows Mobile may continue to see critical statements such as the above and general consumer-market indifference to its platform in contrast to the buzz around the iPhone and Android. 

It's thus my contention that Android doesn't hurt the iPhone (though it may slow its growth) as much as it potentially competes with Windows Mobile and Symbian. We'll see in 12 to 18 months whether I'm correct in that thesis.  

BlackBerry Apps Store Launches (See Correction)

There's no question that BlackBerry's new apps store, "Built for BlackBerry" is critical to the longer term success of the platform. However, right now it's critical for defensive reasons mostly.

The store has launched with roughly 75 apps, about 5-7 of which (by my count) are local or about place. The apps are organized into the following categories:

  • Home
  • News & Weather
  • Sports
  • Travel & Mapping
  • Games & Entertainment
  • Music & Media
  • Lifestyle
  • Finance & Banking

BlackBerry Apps Store

The arrival of the apps store should be a boost to several of the apps providers, including Poynt, one of the few local search apps currently. Yelp competitor and mobile social site Whrrl is also there. Interestingly Poynt is under Travel & Mapping, while Whrrl is classified under lifestyle. Apparently business listings are for travel but recommendations and friend finding are for "fun."

It's quite unlikely that BlackBerry will win many new users with its apps. Rather it will help retain users and may slightly broaden its consumer appeal. 

From everything that I've seen and from individuals whom I spoken with, the Storm is largely a bust while the Bold is a big hit. The Storm was in some respects an attempt to "answer" the iPhone and appeal to sophisticated users who are not in the BlackBerry camp. But for BlackBerry to truly gain consumer adoption it will need to build other new devices that move beyond its familiar enterprise comfort zone.

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Related: The iPhone apps store has apparently now crossed the 25K apps threshold

The placeholder for the Windows Mobile apps store is here

Correction: I stand corrected. I'm not a BlackBerry user so I was unaware of the site above, which I'm told has existed for some time. I'm told the true BlackBerry apps store has not in fact launched yet.

Windows Mobile 6.5 Screenshots

Below are some "leaked" screenshots of the forthcoming Windows Mobile 6.5 (taken from Gadget Mix). In addition the Windows Mobile apps store (SkyMarket or whatever it will be called) has apparently been confirmed (no surprise there).

There's a great deal at stake for Microsoft in Windows Mobile 6.5 being a hit. Windows Mobile 7 won't be out until next year and 6.1 has badly lagged other mobile OS's in the new radically more competitive world of smartphones.

WinMo 6.5 WinMo 6.5 2

Windows Mobile 6.5 and a host of other mobile offerings from Microsoft will be announced during the Steve Ballmer keynote at the Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona.

Despite millions of unit sales Microsoft is the underdog now in mobile and the company has a limited window to make the necessary upgrades to make its devices more attractive to consumers. 

Here's a video tour of 6.5's features that made its way onto YouTube. 

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See: How mobile Firefox could help Windows Mobile

Wired on Local Mobile Search

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:

  1. Trapster
  2. iNap 

  3. JOYity 

  4. Cab4Me 

  5. ShopSavvy 

  6. Google Earth 

  7. Locale 

  8. GoSkyWatch
  9. SafetyNet 

  10. SitOrSquat 


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.

Rumor: Dell to Unveil WinMo Smartphone

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.

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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. 

"Locator" is Major Component of Visa Mobile (for Android)

T-Mobile subscribers with Chase Visa's and a G1 can check download the Visa Mobile application designed to deliver "near real time alerts", such as when a subscriber is approaching a designated credit limit or if Visa has detected potentially unauthorized use of the one's credit card; "offers", which amount to promotions from participating retailers, restaurants or service providers; and "locator", which illustrates nearby merchants that will honor Visa Mobile offers.

Greg Sterling noted that Google and Visa were working on an Android-based service back in September. We haven't used the service, but reviews have been generally favorable. Including "offers" presents the possibility of a viable business model and the "locator" service is a natural form of local mobile search.

The introduction has already sparked some discussion of the need for stepped up security for mobile devices. Apparently Visa embedded some interesting weasel words in its terms of service warning that "no data transmission via a mobile handset can be guaranteed to be 100% secure." Lack of 100% security should be a well-understood given by now, if for no other reason than the fact that people have a bad habit of leaving their phones on trains, planes or cabs.

A cottage industry is about to be created to protect the information that people carry around on their mobile devices. [At LMS and Opus Research we believe that the human voice (in the form of a passphrase or voice signature) should be an important part of the equation for mobile phones, but that's a different story from a different program.]

Accenture: Higher-End Mobile Applications Underutilized by US Consumers

A couple weeks ago consulting firm Accenture released the results of a US consumer survey (n=5,047 adults, 12/07) focused on consumer electronics buying behavior and attitudes. Among other things, the research found most cellphone users don't do lots of things with their phones.

The majority "never" do these things:

  • 88% "never use their mobile phones or other mobile devices to watch videos"
  • 84% "never use their mobile phones or mobile devices to send email"
  • 79% "never play games on the go"

There's no public parsing of the data by smartphones vs. feature phones. But clearly smartphone users do play games, watch video and send email. Games are among the top applications in the iTunes Apps store (from today):

 itunes hot games

 . . . and among early Android applications downloads.

According to other survey data, email is one of the top activities and reasons for accessing the mobile Internet:

Top reasons for accessing mobile Internet

Source: comScore (3/08), n=2,000