Other Mobile Devices

T-Mobile Invests $6 Million in DeCarta for LBS Insurance

T-Mobile's venture arm has invested in geo-software provider DeCarta:

Location-based services are experiencing rapid adoption as consumers are using new applications that take advantage of location-enabled handsets. Location and mapping services have become a central ingredient in most mobile Internet platforms. deCarta's geospatial software platform gives mobile LBS application developers and mobile operators the ability to quickly build and deploy applications that integrate a wide variety of map and data sources to provide complex local search, navigation, mapping, social networking and spatial search functions.

deCarta's technology is ideal for the full continuum of mobile LBS solutions including off-board, server-based applications offered by mobile operators through to "connected navigation" -- the ability to integrate personal navigation devices and smartphones through real-time two-way mobile connectivity to a variety of dynamic data sources and local search services.

DeCarta clients have included Ask.com, AT&T, Google, Hotels.com, Maps.com, Qualcomm, Sprint Nextel, Sage-Quest, Verizon, Yahoo!, Zillow.com. T-Mobile also recently invested in Whrrl.

Previously, personal navigation device maker Tom Tom acquired TeleAtlas, while Nokia acquired Navteq.

Carriers see mapping and related data services as strategic in the segment, so I would imagine there will be other such investments, leading ultimately to acquisitions.

Touch Screens Everywhere

I'm in New York for the MMA conference this week and I flew from San Francisco for the first time on Virgin America. There's less leg room in coach than on jetBlue but the airline does have an impressive touch-screen entertainment system called "Red."

Red is an on-demand content portal of sorts that also is the way that you order food on the plane. It supports live chat between seats, gaming, shopping (coming soon) and email/text messaging (coming soon). The typing is on a small keyboard that is on the back of a remote control that pulls out of the seat armrest. It's quite a bit more advanced than anything comparable on other carriers. And, most other things being relatively equal, it may be a tie-breaker in terms of which airline to fly.

Though this isn't supported (yet), there could easily be a way to tie Red to the Internet so that frequent fliers could personalize their content online and then retrieve it onboard. This would be a great piece of Virgin's loyalty program and could be relatively easily engineered.

After I landed in New York I was in a cab with a touch-screen kiosk in the back seat. Though the user experience was quite poor, it offered maps, things to do and so on. It also took my credit card.

Every new mobile device, owing to the influence of the iPhone, is a touch screen device. But, as these examples above illustrate, IP-connected touch-screen devices will move beyond "mobile" and proliferate in the next 5-10 years. This will create very interesting opportunities and scenarios for users, content producers and advertisers.

iPhone PR: Money Can't Buy That Kind of Publicity

One of the things that put Skyhook Wireless on the map from a PR perspective was Apple CEO Steve Jobs' mention of the company on stage earlier this year, discussing the iPhone SDK. Money can't buy that kind of publicity, to paraphrase Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan.

Also in that camp today is Loopt, the mobile social network and friend finder. The company's CEO Sam Altman did an iPhone demo on stage in San Francisco. We'll see if Whrrl gets a mention as well.

A range of apps, from SEGA, to eBay, Loopt, AP and TypePad have shared the stage so far . . .

Jobs: 98% of iPhone users are doing mobile browsing (of the Internet). He confirms the 3G iPhone. Says iPhone 3G is faster than other 3G phones, cites Nokia and Palm. Jobs says "3G speeds approach WiFi."

He also confirms the price cut and GPS (combined with WiFi and cell tower triangulation). There's also extended battery life beyond iPhone 1.0. Jobs touts location-based services and content on iPhone 2.0.

Jobs says they're will be distribution in 70 countries around the globe for iPhone 2.0.

Jobs announces the new price: $199 for 8G with a 16G model for $299. That's going to drive huge sales globally. Release date is July 11 in 22 countries.

iPhone price cut

image credit: Engadget

Between a Laptop and the iPhone

On the one hand there is the laptop (or smaller sub notebook) and on the other the iPhone or Nokia Internet Tablet. The laptop is too big to be truly useful as a mobile computing device and the iPhone or Nokia devices don't allow for a wide array of uses (e.g., writing/editing documents). Is there something in the middle? A recent NY Times article explores that possibility.

I've written in the past about what I've called the "two device scenario," wherein someone carries a mobile phone but also another device for mobile Internet access. In my mind the Amazon Kindle or Sony eBook Reader are the right size and form factor (with several improvements) to be a model for that as yet undeveloped better mobile Internet device.

But there are also other potential scenarios that are equally fascinating. One of those in my mind involves near-ubiqutious Internet "kiosks" that complement personal mobile access (think ATMs turned into quasi-Internet acess devices with touch screens). I think it's only a matter of time before one of the major banks offers something like local maps or selected local content via their ATM network (together with related advertising).

One of the most compelling pieces of technology to come out of Microsoft in a long time is Surface, which is now in use at some AT&T Wireless stores. It might be incorporated into many future applications including outdoor kiosks, which could provide people with a better "mobile" Internet experience, when they're traveling or out and about.

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Voice as an input mechanism has a major role to play on these smaller devices.

Helio Mysto Offers GPS-Enabled Mobile Search

Helio has released Mysto, a phone that is made by Samsung but not available in the U.S. market from any other carrier. Here's the relevant part of the press release for our purposes:

With the introduction of WHERE and Tellme, Mysto expands on Helio's line-up of GPS-enabled services that already include geo-tagged images and videos uploaded to Flickr and YouTube, Buddy Beacon, Google Maps for mobile and Garmin Mobile. Tellme, a subsidiary of Microsoft and the first one-touch voice search application for mobile in the U.S., lets users simply press one button and say a word to receive local search results, no need to know your location or spend time typing, just say what you want and get it. Tellme returns local listings containing phone numbers, maps, turn-by-turn directions and the ability to SMS the listing to friends. Now, Helio members don't have to worry about saving restaurants, theaters or other business listings in their address books and finding a late night snack is a snap.

WHERE, a service of uLocate Communications, a GPS widget platform worldwide that gives users access to a library of location-enabled applications. WHERE provides information on things like local weather and events based on the user's current location. WHERE is accessible on Mysto through its location-aware mobile browser and is a free service for Helio members.

So Tellme is "baked in" to Mysto and allows people to speak terms and get results back on screen. The WHERE platform/functionality allows a range of third-party publishers' content to be GPS enabled and available to users through the device. uLocate also has carrier deals with Sprint, Alltel and MetroPCS.

WHERE's widget-based platform is not unlike Zumobi, now in private beta, or the new Yahoo! mobile platform.

Voice Search and LBS in the Grocery Store

mediacart

Microsoft and a company called MediaCart have teamed up to offer "local" ad targeting and voice-enabled search inside grocery stories. The basis of all this is a smart shopping cart with a video touch screen that can receive RFID signals, which allows for store-aisle and product-level ad targeting. The carts do voice recognition so consumers can ask "Where's the cheese?" and the cart's screen will display precisely where in the store according to a map/diagram.

Brand advertising and in-store coupons or other promotions can be displayed or beamed to the carts based on consumer location within the store (giving new meaning to "location based services"). There are also a range of personalization options and other features that make this a fascinating and somewhat scary technology.

I have a longer post at Search Engine Land

Voice Search on Garmin Devices

Garmin nuvi

I meant to blog about this last week and forgot to. This video featuring the NY Times' David Pogue reviews a range of "buzz worthy" products from CES (a Windows Mobile ad precedes the video). Among them is a Garmin nuvi with voice control/speech rec. for in-car search.

All the PND makers are doing deals with the major search providers to get their capabilities and local content onto these GPS boxes to make them more versatile and competitive with increasingly functional (and location-aware) mobile phones.

The price of the Garmin device is a prohibitive $1,000+

Magellan Device Adds Google Local Listings

Magellan Elite

The Wi-Fi-enabled personal navigation device Dash Express offers content from Yahoo! Local, as well as other content providers (e.g., Zillow). Dash sees itself as an "open platform" that will continue to add content and features over time, transcending the "personal navigation" category as a non-phone mobile Internet and content device. More established competitor TomTom offers "points of interest" and local content from a range of companies; Garmin's devices also have much of this same information.

But Magellan Navigation will be the second company, after Dash, to partner with a search engine to offer local content on a device with real-time wireless connectivity. (TomTom has a deal with Google, where one can send maps to a TomTom device.) The forthcoming Magellan Maestro Elite 5340+GPRS is being introduced at CES next week and will become available in March. The cost is an unfortunate $1,300, which all-but-prevents it from having mainstream appeal.

The Dash device is less than half that price at $599, which is still too expensive for most people. TomTom devices range in price from $199 to over $1,000. The iPhone, by contrast, is $399.

Price is a huge factor in this market -- perhaps the factor. The Telematics Research Group (TRG) has projected that mobile phone makers will overtake TomTom, et al. in the next 5-7 years in the personal navigation market, as phones increasingly double as navigation devices. As TRG also correctly points out, non-phone personal nav devices will need to be connected and loaded up with local (and other) content to be competitive with smartphones going forward. In other words, maps and GPS navigation by themselves are no longer enough. (Ads on these devices is the topic of another conversation.)

As an HTC 6800, Windows Mobile 6.0 user (with Live Search, Google Maps, Yahoo! Go and the Opera Mini loaded), I already have no reason to buy one of these personal nav devices. As also mentioned, prices will have to be aggressively lowered for these devices to be competitive longer term. Current, relatively high price points make them highly unattractive vs. smartphones, which are now almost as good.

Apple and the Return of the Newton?

Apple Tablet

There are many rumors of a forthcoming Apple "sub-notebook," small laptop. And an independent company created a keyboard-less Mac-based tablet computer, the ModBook (with GPS).

Years ago Apple was way ahead its time with the failed Newton. The iPhone and iPod Touch are successor devices that point to mobile computers with somewhat larger screens but that are more portable than traditional notebooks. A better designed and perhaps smaller version of the Amazon Kindle would be such a device.

I believe there is a market for an Internet-enabled, touch-screen tablet device (with some sort of virtual keyboard or slide-out keyboard) that offers a mobile Internet experience more like the desktop but small enough to be truly mobile.

Nokia 'Internet Tablet' Mobile Device Doing Well on Amazon

The Apple MacBook is number 1 on the best selling computers list on Amazon. While that may come as a surprise to some, the bigger surprise is the fact that the Nokia N800 device is number 3.

The N800 isn't a phone; it's a small WiFi-enabled Internet access device. Here's my write-up of the 810 from CTIA when I got my hands on it for about five minutes.

The surprising showing on Amazon indicates the demand for larger screen mobile devices and that non-phone mobile Internet devices may have a future.

In the Future GPS Is Everywhere

People often talk about GPS or cell/WiFi triangulation being the "killer app" for mobile. That's not entirely true but these technologies do potentially improve the user experience and provide for better ad targeting to boot. However, GPS on consumer devices isn't limited to cellphones.

The in-car and personal navigation systems offer it. There's also an interesting device is from a company called Zoombak. The Zoombak device enables you to track a pet or your kids. These technologies are sold to people on the basis of "safety" but there are many interesting applications beyond safety per se. Sprint Family Locator is another such system being sold on the same general basis (using mobile phones).

The eventual ubiqutiy or near-ubiquity of location aware technologies on phones, personal nav devices and other portable techologies will create the infrastructure for "friend finding" and one flavor of mobile social networking. Of course, it could also be used to support nefarious government domestic surveillance and spying. (Merry Xmas.)

Z2: Another Interesting Non-Phone Device

Z2

The new Z2 from Zipit Wireless allows users to send and receive text messages (connectivity not included) as well as store and view photos and play music. There's no browser that I'm aware of, but that would theoretically be possible. Relying on the popularity of IM with its target youth market, the company plans to charge $4.99 per month for roughly 3K messages, undercutting the text plans of wireless carriers.

I'm skeptical that the device has the right combination of features (it needs Internet, which could include VoIP) to gain broad adoption (cost: $149) but it's another interesting wireless device that has potential.

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The Kindle has reportedly sold out but the Internet browsing experience is apparently quite poor. I think that version 2.0 with a better Internet experience (and slightly different positioning) could make this device a mainstream success. The Internet is included (based on Sprint's 3G network), which is the most compelling part of the whole thing.

Dash Express Finally Arrives (Almost)

The much anticipated competitor to TomTom and Garmin personal navigation devices, Dash Express, is almost in the market. Engadget has a "hands on" look at the beta product. The review is highly favorable.

While most of these devices have "points of interest" and local business information, Dash goes further with a range of content deals that include ratings and reviews from Yahoo! Local and real estate listings from Zillow. Indeed, it calls itself an "open content platform," which suggests many more such deals to come. Dash also offers personalization and Web-based customization (MyDash), which, together with its other content, represents a competitive advantage over similar devices.

The device is GPS-enabled, and connects via WiFi or cell network. The WiFi and GPS make the local data better and more accurate in terms of what's "near me." In addition to purchasing the device for $599.99 (probably too high), consumers will need to subscribe (Think TiVo). There's a two year pre-pay plan or a one year plan, making the ongoing cost of the device either $9.99 per month or $10.99 per month to connect to the Internet. You can also pay month-to-month for $12.99. Retail distribution will begin in Q2 2008.

There is no advertising on these products yet but they will become ad and mobile commerce vehicles (so to speak) eventually. Expect search and search advertising to eventually make its way into these devices and into cars.

These devices also play into the "two device" scenario I've written about, where people have a small phone for voice and another device (with a larger screen) for mobile Internet access.

Here's a YouTube video that shows the Dash Express pitch from the Web 2.0 conference. And here's a review from Yahoo! Tech.

Mobile Phones to Become Boarding Passes Too

In addition to your mobile wallet and general, everything device, wireless phones may soon double as airline boarding passes. As USAToday reports:

Continental Airlines passengers in Houston will be able to board flights using just a cellphone or personal-digital assistant instead of a regular boarding pass in a three-month test program launched Tuesday at Bush Intercontinental Airport. The program could expand to airlines and airports nationwide.

Instead of a paper pass, Continental Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration will let passengers show a code the airline has sent to their cellphone or PDA.