The new INQ "Cloud Touch" is getting a lot of play today. Unveiled yesterday this is an Android-based Facebook-optimized phone. INQ is a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, which is based in Taiwan. HTC is also planning to introduce an Android phone that has a higher degree of Facebook integration.
INQ previously released a line of "social mobiles" that were social-networking optimized handsets. The Cloud Touch is the next generation of that line with an emphasis on Facebook in particular.
What's most interesting to me from the video I've seen -- I haven't held the device in my hands -- is that the phone offers a new interface for Android and thus stands out from among the scores of generic-looking Android phones now in the market. It's the first really interesting new Android interface (Motorola's Motoblur and HTC's Sense interface are basically worthless).
According to the Financial Times, "users will only have to sign in to Facebook once, when setting up the device, allowing their credentials to be used automatically by third-party applications." That will help create some interesting user experiences; Facebook recenty introduced single sign-on for mobile. This is removes friction but also creates potential privacy issues.
The Cloud Touch is also like Flipboard in a certain way in that it points to and reflects the media, links and content that are being shared; it's not all about the Facebook interface. The handsets also integrate streaming music service Spotify, which isn't in the US and may never be because of rights issues.
The new handsets are coming to the UK market later this quarter (and probably Canada) but there's no word on a US release date.
The Android apps interface is in most respects a knock-off of the iPhone interface -- all touch-screen smartphones now in the market are derivative of the iPhone -- but this interface is innovative. It may mark the beginning of true differentiation among Android handsets.
I suspect the INQ Cloud Touch will be quite popular when it's released.
Facebook is the top free iPhone app of "all time" (so far). The site is also the top site or the number two site in most countries around the world according to Opera's regular reporting. The company has more than 200 million mobile users who are the most active of Facebook's more than 600 million global members. According to the most recently published public numbers from the social network:
Facebook also operates the "0.facebook.com" site to reach users on non-smartphones. But yesterday Facebook announced a new feature-phone app from Snaptu. The idea is to drive global penetration and usage even further, recognizing the strategic importance of mobile to the future of the business.
Smartphones will be in the majority in the "West" across the board at some point in the next five years. But around the world, inexpensive feature phones or not-quite-smartphones will remain dominant for the foreseeable future. This new app will help provide a better user experience than the 0.facebook mobile Web/Wap experience.
Simultaneously Facebook is reportedly working with mobile-handset manufacturer INQ Mobile Ltd on a couple of Android-based quasi-branded smartphones. Facebook also recently launched Connect and single sign-on for mobile phones. In short the company is trying to penetrate and conquer the entire mobile ecosystem from top to bottom, from apps to hardware.
What it doesn't (yet) have is mobile advertising. This will come without question. And when it does, Facebook will be largest mobile ads network/platform on the globe.
Amazon knows how to sell things -- that's for sure. But will the leading e-commerce destination be able to sell apps for developers in a way that Google's own Android market has largely been unable to? My belief is, yes. The Amazon Appstore was formally announced on Tuesday.
Amazon must first get developers to sign up and participate; but I suspect that almost all serious Android developers will submit their existing apps for approval. The promise of a lower-friction consumer purchase funnel for apps will be a major part of the appeal. Amazon has millions of consumer credit cards on file and is a trusted retailer. The notion of a one-click purchase (like iTunes) could help developers make much more money off Android.
Here's Amazon's pitch:
Why should you submit your apps for inclusion in the Amazon Appstore for Android?
--For the first time, you will have access to tens of millions of active Amazon customers.
--Amazon’s proven marketing and merchandising features will help you get your apps discovered and in front of the right customers.
--The convenience of using an existing Amazon.com account will make it simple and easy for customers to purchase your apps - both online and on their mobile devices.
The third one is arguably the most important.
There have been persistent developer complaints that consumers aren't buying apps on Android. As a percentage of overall apps downloaded paid apps are considerably lower on Android than other smartphone platforms, iOS in particular. Part of that is the "culture" of Google and Android -- Google favors the mobile Web over apps -- and part of it is the lack of a smooth payment system. (I wrote about how Google's failure to drive Checkout adoption is now hurting the company with Android developers.)
Amazon may be able to use its celebrated recommendations and merchandising capabilities to create the leading Android marketplace. If it succeeds it will be interesting to see how Google reacts.
Previously I argued that LBS apps are as much about brand engagement as they are about deals/coupons. (Indeed this is where the money is.) Here's another of several examples: the Nissan "Juke the City" promotion using SCVNGR as an engagement tool.
SCVNGR, which just raised a $15 million funding round is being used by Nissan in connection with a sweepstakes to help build awareness of the new car.
According to the company's blog, users with the app (iPhone, Android) check in and complete challenges at locations in several cities (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco) in order to be entered to win a new Juke. There are also lesser prizes involved.
We'll see more and more smart brands use LBS apps to influence user behavior around new products this year and into the future. It's partly about location but mostly about brand awareness and affinity. And the gaming aspect works perfects in this context.
Deals are great to drive people into stores and physical locations (and for loyalty). But there's an equally large if not larger opportunity for these LBS firms and brands to work together in clever and creative ways.
In creating FaceTime Apple brought a differentiated feature to the iPhone 4: video calling. However it only works over WiFi. Fring stepped up to offer it over 3G but the company is relatively obscure outside tech circles. But now that Skype has added video and 3G support for the iPhone, it's truly poised to become a mainstream phenomenon.
Here's what the updated app does according to Skype:
Skype also repeated a stat about its usage: "approximately 25 million people [are] signed into Skype at any given time." That's a lot of people but a much smaller number than the broader group of "registered Skype users," numbering in excess of 400 million globally.
I haven't yet tried it and don't know how good it is but I suspect it will be extremely popular.
Once the iPhone comes to Verizon it will be interesting to see how Skype is handled. Currently Skype calling on Verizon's other smartphones (e.g., RIM, Android) counts against voice minutes, which makes no sense from a user point of view though it does from the perspective of a carrier worried about users circumventing or sidestepping the limits of its voice plans.
Opus Research, the firm behind Internet2Go, is putting on a different kind of social media event in San Francisco on Feb 2-3, 2011: Conversational Commerce: The Collision between Marketing and Customer Care -- or "C3."
Most social media events consider issues like "social shopping" or how community is changing consumer applications or social marketing to consumers on Facebook or Twitter. Those are interesting topics but we're aiming for something more specific and enterprise focused -- and we think we're unique or at least first with these topics.
Customer service now has brand implications because it plays out in public on social networks. And marketing organizations can learn a ton from the data and interactions being captured by customer service units. Most of the time, however, the two groups don't communicate or coordinate. This is a big missed opportunity. And one could argue that social media now forces a "conversation" between these silos within organizations -- even as it's forcing "conversational marketing" on brands.
The genesis of this event was from multiple conversations we were having with marketers and customer service platform providers. And we think we're bringing together a unique collection of speakers who don't normally appear together on the same stage. We've got companies and organizations like Cisco, RapLeaf, Yelp, iCrossing, Marchex, Innovation Interactive/360i, Edelman, Creative Realities, Acxiom, the MMA, Empirix, Lithium, Get Satisfaction, Orange Labs, Air2Web, Oodle, Closely, Vendasta, Praized, Comcast, Fair Isaac Corporation, Weber Shandwick and others still to be formally announced.
We also think we've put together a provocative and meaningful agenda that isn't full of the normal social media "fluff." Here are a few of the sessions:
The day-and-a-half event will also feature provocative case studies from Cisco, Marchex, Lithium and Get Satisfaction mixed with panel discussions.
The stakes are high for brands and marketers as they figure out how to use social media most effectively for marketing -- and customer support. Marketers and customer care people have a lot to learn from one another but they often aren't talking. This event will get them talking and will showcase best practices and concrete takeaways.
This isn't a mobile conference, a search conference, a local conference or even a social media conference per se. But it will address all these topics. We think it could turn out to be the most interesting and useful conference you attend in 2011. We're also hosting it in a club (rather than a hotel) in SOMA, San Francisco.
UK mobile content and search vendor Mobile Commerce revealed its analysis of the UK's top mobile search queries of 2010. Three out of the top 10 are Facebook:
These are, almost without exception, navigational queries. The exception is Google, which would then lead to some other kind of lookup or search presumably.
For comparison here is Opera's November list of the top UK sites visited by its users:
Below is the expanded list of Mobile Commerce's "top 100 mobile search terms for 2010." Assuming that the MC list is generally accurate what's interesting and curious, among other things, is that Google Maps appears at number 60. Yet we know that Google Maps is one of the most widely used tools on the iPhone and Android devices in particular.
What that suggests is that much of Google Maps usage is coming via app and not through the search box (of course). But it's a potential window into the larger "apps vs. search" phenomenon. Similarly, compare Opera's list above (where Amazon is number 8) to Amazon's position at number 48 on the list below. This is again suggestive of app usage or another way to get to the site (i.e., bookmark) vs. mobile search.
Sprint has stopped bleeding subscribers in the US and has won many pre-paid converts. It has also held the line on unlimited pricing as AT&T and Verizon move to usage-based pricing (which consumers don't like).
Yet being the first "4G" network has not won Sprint many or even any defectors from other carriers. As Verizon and T-Mobile roll out competing "4G" networks any hypothetical first mover competitive advantage for Sprint is gone.
However an idea floated during the recent "D" mobile conference by Sprint CEO Dan Hesse could be a real winner. According to a summary of his on-stage interview Sprint is considering offering a single plan (using the Clear infrastructure) for multiple devices, although he hedged on pricing and whether it would be truly "unlimited."
From the AllThingsD coverage:
Dan Hesse: Customers will pay a premium for simplicity. Even if it’s not in their best economic interest, they will go with the unlimited plan
Walt Mossberg: Are you not going to do tiered pricing?
Hesse: So far, we aren’t
Mossberg: Unlimited means unlimited or doesn’t it?
Hesse: No, it doesn’t . . . The trend is toward one plan for all of your devices, like tablets, phones, PCs, etc.
Mossberg: Are you going to offer plans for all those devices?
Hesse: We are thinking about it. That’s the next step to simplicity. Three years ago, it was about one device.
Pricing would be THE key to the success or failure of such a strategy, with performance a very close second. However, conceptually, this is a winner for Sprint and could gain the company plenty of new subscribers if implemented correctly. However if there were early signs of success it would be quickly copied by other US carriers.
ChaCha announced that it had answered its billionth question:
ChaCha, the #1 free, real-time answers service, today announced that it has answered the billionth question submitted by its rapidly growing user base of 25 million online and mobile users.
The ChaCha story is impressive. I won't recount it all here but it began as a "social search" engine online and then "found its voice" as a mobile answers service with voice and SMS input. It has since become a key ad platform (SMS) for reaching teens and young adults.
Other data points released (verbatim from the release):
The company says it still has 62,000 guides, though in the recent past more questions are answered via a database of existing answers.
Rival paid service kgb has struggled to maintain and grow usage volumes and is placing increasing emphasis on its daily deals offering. The two companies are polar opposites with essentially the same consumer value proposition: human-powered search results or answers. ChaCha has always had traffic because it's free, monetization and revenues were the problem, while kgb had a business model but had trouble building loyalty because it isn't free.
Both services exist against the backdrop of declining 411 volumes as people adopt other tools and platforms.
Yesterday Google launched Hotpot, a local recommendations engine that leverages Web history, your ratings/reviews and those of your network to offer personalized local business suggestions as part of search results. I wrote about it briefly on Screenwerk.
The success of Hotpot in the aggregate and for any individual in particular is based on participation; you actually have to connect with friends and rate places to see the benefits. After about 10 minutes of doing that online I started to feel fatigue (I've also got jetlag). But mobile is where this really has the potential to take off in my opinion. Ratings generated via mobile devices will also show up online as well.
Right now "rate and review" is a bit buried at the bottom of business profile pages in Google Places/Maps for mobile. But over time it will likely become more prominent, prompting people to quickly rate local business and attractions on the spot. Over time I could well imagine the majority of reviews from the system coming from mobile devices.
Taptu was an ambitious "touch-friendly" mobile search engine that didn't stand a chance of competing with Google or Bing. So the company has wisely reinvented its core product as a "social news aggregator," My Taptu.
When I saw the new look and feel -- a scrolling grid of cards or tiles that can be customized with any content source -- it reminded me of Flipboard. "This isn't just an RSS reader," CEO and former Yahoo executive Mitch Lazar told me however. Indeed the company's search technology and assets support the new app, which is available now on Android and the iPhone.
Each tile offers a summary of the content, often together with an image and a link to "read on website." Clicking the link takes users to the original source.
Content can be easily added or deleted from the rows and columns of scrolling tiles. Within sections users can quickly move through lots of content very smoothly. Overall it's a really useful and visually pleasing news reader -- although I think it can go even further in that direction.
In terms of the monetization question, one can easily imagine contextually relevant, sponsored tiles; so an ad-supported model is pretty obvious here. However Taptu's job is to drive adoption which can later be monetized.
This UI and approach would be arguably even more effective on the iPad, which would put My Taptu in direct competition with Flipboard and other visual news aggregators like Pulse.
I'm sure this is becoming more common, but I hadn't seen it previously: an advertiser driving from a mobile display ad to a Facebook page (see images below). In this case the advertiser is Visa (and the NFL) and the ad appeared on the mobile Internet HTML homepage of Yahoo.
The Facebook fan page isn't optimized for mobile so arguably it's not going to be as effective in driving fan acquisition as would be a specific mobile fan page. It could either be a test of the utility and feasibility of Facebook pages as landing pages -- or it could just be sloppy.
Previously Millennial Media reported that the following was the mix of "destinations" for mobile ad campaigns on its network:
The largest category of "destinations" was a corporate site, followed by a custom landing page and then an application download. Presumably the custom landing page is optimized for mobile and so wouldn't be a conventional Facebook fan page.
Here's the Visa banner ad and then the full Facebook landing page, which is too small to really be effective on the iPhone.
Pew has released findings from a recent telephone survey (n=3,001) that asserts 4% of PC Internet users and 7% of mobile Internet users are on location-based services such as Foursquare or Gowalla. The first number is in general agreement with Forrester's survey numbers. There are other surveys that have found somewhat higher LBS usage numbers.
Pew found LBS users tend to be male and under 30:
One of the "issues" here is how questions are formulated and explained over the phone. What definition of a "location-based service" is being used for example? (Pew typically posts survey questions but in this instance they're missing.) In addition, if you asked people about the importance of location on mobile devices the numbers would be far larger. And once again, frustratingly, Pew doesn't segment or break out smartphones vs. non-smartphones.
Pew does however segment LBS usage by users of Twitter and social networks. Twitter users tend to use LBS much more than other populations. This makes sense in many respects.
If the extrapolate these Pew figures (from the 4% figure above) and turn them into real numbers, we can say that there are about 8 million users of these services in the US.
People want to focus on scale and volume in these discussions. Yet talking about how many users there are today misses the larger point in a way. The larger point is that these services have brought together something interesting and relatively new, combining local-social-mobile, and created a model for a next-generation cityguide, among other things.
I had been thinking about LBS chiefly in terms of coupons and direct marketing opportunities. However these services can equally be brand engagement tools or mediums. In fact, in some ways they're more effective in that context. They can equally work as new customer acquisition platforms and as loyalty vehicles.
There's something very interesting going on with LBS and it's important to study that carefully. The market is changing and LBS is a new model for future services. Any of the individual companies may not survive but the larger phenomenon of social + local + mobile definitely will.
As is now widely known Facebook is having a "mobile event" on November 3. There have been many rumors of a "Facebook phone." That would be pretty interesting and exciting but it's fairly unlikely. So what will be announced?
My guess is that Facebook will first rattle off some impressive mobile statistics. Here's where Facebook's mobile stats stand today:
I'll guess that we'll hear that there are now more than 200 million active mobile users on Facebook among other juicy tidbits.
I've long speculated that Facebook would eventually become a mobile ad network. The amazing thing, if it were to do so, is that it would have equal or greater reach than any mobile carrier and probably any other mobile ad network today. But Facebook isn't immediately concerned with making money in mobile; there's no internal pressure to monetize mobile. Some have estimated that Facebook is on track to do $2 billion in online ad revenue.
Another reasonable guess is that we'll see the debut of "Facebook Deals," which may be partly tied to Facebook Places. It may also have an entirely independent existence on the PC. Right now Facebook Places doesn't offer any "reason" for users to check in -- unlike other LBS services that offer badges or coupons. I've seen estimates recently that Facebook Places has "7X" the check-ins of Foursquare, which now boasts about 4 million users.
A deals product could offer a check-in incentive and a nice advertising vehicle for brands and SMBs alike. Regardless of what gets announced next Wednesday, Facebook is a kind of "sleeping giant" in mobile and LBS. Anything it does in these realms has the potential to shake up (or accelerate) the industry.
It appears, without much fanfare, that Yahoo Answers has now gone mobile. It's a "Web app" so there's no download. It should accordingly work on most if not all major smartphone platforms through the browser.
The failure (until now) to mobilize Answers has been a big "missed opportunity" for Yahoo. It has a huge Answers community and should have mobilized the product some time ago. However now that it has the question is: will it be widely used?
The company has done a nice job with the interface but I don't find it to be a particularly interesting or useful on the go. Beyond the nicely designed UI there is little recognition of the differences between PC users and mobile users, whose needs and interests are more immediate and in some cases quite different.
For example, there's no "local" angle other than browsing prior answers, which are difficult to navigate and not necessarily relevant.
Loyal Answers users will likely appreciate and use it on the go. Otherwise it's not particularly useful for mainstream consumers who aren't already hooked into the Yahoo Answers community and who may be seeking information in near real time. However Yahoo says that the community is so large that responses come in quickly with little latency. That may well be.
In my limited usage of Answers over the past few years, I've found quality to be uneven. Sometimes it's effective and sometimes answers are weak or too general. Ask.com is preparing to launch its mobile Q&A app and we'll see how that performs.
Otherwise there are more than a dozen "social search" or Q&A services, most of which fail to really be useful enough to replace the conventional search box or specialized apps.
Amazingly ChaCha announced last night that the company had raised another $20 million from new investors VantagePoint Venture Partners and Rho Ventures. I believe that brings total funds raised to date to over $70 million.
From the release:
ChaCha has answered nearly one billion questions in the past two years alone, having surpassed even Google in mobile text search, according to Nielsen. ChaCha is the industry leader in text-based advertising and has emerged as the single best place to reach the youth market in any medium. Between online Top 100 website, www.ChaCha.com, and mobile platforms, ChaCha reaches over 15 million unique users every month.
In the course of answering questions, ChaCha creates a clever dialog with its users, which ends with a marketer's call to action. Additionally, the company will soon deploy a new MMS service that will deliver movie trailers, other video, coupon images, and rich media ads to virtually all phones, not just smartphones.
I just wrote about the new ChaCha.com at Search Engine Land. Here's some of our past writing about ChaCha at I2Go:
SMS is the single best medium to reach teens and young adults in the US (perhaps globally) and ChaCha may be the best platform for teen and youth-targeted SMS.
There was an interesting conference session recently that involved Foursquare and the company's next phase of development. According to AOL's Daily Finance, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley suggested that at some point Foursquare might try and get users to link their credit cards to their accounts. On a more mundane level he also said that there would soon be more tangible incentives for consumers to check-in:
Dennis Crowley, co-founder of social networking website Foursquare, says businesses may soon offer consumers the option to link their credit card to their favorite social networking website, or the opportunity to earn a slew of new incentives to actively promote an advertiser's products and services . . . Crowley . . . acknowledged that his website . . . is looking at models where local store owners could offer incentives for users who "tweet" or "check-in" each time they frequent a location. Some advertisers already offer consumers rewards for "tweeting" when they use a product or service certain companies want to market. Crowley expects this type of practice to increase.
Foursquare got its start with "game dynamics" but they are not enough to push the service mainstream. The possibility of becoming the mayor of some local business is not interesting to most people -- and not even possible for ordinary people. Getting a deal or reward is much more interesting however. Such incentives already exist on Foursquare and some of its rival sites.
Foursquare offers both the potential to be a new customer acquisition platform and a loyalty tool for businesses. For example I was in a bar in Dallas and was told that one could get "free chips and salsa for checking in." We did so and viola . . . lots of unwanted carbs came to the table. But I was already there.
The key is to both get new customers in the door (nearby deals does this to some degree) and reward customers for their patronage.
The mayor concept does this but there can be only one. Broadening the mayor into a "city council" of sorts -- to a group of people -- will be more effective to reward and encourage loyalty. In other words, anyone who checks in X times, gets Y reward.
Regardless the model needs to evolve if it's going to move beyond the minority of mobile users it current attracts.
It makes a lot of sense. AllThingsD is reporting that Facebook and Skype are planning a "deep" integration, which may or may not (though probably will) extend into mobile. According to the blog post users will be permitted to call and SMS their Facebook contacts for free:
Skype had 124 million people using it at least once a month and 560 million registered users, which will be bolstered by the 500 million Facebook users who will now be able to use it more seamlessly within Skype.
That will include allowing users to SMS and call Facebook friends from Skype, which will now deploy Facebook Connect.
This should further boost Skype awareness and usage in the US, where it has fewer active users than outside the country. It will also add another "practical" dimension to Facebook.
Indeed I've long thought that a more full-fledged "communications" role was out there for Facebook to seize or exploit. The company has gone some distance down this path (chat/video chat) but not anywhere near as far as it could. This deal may represent the beginning of the realization of that opportunity.
While the service could be enormously valuable to end users, the big question is: will Skype make any money off this relationship and precisely how?
Skype now makes money when users buy accounts that enable them to call mobile phones or landlines. It also makes money on SMS. It appears that most of the services contemplated by the deal will be free, although some "Skypebook" users might also convert to paid accounts as well.
The likelihood that most or all of the services will be free raises the prospect of ads. At one time, after eBay acquired it, Skype saw itself as a PPCall advertising platform and more recently the company has done a few PPCall deals with yellow pages publishers (e.g., European Directories).
There are certainly some interesting scenarios here where relevant ads could be injected into the user experience in a number of ways and either sold by Skype (unlikely) or use Facebook Ads with a revenue share to Skype. And because users will be signed in to Facebook (obviously) there are also some interesting potential targeting capabilities.
Where announced this morning that it acquired LocalGinger, a small Massachusetts-based group buying platform provider. Where is already deeply into location-based couponing but hasn't to date offered a daily deal program.
The deal was reported as a mix of cash and stock but no specific terms were disclosed.
Where could combine daily deals with very precise location awareness and might be able to offer some interesting and new things (to merchants and consumers) that aren't yet being done in the group buying space -- despite the presence of mobile apps for Groupon and LivingSocial.
Indeed Where is using the term "Flash sales" to suggest that it will use the technology to enable merchants to make time-sensitive offers that are much more time-sensitive (and local) than the current structure of daily deals:
Currently LocalGinger operates in only four small markets. As part of the deal the 10 person LocalGinger team will become part of Where, which will roll out the service nationally over the next couple of months.
What started as a phenomenon chiefly in the real world has quickly moved into entertainment. Foursquare has done deals with Bravo and the History Channel and yesterday GetGlue announced a big deal with a range of TV channels and producers: MSNBC, Disney, HGTV, AMC and Discovery. The company already had deals with Fox, HBO, Universal Studios and Showtime.
Users checking in to shows will get Foursquare-style badges, which will later become physical badges or stickers ("collect 'em all") mailed to them.
GetGlue will make recommendations to users based on their TV check-in history, and will be used as a promotional tool as well as loyalty program accordingly. More broadly across its various entertainment and leisure categories, GetGlue is trying to build what it calls the "taste graph."
Beyond the interesting use of check-ins and game dynamics/loyalty to promote TV viewing is the growing phenomenon of the mobile-TV connection. This marks the true arrival of what used to be called "interactive TV."
In the US American Idol was the first to do this with SMS voting. Others have experimented with QR codes on TV. And some TV producers have also experimented with Twitter.
We'll only see more of this mobile-TV integration to create engagement as well as incentives to show up for TV programs in this era of fickle viewers and waning and diffused attention.
Here's more on GetGlue:
See related story from AdAge: New Loyalty Apps Proving to Be a Win-Win for TV Viewers, Networks.