Google has offered a browse centric (as opposed to search) directory of local business listings for quite some time: Places Directory. But with its new Maps upgrade for Android the company is encouraging users to put "Places," a cleaner, more attractive version of Places Directory, on their homescreens:
On Android-powered phones with Google Maps 4.4, you’ll find the new Places icon in the app launcher with the rest of your apps. Press and drag it right onto your home screen to use it when you’re looking for a restaurant, shoe store, movie theater or any other type of local business. You'll get a detailed list of all the nearest places and can choose one to learn more about it on its Place Page.
Some folks are seeing this as a bid to compete more aggressively with Foursquare and Yelp on mobile devices, with check-ins to come. Maybe so, however Google is equally motivated to create uniformity and correspondence between Places online and on mobile devices. It has made a big investment in Places online and wants to extend usage to mobile devices.
Regardless of its precise motivations Google is obviously a formidable competitor in mobile, especially on Android devices. It basically "owns" the home screen unless users actively set up alternative content sources to Google.
Google now has a range of interesting and varied local assets in mobile that it needs to better integrate: Buzz, Places, Latitude, Maps, Navigation. Google can also benefit by aggregating and presenting geotagged data from the Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare APIs in one or more of these properties.
One of the issues with all of these "around me" or "near me" tools is that they fail to recognize the "near future" use case: where I'll be tonight or tomorrow. I suppose the thought is that "conventional" local search will address this need. However "where I'll be later on" is a scenario currently not well served in mobile.
Distimo put out its monthly survey of the various smartphone apps marketplaces. It contains data about application pricing and identifies the top apps on all the different smartphone platforms.
Interestingly, Android has the highest percentage of free to paid apps of the major platforms.
A couple of other things caught my eye in the report. First Yellowbook continues to have a top-performing app on Android. I was also struck by the mix of the iPad's top apps. They suggest that people don't think of it as a true mobile device, in the same way as their smartphones. The top free and paid apps, according to Distimo, suggest that it's being used in many ways like a PC and/or as personal entertainment device.
Top Android free apps:
Top iPad apps, free and paid:
Looking at the top free and paid iPad apps makes the device look very different, in my mind, than a smartphone -- and also different than a PC.
Related: No Surprise: iPad Satisfaction High.
One question making the rounds -- without a good answer -- is "what percentage of mobile search is local?" Let's put aside app usage, which can be a form of search, for the time being.
Google previously said that on the PC "20% of searches on Google are related to location." Because of the challenges in defining a local search -- is "flat panel TV" a local search because 95%+ are bought in stores? -- this 20% figure is probably conservative.
On the mobile side of the house, two Google employees have been cited (Paul Feng and Diana Pouliot) as sources for the metric that roughly one third (33%) of mobile search have a local intent. I asked Google to unpack this figure for me and I was told by a Google PR person that this number came from BIA/Kelsey Group.
I'm not confident that's actually the case, but if it is it's really weird that Google would repeat a piece of third party data when it has actual mobile query data. BIA's data are survey based and self-reported. Surveys are good directional indicators but not as accurate as actual behavioral data.
Previously Microsoft presented data (from 2008) that argued if "local intent" is the value, at least 50% of mobile searches featured local intent:
Source: Microsoft (3/10, based on 2008 data)
This morning I was playing around with Google's keyword traffic estimator tool, which allows you to look up mobile search volumes for specific queries. I looked at a number of categories and query terms: doctors, restaurants, movies and a few others. One caveat here is that I selected terms that are predominantly local terms. Product-related terms are far less local (in Google's attribution) though most products are going to be bought in stores.
What I discovered was that the portion of queries attributed to "local" on a monthly basis varied, as one might expect, by query and category. The range was 29% at the low end to 67% at the high end for the terms I selected. The average of this small sample came out at around 43%.
Someone with API access could probably do this calculation across a broad range of queries and get a better "average" than I got off my small non-scientific sample. But the point here is that there's a lot of LBS action in the query mix on mobile devices. And with specific local-intent queries there's going to be an accompanying "need it now" interest in many or most cases as well.
So let's not call it "one third." Instead, let's say there's a "local intent" mobile query range from about 20% in ambiguous categories to as much as 70% (or more: e.g., restaurants) in some categories where fulfillment is offline.
Yelp said that in May it had 32 million unique visitors, making it one of the leading local sites on the Internet. The company also released some data about iPhone usage, which are quite impressive. This is verbatim from the associated Yelp blog post:
Sites like Zillow and Trulia have expressed that about 10% to 15% of traffic comes from their mobile apps. The Yelp number is huge by comparison and shows how significant mobile has become to the company's overall brand and strategy.
Yelp's content and use cases, in most cases, are a direct fit for mobile. Non entertainment related verticals might not see the same levels of traffic and usage. But the data above illustrate that the mobile market and mobile strategies cannot be put off by publishers and advertisers for much longer.
Yelp has also taken another step in the direction of Foursquare et al by adding badges:
Now when a user checks-in to a combination of businesses, they will be able to earn "Yelp Badges." Badges you earn will help show off where you're checking in. For example, if a yelper loves to get their nigiri on at sushi restaurants, they can earn the "Sushi Sensei" badge . . . Once earned, badges can be shared with friends both via the Yelp iPhone app, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.
If users are checking into the same businesses in a given time period and/or neighborhood, they can also earn "Royal" status. Got the most check-ins at a business? You're the Duke, good sir (or Duchess, for the ladies). Most Dukedoms in a 'hood? You're the Baron! Most in the city? You're the King! . . .
The good people at Nielsen have just released some interesting survey based data about mobile applications and their relative popularity. Nielsen surveyed "4,200 people who had downloaded an application in the past 30 days."
Nielsen says that 21% of American mobile phone owners had a smartphone in Q4 2009. The number is now closer to 24% per Nielsen, our data and InsightExpress. The most popular smartphone apps, according to the Nielsen survey, are Facebook, Google Maps and Weather Channel.
The following graphic shows the category breakdown with smartphones in yellow and feature phones in blue. One interesting thing to observe: regardless of handset type the category leaders are essentially the same. Smartphones just seem to make it easier for people to do what they're already doing otherwise.
While weather and maps are both local and two of the top three categories, many more of the categories on the list address offline activity: travel, entertainment/food, movies and some portion of the shopping category.
Below are the top apps by smartphone platform, according to the survey:
Notice that Facebook is the top app on all platforms other than Android. Google search is also not among the top apps except on the Android platform.
Google previously said that it has more than 3 million users of Latitude, more than comparable LBS competitors. Now the company has released an API for developers to enable them to access Latitude user location. This is very much like what Yahoo! did with Fire Eagle (although that project has languished to some degree). Google itself did something like this earlier through Google Gears with Geolocation (now defunct).
According to the Google Mobile blog:
Since launching Latitude, our team has been talking about all the cool things you could do with your continuously updated Latitude location. While we’ve built some of our ideas, there are simply too many exciting ones for us to do alone. Instead, we wanted to let you safely share your Latitude location with third parties who could create apps that do more with your location . . .
We’ve also learned that making your phone’s continuous location available in the background is tricky to do accurately and efficiently -- just imagine your phone’s battery life if several apps were continuously getting your location in different ways? With this in mind, we built a free and open Latitude API that lets the third-party developers you choose start using your updated location in new ways without reinventing the wheel.
There are various APIs and tools in the market to get or correct location on mobile devices. The Latitude API however extends to websites as well as mobile devices. Greater location precision enables better ad targeting as well as some content personalization.
There was considerable coverage of yesterday's announcement of $20 million in new VC funding for Booyah's "geo social game" MyTown. The money brings MyTown to nearly $30 million in venture funding to date. The round was led by Accel Partners. Previous investors Kleiner Perkins and DAG Ventures also participated.
MyTown is the most "game-like" of the three competitors typically mentioned in the same breath, which include Foursquare and Gowalla. But in the larger context of LBS mobile apps and/or local search tools they are merely the "flavor of the month" among many other providers of the same or similar information. (Twitter and Facebook have yet to get deeply involved here.)
Beyond the silly "location wars" meme, the central question is whether these geo-social games are going to become "mainstream"? Or if they're not going to become "mainstream" are they going to draw sufficiently large audiences to make them effective advertising vehicles and revenue generators?
I would argue that whether or not these particular LBS apps succeed they're helping create a new culture of local and mobile behavior. I've discussed this in some detail in a client-only report: How Geo-Social Gaming is Changing Local Mobile Search.
According to an interview with Business Insider Booyah CEO Keith Lee says that the $20 million will be used to further enhance the gaming elements of MyTown or create new LBS games:
Because as Lee explains, the "check-in" is going to be a commodity in a matter of months -- everyone will have a "check-in" feature, ranging from the likes of Foursquare to Facebook and Google. It's what happens after the check-in that is going to be valuable, Lee says, and he and Booyah plan to use location data specifically to make games.
Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown are interesting because they're hybrids: part social network, part cityguide and, to varying degrees, part game. Accordingly you might be inclined to dismiss MyTown as merely a "game," but if you think about it as a viable alternative to Citysearch, Yelp, yellow pages or Google it makes the stakes higher and the discussion more serious.
MyTown gets data and ads from CityGrid/Citysearch; it also shows Google display ads and could easily implement branded sponsorships and/or a Farmville-style program of credits or currency. That would mean people would buy credits to accelerate progress or toward the purchase of locations. MyTown is similar to Monopoly in many respects.
MyTown claims more than two million users. Foursquare has more than a million. By comparison, Google says Latitude has more than three million users. Google is taking the LBS phenomenon very seriously and recently invested in another location-based social game called SCVNGR. And if Google Buzz is ultimately going to gain usage it's going to be in mobile, where it offers some of the same "tips" and annotations about places offered on Foursquare and Gowalla.
Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown are all obvious, near-term takeover targets. Foursquare has reportedly been in discussions with Yahoo! and others and is trying to decide whether to remain independent. It probably will for the immediate future. MyTown is probably the least likely of the three to be bought by a traditional local search or portal player. I could imagine a gaming company such as a Zynga ultimately acquiring Booyah.
As the major features of these LBS game sites are emulated and absorbed by others (check-ins, coupons/deals, tips and local annotations) the question becomes: does their novelty whither and die in a year or two or can they develop sufficient momentum and critical mass to be self-sustaining?
On Foursquare and elsewhere mobile/LBS check-ins wind up being a form of mobile loyalty: check in the most, become the mayor, get free stuff. However Where is putting a slightly different spin or check-ins and local deals. The company is now going to be exposing people to local coupons and deals at the moment they check in:
When using WHERE to help discover local places, consumers will now receive coupons from local merchants when they check-in to a location. WHERE offers one of the most comprehensive collections of mobile coupon and offer inventory available from restaurants, retail stores, spas, and other service providers. With hundreds of thousands of deals presented daily, WHERE is a leader in helping mobile users find great deals nearby.
Where is aggregating deals from multiple sources (as with its local ad network) including the new DealMap.
Rather than a loyalty tool, rewarding people for their repeat business, this version of mobile coupons/deals become more of a new customer acquisition tool for local businesses nearby.
Netherlands-based Layar has launched an "app store" of its own -- a "paid layer" on Layar. The augmented reality (AR) browser says it has 1.6 million users. In a bid for more usage and a business model, the company has announced that it will offer users the ability to unlock paid apps or content that can then be viewed within the AR browser environment:
The Layar Payment Platform is setup to support multiple payment providers and multiple currencies, ready to serve the different local markets. Layar deals with legal, administrative and tax rules enabling the publisher to focus on their core activities: creating valuable experiences. The first payment provider is PayPal, supporting payments to residents of United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. More countries, currencies, payment methods and payment providers will be added regularly . . .
The first publishers to seize the opportunity include among others:
Berlitz City Guides: Berlitz helps people experience the city’s highlights: the best attractions, coziest restaurants, most comfortable hotels, coolest places to shop and most fashionable nightlife.
Mouse Reality for Disney World and Disneyland: Helps find and navigate all attractions, shows, shops, dinning, transportation, and more in Disneyland and Disney World.
EyeTour: Explore Puerto Rico’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage through exclusive video content of historical sites, museums, restaurants, parks and more.
UK sold prices: ‘Sold House Price Data 2010′ – Check the latest UK residential Sold Price information as recorded by the Land Registry while on the move.
Here are a couple of screens from the Berlitz city guide app within an app:
This makes great sense for the company and may help it offer something different vs. competitor Wikitude and eventual competitor Google (Goggles). The challenge here is to have high quality, unique and/or branded content that is not readily available otherwise. Otherwise, free content and local information on other apps will prevent this from really taking off.
AR will have a future as a quick way to get access to more information or content about a place, product, person or object (e.g., a painting or building in front of me) vs. keying in or speaking a query. But today it remains mostly a novelty and not a daily utility.
That was fast. After launching its iPhone app late last year, barely six months ago, and raising approximately $24 million in funding word now comes that Siri has been acquired by Apple. Siri is an "artificial intelligence" platform that manages speech and text input and connects "natural language" requests to actions such as buying movie tickets, getting taxis or making restaurant reservations.
The Siri technology comes out of SRI with funding from DARPA and exists “in the middle,” between the speech recognition and the back end, tied to the third party APIs. There’s a very sophisticated “engine” and algorithm there that enables the service to understand queries and commands such as:
It seeks to move beyond "search results" to their ultimate objective: getting some task accomplished. Indeed in some respects it is/was the ultimate local-mobile application. Now Apple owns it.
In the growing myopia of "Google vs. Apple" coverage people can only see the acquisition as part of some larger "war" between the two companies or an effort to block or thwart the other. However, Siri's technology independently could well have broad application to the iPhone and iPad regardless of the existence of Google or its mobile ambitions. But it doesn't hurt in that horse race either.
Dan Miller has some insightful thoughts and perspective in his post.
Place Pages is a cornerstone of Google's stepped up local strategy. As part of that the company has now created a mobile-friendly version of Place Pages.
These information-rich pages are conceived partly as consumer-facing information but also as complete website alternatives for local businesses. Toward that latter objective Google provides analytics and various promotional tools on those pages, including coupons. The company is trying to encourage SMBs to utilize Place Pages as promotional and CRM platforms:
Holding a special event today? Want to post a coupon for 5-7pm tonight? Have a new product in stock? You can now get the word out by posting to your Place Page directly from your Local Business Center dashboard. Once you've logged in and are on your business' dashboard, post an update and it will go live on your Place Page in just a few minutes . . .
Here's a "triptych" of a new mobile-optimized Place Page:
Here's a video demo of the new Place Pages:
AT&T Interactive has added voice search to its YPMobile app. The speech technology comes out of AT&T Interactive labs, which previously released the quasi-experimental "Speak4It" local search app.
In my brief testing this morning I found the app does well with traditional business name and category queries. There were no mistakes. But it doesn't do well with "semantic" queries such as "What's going on this weekend for kids?" That sort of search is the specialty of "personal assistant" Siri, which does a good job with unstructured queries.
In fairness to the YP Mobile app, most people have been trained to use voice search to do a version of directory assistance-style lookups. And for those it will do fine. There are now at least 10 voice search-driven local apps in the iTunes app store from Nuance, Google, Vlingo, Microsoft, AT&T and others.
Voice search will at some point be a mandatory part of any local-mobile search tool.
I also expect that at some point AT&T will offer a Buzz.com mobile app. It would be intriguing and useful if voice were integrated into that hypothetical app.
The Mobile Marketing Association has released some pretty compelling survey data about location-based services and advertising. The survey was conducted among 1,071 US adults in March; 91% of the survey sample had a mobile phone. Here are some of the top-level findings (nearly verbatim):
(Emphasis is mine.)
As the iPhone user numbers point out, smartphone owners are much heavier users of these services. In a 2009 AOL survey, for example, 73% of smartphone owners were users of maps and directions. The new datapoints are the following:
Yellow Pages Group yesterday introduced a nouveau iPhone app called "Urbanizer." It's highly social, focused solely on restaurants and very nicely designed. Yellow pages branding is almost non-existent. The app is intended to appeal to a young, urban demographic that might not associate the yellow pages with "cool" restaurants and entertainment.
The app incorporates data from YPG's CanadaPlus cityguide as well as recent acquisition Restaurantica. It utilizes Facebook Connect to build the social graph into the app as well as to broadcast information back through the Facebook news feed. One of the novel dimensions of the app is the ability to make restaurant choices by "mood." According to the press release:
With Urbanizer, urbanites can now discover local places by telling the app what they are in the mood for. For example, users can choose from a selection of pre-defined moods such as "romantic dinner" and "hipster snack" or use Urbanizer's equalizer function to create a custom mood based on combinations of cuisine, ambiance and service categories.
Urbanizer also enables users to tag places by "mood" and shows a "mood map" (vs. a heatmap) of the various cities it covers in Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. Here are some screens from the app:
Yellow Pages Group has recently been making very interesting moves in buying a number of online verticals and diversifying its sources of traffic. Like AT&T's Buzz.com (which has a mobile component at m.buzz.com) Urbanizer represents an effort to reach into new demographic segments and build vertical sites/apps that offer both targeted traffic and leads to advertisers but also offer new user experiences to consumers.
Skyhook Wireless this morning announced a new developer SDK that enables anyone to add location to their content and apps. According to Skyhook there are roughly 8,000 location-enabled apps in the iTunes store, out of roughly 160,000 total. Since its business is about location and local is the "heart of mobile," the company wants to further enable developers to add location in a painless way.
Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan also makes an interesting argument that location is a kind of "gateway to community." Morgan believes that learning about what people around you think is valuable or interesting can help these apps build community and loyalty. Location becomes a basis for community because it makes abstract ideas and content such as news, photos, music more concrete in a local or offline context. Location offers a shared circumstance or experience that can enable people to discover and connect with one another.
To that end Shyhook has created a "Local Favs" SDK. According to the press release:
Local Faves helps developers create engaging communities within apps, driving user loyalty and more opportunities for monetization. In a Local Faves-enabled iPhone wine app, users could check-in to a restaurant via the wine they’re drinking, giving the wine app developer the opportunity to directly broadcast user location. Local Faves features fully customizable content tagging, allowing users to indicate that that they loved, hated, ‘favorited’, saw, or read a piece of content within an app, and enables sharing of this content, and exactly where it was experienced, via Facebook and Twitter.
Morgan demo'd the functionality with a dummy app the company had created around drinks. They took the Esquire drinks database and created a very slick iPhone app around it. The idea is that users identify where they consumed, say, a Pina Colada or a Cosmopolitan or Sex on the Beach, etc. The location is captured and can be shared socially: I'm in Manhattan and just had a Martini . . .
Over time, you'd get a sense of the favorite alcoholic beverages in different areas of the country: Boston likes Scotch while Oregonians like beer -- hypothetically.
Skyhook's SDK provides all the pages and functionality, making it very easy for developers to plug in these local and social features. Because of that and the fact that it's all free, it's a missed opportunity not to use this.
AOL's MapQuest has added voice support to its MapQuest4Mobile iPhone app, which is free. It offers basic turn-by-turn voice prompts. In addition to Google Navigation and the now-free Ovi Maps with directions, this marks another nail in the coffin of paid-GPS devices and services.
According to the updated features listed on the iTunes site:
Because Google Navigation (with turn-by-turn directions and voice prompts) isn't yet available for the iPhone, this app has a good chance to gain widespread adoption -- provided it gets sufficient promotion and word of mouth.
It's now been repeated in a couple of places and attributed to two separate Google employees (Paul Feng and Diana Pouliot): roughly one third (33%) of mobile search has a local intent.
This number will now be repeated and repeated. Let's be careful. It's one important data point but not necessarily gospel. I'm going to follow up with Google and clarify what this means.
Earlier this month, at the SMX West conference, Microsoft presented information that suggested local intent is behind an even higher percentage of mobile search queries:
Source: Microsoft (data are from 2008)
What this argues is that "local intent" queries are at least 50% (in this data set). With that said, people look for lots of information on their devices that has little or nothing to do with their immediate location: news and sports being chief examples. But almost all the commercial queries that are run through a search engine are going to ultimately be about the offline world.
It's not clear in the Google example whether apps are being factored into the figures. I suspect not.
Comscore has said that roughly 12% - 13% of online search is local (using a very conservative methodology). Does that mean that mobile search is almost three times more local? I would argue because of the context mobile search is more local but not that much more if we consider the actual point of purchase or fulfillment for the majority of transactions -- offline.
Local-intent search is simply more "visible" or "transparent" to everyone in a mobile context than it is on the desktop. It's also true that people on mobile devices doing commercial queries typically have a more immediate need than those on a PC -- they're closer to the point of sale literally and figuratively.
I don't think we should take the 33% figure as definitive but rather as a directional indicator of the importance of location on mobile devices.
Today, businesses in 72 of the top metropolitan areas in the United States will be able to use tools provided on SuperPages.com to issue electronic coupons using Twitter. You can see the list of cities here. Participating businesses can upload coupon information to their SuperPages.com profile. The offers are then presented as "tweets" that include hashtags that include the city name (for example #sanfrancisco) and the #coupon, as well as a link to the businesses' mini-site or landing page under the SuperPages.com banner.
SuperPages.com also provides merchants with the tools they need for ongoing management of multiple electronic couponing campaign. They can create up to three different coupons at a time. For each campaign they can set a start date and expiration date, add a disclaimer, support coupons in multiple store locations. Each offer can include a promotion code to enable merchants to track specific offers. They can update the information at any time.
Shoppers can find coupons by "following" the appropriate city-specific Twitter account. They follow the convention "SP_[city_name]". SP_SanFrancisco, for instance, already featured 77 "Tweets" representing electronic coupons from a number of businesses, including public storage, visa services, locksmiths and many others. There are alternative ways to search for the coupons on Twitter, but they find other offer aggregators as well. For isntance, entering "#coupons #sanfrancisco" in the search box at "search.twitter.com yielded no results (though I don't understand why). Entering "#coupons" in the search box yields results from a plethora of aggregators, with Twitter names like RedTageDeals, CouponSlinger, DealsVista... (you get the idea).
The 72 cities are also listed in this Press Release, along with the suggestion that Twitter users find and follow their specific locale through @superpages/superpages-cities.
Verizon's LiveSource DA service has added the ability to search by intersection, landmark and neighborhood to its capabilities. The database that enables this is from Call Genie.
While this is a nice enhancement comparable capabilities have existed for some time on competing services. DA services in general face double-digit usage declines at the hands of smartphones and most DA providers are scrambling to answer the question: should we simply manage this business as a "cash cow" or compete aggressively with new features and capabilities?
A majority of the market still consists of non-smartphones and on these handsets there's still an opportunity to grow usage.
I caught up with Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless, and he gave me a preview of some exciting stuff to come out of the Boston-based firm. However I'm forbidden from discussing any of it right now.
We also spoke about the state of the major smartphone platforms and Morgan gave me some visibility into app developer perspectives on each of them. "It's not that different writing code for HTML5 apps vs. a native app."
We also got into Windows 7, the iPad, Apple vs. Google and some other juicy and off-the-record topics.
Skyhook provides location technology for the iPhone and most of the major location apps on the various smartphone platforms, although most of the action, from Skyhook's point of view is still on the iPhone. Skyhook in one way or another is seeing the activity on 80 million devices across North America, Europe and Asia and the company is sitting on a mountain of interesting data as a result.
Morgan told me that Skyhook's servers see 300 million location lookups every day. Yet only about 5% of the apps across the apps stores are location aware. In particular Morgan said that there were about 8,000 location-enabled apps in the iTunes store, out of roughly 160,000 total. That's a kind of a paradox if one operates from the premise that location is at the heart of the mobile experience.
Morgan discussed another more subtle and complex use for location on mobile devices, beyond finding places and people. He sees a location layer or location awareness as a way to build community: for example, news apps or music apps that show what's popular in a particular geography. Location is a layer or aspect but not the center of the experience necessarily.
Morgan believes that learning about what people near and around you think is valuable or interesting can help these apps and sites build community and loyalty. Location becomes a basis for community because it makes the abstractions of news, photos, music more concrete in a local or offline context. Location offers a shared circumstance that can enable people to discover and connect with one another.
With community and loyalty, Morgan believes, come new opportunities for monetization as well.