I had read about Qik a number of times, but first saw the service in action a couple of weeks ago when I moderated a panel on new mobile startups at the offices of France Telecom/Orange in South San Francisco. It was an impressive service and dead simple. Today, the service goes from "private beta" into "public beta."
Qik permits live video streaming in real-time (or near real-time). Clips are achieved and can be shared or embedded in third-party sites. There's also a social networking dimension to Qik. Now the service is on the iPhone too. (At the Orange event, Qik was one of two services that did not use the iPhone for demo purposes.)
The use cases for Qik are many and varied and there are lots of B2B scenarios. Think also: news, travel, events and so on. The simplicity of the service all but guarantees its success. But quality will need to improve for more "professional" uses.
TechCrunch -- that's right the blog -- has decided to build a WiFi-enabled, touch-screen, open-source Internet tablet, aiming for a price of $200.
Image credit: TechCrunch
If they can build a product at that price it may actually come into being as a mass-market device (PC makers fear such devices). I've written again and again about a scenario in which we carry a "phone phone" that does voice very well and a larger screen device for mobile Internet browsing. This TechCrunch initiative further convinces me that that scenario will come to pass -- it's only a matter of time.
The real question is not the hardware but the connectivity issue: will there be enough coverage to drive such a product to mass-market status? If, for example, Clearwire/Xohm takes off and/or LTE takes flight and is available to the public at reasonable rates, these sorts of devices will proliferate. Kindle is the early model.
As TechCrunch points out, the form factor is somewhere between the current iPhone and a laptop. The next-generation OLPC is another such device. I'd love to see TechCrunch succeed in this intiative, especially at the desired price-point.
Opera has released a free new version (9.5) of its full mobile browser, as opposed to the Opera Mini. I downloaded it and am so far impressed with its speed and usability. It offers tabbed browsing, like on the desktop.
Now you've got both Opera and Skyfire (Safari on the iPhone and soon Mozilla) going head-to-head with features in a bid to bring "the real Internet" to mobile devices.
Zumobi has launched its widget-based application for Blackberry. Conceptually similar to Where or the iPhone, the app provides distribution for a range of content partners (via "Tiles") on an customizable interface. Those partners include NPR, AP, Twitter, Facebook and a range of others. In addition, the widget format offers a range of interesting brand and merchant promotional opportunities.
Where just launched a successful application for the iPhone that incorporates its content partners, who in many cases (i.e., Yelp, Eventful) have their own independent iPhone apps. A Where executive told me yesterday that the people seem to be responding to the convenience of having lots of content (local metasearch) in a single iPhone application.
Zumobi should thus follow in Where's footsteps, if it isn't already.
Blackberry benefits from having the largest U.S. smartphone market share, but it doesn't have the developer or applications ecosystem (yet) to rival the iPhone. Here's a side-by-side comparison between the iPhone 3G and Blackberry Bold.
Google some time ago introduced the ability for Maps users to write their own ratings directly on Google (as opposed to simply seeing aggregated ratings from third parties). The company is now enabling users to write reviews of restaurants from a mobile browser.
Once the desired restaurant is located users navigate to the "sign in and write a review link" (which appears further down from the listing on the details page):
Star ratings are provided via a pull-down menu and then people have the option to include a narrative. Presumably these ratings would also be incorporated into Google Maps on the desktop.
One might think mobile reviews would be inhibited by the "form factor" and resistance to typing on a mobile keyboard. However, Google's emphasis on stars (with optional narrative) makes it quite easy to complete a review in a few seconds. Notwithstanding the fact that it's a little buried, this capability should generate lots of additional reviews content for Google. People will likely do this while they're in the restaurant or just after they've left.
I would also guess that these star ratings will eventually make it into Goog411 as well ("sort by rating").
Avot Media conducted an online consumer mobile video survey (sample size not specified). According to the press materials "Survey takers were asked to test-drive Avot Media’s mobile video delivery service. After watching a video they answered 10 short questions about the overall experience."
It's not at all clear how well these findings can be generalized beyond the respondents themselves. But there's clearly a "half empty" or "half full" story to tell from the results. Avot tells the half full story.
Here are some of the findings (for those 29 and younger):
On the half empty side, depending on your perspective, the following respondent percentages expressed "concerns" about:
Without specifying any numbers the release also says: "The study uncovers users' concerns and interests regarding mobile media quality, start-up time, costs, and content choice."
Mobile video still has a long way to go (mobile TV in particular). But I must clarify my remarks about the recent Nielsen Mobile study about video viewing. I was told that the 3+ hours of mobile video included downloads/sideloads (not just TV subs) and was a median number not an average.
Though it's tiny, USAToday presents a mostly upbeat profile of VirginMobile, which recently bought Helio's business for roughly $39 million in equity. The company has some innovative marketing and retention programs and is focused squarely on the youth market.
Here's an interesting tidbit in the USAToday piece about the company's ad subsidized minutes/texts program "SugarMama":
Its "Sugar Mama" service, aimed at fusing ads into the mobile experience, rewards customers — with wireless minutes — for watching ads. So far, about 750,000 customers have signed up, earning 23 million minutes overall. (Customers are limited to 75 free minutes a month.)
Blyk in the UK reports phenomenal success with its program, which is more central to the overall value proposition.
Reuters and others are reporting that Korea's SK Telecom, one of the two partners in the now defunct Helio MVNO (acquired last month by VirginMobile), is going to make another run at the U.S. market with a potential strategic investment in Sprint. Some outlets had reported that SK Telecom was seeking to acquire Spint outright; however, that outcome is highly unlikely.
Alternatively, the discussions could be exclusively about technology collaboration.
Sprint, the number three U.S. carrier (52 million subs) lost just over a million subscribers in Q1, but has said sales of "iPhone Killer" Samung Instinct have exceed expectations.
The Guardian UK is reporting that SK Telecom has denied that it's interested in a "controlling stake" in any U.S. carrier. That doesn't preclude an investment of some sort however.
From the press release:
Yell.com mobile maps, a downloadable application that offers a range of market-leading product features, enables consumers to locate any address in the UK, get walking or driving directions displayed right on the map, and search for any of the 2.3m businesses available on Yell.com.
Features unique to Yell.com mobile maps offer consumers the ability to save business names, addresses and phone numbers directly to the phone's contact list and also to share this information with others via text messaging – ideal, for instance, when organising a night out. People can also contact businesses directly from the application with a simple click to call.
Walking directions is a nice feature. Yell also offers a more "traditional" WAP-based search tool. According to Nielsen Mobile, the UK is second to the US in terms of mobile Internet usage:
Where (uLocate) put out a press release today to promote its early success as one of the more popular iPhone applications. On the top 100 list of free applications, it comes in at number 19:
WHERE, is among the most popular applications on the new iPhone App Store pulling in as many as 100 activations per second. Since the launch of Apple's new App Store on Friday, WHERE has received over 125,000 downloads, surpassing all other GPS applications on the App Store.
Among the location aware iPhone apps that we cataloged, only WeatherBug, the Google Mobile App (partly local) and movie finder BoxOffice were ahead of it.
Where/uLocate marketing VP Dan Gilmartin just indicated to me in email that the service had 135,000 downloads this evening.
The New York Times writes at length about the Urbanspoon iPhone app.
When the "Twitter buying Summize" rumors first appeared I wrote this post:
Twitter is a service that I do not use, but others love it. However, Twitter (or Twitter plus Summize) could become a very useful mobile search engine (for recommendations) or real-time “mobile social DA.” What I mean by social DA, as in directory assistance, is a distributed base of users who substitute for the function of directory assistance.
Rather than the self-indulgent string of “tweets” (I’m in the car, I’m now getting out of the car, I’m now opening the front door . . .) one could ask the community for local recommendations. Alternatively, if an engine like Summize could filter out the “noise” among the tweets it might create a very valuable database of content that could be accessed on the go.
Now that the acquisition has been confirmed (for an estimated $15 million), this is the path that I believe the company must pursue to really become useful. In addition, a searchable archive of recommendations would enable the service to broaden its appeal.
There are several advertising scenarios, but that all probably revolve around contextual and geographically targeted ads.
Bolstered by its recent acquisition of M:Metrics, comScore put out new mobile usage figures for May 2008:
Note the discrepancy between the iPhone population and the general market. Competitor Nielsen says that 40 million U.S. mobile subscribers (15.6%) access the Internet on mobile phones at least once per month.
Apple announced today that it had sold a million iPhones in three days (globally). It also announced 10 million applications downloads since last Thursday.
We've cataloged more than 55 applications (roughly 10%) that leverage the iPhone's location awareness capability. But we're just at the beginning of these services We've grouped them into the following categories:
This is just a survey and not reviews of all these applications. However, it's interesting to see what's there and what's missing from this initial group of LBS apps.
Click here to view the findings. Note: this is a very large file (9 MB).
There have been so many stories since the Friday release of iPhone 3G it's dizzying: the lines, the European sales, the software update glitches, the rapturous reviews of the Apps Store and so on. Even as they curse the iPhone all Apple's competitors owe the company a debt of gratitude for helping to build awareness of the mobile Internet and giving the industry the kick in the pants (and shock) it needed.
(Lines at the Apple Store in SF on Friday)
Amid all this TechCrunch and GigaOm are speculating about the potential (re)emergence of a branded Google phone or "GPhone," based on a snippet of a quote that appeared in an article from MediaWeek/Hollywood Reporter this past week:
The trio of Google execs also used the opportunity to talk about the inroads the company is making with its own branded mobile phone as a replacement for the iPhone, as well as the Chinese market and how they're treated there -- and even Google's inhouse educational programs and the salaries and potential of teachers.
The writer was probably talking about Android and not a GPhone. But there almost certainly will be Google branded phones in the market after Android phones finally make their debut. Now what does "Google branded" mean exactly? It could mean one or both of two things. The Google software is prominent enough that the phone is primarily identified with Google (something akin to how Micorosft promotes Windows Mobile). Alternatively it could mean a specially designed handset (as TechCrunch posits) that bears the Google name. (This latter scenario is probable but more complicated for Google from a competitive standpoint.)
Google developed Android and brought together the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) so that it could help move the whole industry forward and indirectly advance its own position in mobile (see, "Will Google Dominate the Mobile Web?"). If mobile usage and search rise, so will Google is the logic here. That is a fair assumption.
Android is fundamentally about scale on a global basis, which is one of the primary values and drivers in Google's thinking about products. But the company, recognizing the success of the iPhone, has always also considered its own branded phone. It has never shut the door on this possibility. Here's a summary of Google CEO Eric Schmidt's remarks during the conference call held to announce Android and the OHA in November, 2007:
ES: Imagine not just one Gphone, but a thousand Gphones as a result of the partnerships … the many other people who will be joining the open initiative. We forgot to tell you that it’s available next week, and the terms are the broadest in the industry.
ES: We are not announcing a Google phone.
Q: Eric, I want to go back to the Gphone–what’s the deal?
ES: The deal is we don’t pre-announce products… if there were to be a Gphone, it would run Android…”
Thus I would imagine we'll see varying degrees of "GPhones," depending on the prominence of Google software and Google services. But I would also image the company will bring out a phone that has the word "Google" on the plastic casing that houses the chips and software.
A GPhone and Carriers: Verizon and AT&T have "opened up" to allow third-party phones on their networks. This would permit a GPhone, which almost certainly wouldn't be sold by Verizon -- although potentially by competitors such as T-Mobile, which has already promised Android phones this year -- to operate on the major U.S. carrier networks.
Recall that Google bid in the US 700MHz spectrum auction to help "unlock" the U.S. carrier grip on wireless spectrum access. Google continues to work on mobile broadband access through the "White Spaces Coalition."The company is also an investor in the Sprint/Clearwire WiMax initiative. All these efforts to gain direct access to mobile broadband further point to the possibility of Google-branded hardware devices.
A branded GPhone is thus be all but guaranteed a home on U.S. carrier networks or alternative networks. In Europe a GPhone could be immediately introduced across networks.
Excerpt from MediaPost:
So, is the mobile search war already over? Not necessarily, says Greg Sterling, who leads the local mobile practice for Opus Research, in a new report. While mobile search may not be a wide-open field, Google's success depends in part on whether search will be as important on mobile devices as on the desktop.
He points out that search is fundamentally more cumbersome in mobile because it's not as easy to navigate back and forth between search results and WAP sites as on the wired Internet.
From the article, "Google Focuses On Mobile Internet", MediaPost, July 11, 2008
Google is making a bid to be the "front door to the mobile Internet," at least on the iPhone, with the launch of a new Google Mobile App. It provides search suggestions and is positioned as a navigational tool on the iPhone, with one-click access to other Google products (e.g., GMail, Calendar, etc.). It also employs Google's "My Location" triangulation feature to enable faster results without the need to enter a geographic keyword/modifier.
In our recent report, Will Google Dominate the Mobile Web?, we speculated about whether Google and search would become central to the mobile Internet user experience or whether alternative experiences and applications would render search a "secondary tool."
Clients can see the report here.
There will be a ton of stories coming out about location-based applications and the iPhone over the next week. Beyond the privacy issues, the underlying question is: what's the business model and/or how will they be supported? The facile answer is "advertising."
There's a longer and more nuanced discussion called for, but at a crude level of generalization most marketers aren't yet set up to take advantage of the targeting precision that these apps may offer.
The iTunes store offers many iPhone apps for free but some cost money. But these are one-time purchases. That's a model that may be viable and sustainable over time:
Chart and data analysis: Pinchmedia
By contrast carrier subscription products like VZ Navigator will fade over time, unless they're quite superior vs. free substitutes. I'm guessing that at best subscription apps like this will retain market share (or grow slightly) at worst they'll see their models almost completely undermined in a couple of years.
Yet it's going to be very hard -- absent a sophisticated ad network or networks with generous rev shares for developers and publishers -- to support mobile applications with advertising. A few users (even thousands) won't generate enough page views or clicks to trigger meaningful revenue. Thus I would lament the end of the subscription model as a revenue strategy for mobile.
We'll see what happens.
AdMob, among others, has been reaping the benefits of iPhone usage growth. AdMob operates an iPhone specific ad network in addition to a more general mobile ad network. Here are some metrics and data provided by the company (which track general iPhone usage trends):
Additional data from the company's release:
As recent Nielsen Mobile data reflect, the US has emerged as the top "mobile Internet" country:
The US, UK and Italy are leaders in mobile Internet penetration. 15.6 percent of mobile subscribers in the US, 12.9 percent of subscribers in the UK and 11.9 percent in Italy actively use the mobile Internet turning to mobile phones.
We believe mobile Internet has reached a critical mass as an advertising medium in the US. As of May 2008, there were 40 million active users of the mobile Internet in the US, with individual sites that attract millions of unique users. This provides scalable marketing potential with demographic breadth.
The AdMob metrics above reflect a medium with significant reach even though the iPhone is just a fraction of the installed base of cellphone users.
Here are screens from a Jaguar AdMob campaign:
Here's a demo of the Where iPhone app on YouTube.
Where is just one of a growing number of applications with "friend finder" or awareness capability (Brightkite, Loopt, Whrrl, etc.). This capability will taking getting used to and raises privacy issues for consumers who will have to learn how to negotiate this new "cultural" arena.
The apps store has launched on the most recent version of iTunes. There are tons of apps (500 approx), most of which appear to be free. Here are some screen captures:
I haven't counted all the location-aware apps but there are a range of them.
As we've argued in the past its the applications and software that will ultimate distance the iPhone from capable imitators and would be "iPhone Killers." We'll see if Blackberry and Android can build up a similar developer ecosystem and set of applications.
Publishers are generally struggling with Apple's fetish for control. At the opposite end Android will exercise almost no control over apps developed for the platform, when it finally goes live.