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GPhone Update: "Not in the Works"

A report from the "wireless news desk" on the Wireless Business & Technology Web site claims that Google has no intention to introduce its own "gPhone." According to the report Dr. Peter Norvig, who has served as chief technology officer at Google for over a year, told "journalists in the UK" that the major issues absorbing Google's resources, investment and creative energy are "machine translation and speech recognition, computer vision and face recognition, team recognition and so on."

The bottom line, which should be a surprise to nobody, is that Google is a prototypical software-as-a-service company with very little interest in getting into the hardware business. Like the rest of us, Google knows that the biggest opportunities for e-commerce and Web 2.0 lie in mobile computing and mobile applications. Overcoming the shortcomings of low-end wireless phones, less than optimal wireless data speeds and strictures applied by a community mobile network operators who are reticent to innovate and share the wealth are its challenge.

Google's stated position is that of "neutrality" - and it's sticking by it. In the coming quarter, AT&T Wireless will claim to reap significant benefits from its relationship with Apple. Indeed, the sale of one million iPhones linked to the "new" AT&T Wireless network will come at the expense of some other carriers. I'm sure that Verizon Wireless would like to benefit from a gPhone to counter AT&T's iPhone, but that has now become less likely.

Yet other analysts and industry insiders have seen the device. They know that HTC will be the manufacturer, Linux will be the operating system and "open" will be its hallmark. It is much more likely, now, that a "neutral" Google software product will make the effort to support as many phones as possible and that means GOOG411 will co-exist with multiple flavors of Google catered to the small screens that appear on wireless phones.

Verizon Takes on FCC Auction Rules in Court

In a filing that reads more like a lurid script from "Law & Order" than the customary dry-as-desert-sand depositions in a normal folio, Verizon Wireless calls the FCC's strictures surrounding its future spectrum auction as "arbitrary, capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence and otherwise contrary to law." Apparently, the legal staff at the Verizon/Vodafone Group joint venture is just getting started and urges the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to vacate the FCC's ruling.

There's more bluster than legal basis in Verizon's petition. As we noted in several postings on this blog, this is Big Search versus Big Carrier as Verizon tries to stave off a $4.6 billion bid for open wireless spectrum. In the Wall Street Journal, reporters Corey Boles and Amol Sharma note that court challenges FCC rulings are "rarely successful." They quote communications lawyer Philip Verveer saying "I don't know what basis one would have for launching a challenge of this matter."

When FCC Chairman Kevin Martin released his recommendations, it did not represent a total victory for any parties involved. BIG SEARCH AND CONTENT companies - represented by Google and, later Apple Computer - had four points in mind: open devices, open networks, open applications and open services. The terms of the auction would grant the first two while prohibiting "wholesaling" or the idea of resale of other's applications or services. Meanwhile BIG CARRIERS believe that the new rules represent the death of their current business plans, which are predicated on complete control over the devices that can be hooked up to their "closed" networks.

People who remember old AT&T (not the new at&t) in the "bad ol' days" before the so-called "Carterfone Decision", know that the era with high levels of command and control from communications carriers led to one thing, a single vendor who single-handedly set the pace for introduction of innovation. All phones were black with rotary dials. The Princess Phone was the first example of sleek styles from the 60s. Long-distance rates were high and arbitrarily banded by distance (even though it didn't cost the phone company any more to carry a call 1,000 miles versus 10 miles.

Talk about "arbitrary, capricious and unsupported by substantial evidence"! That's precisely the description of pricing and product development strategies in an era of "closed", uncompetitive service delivery structures. The community of local mobile search solutions providers should be wary of efforts by incumbent carriers to assert uncontested primacy over who and what can be hooked up to their networks.

The WSJ reporters characterize the tactics as "risky" for Verizon, given that they have several other matters before the commission. They then speculate that the threat of a court challenge "could give Verizon a leverage point in its private discussions with Google, which has been shopping plans to offer Google-powered phones to various cellphone companies, including Verizon."

Could This Be the Year for Mobile Ads?

Kevin Newcomb at ClickZ asks that musical, semi-rhetorical question in a piece exploring the Kelsey mobile forecast. In a word the answer is: No. Of course there's advertising on mobile devices (and in ad-supported DA) today; however, this (2007-2008) is not the year that meaningful ad revenues will appear.

This is a time for working out user-experience problems and building audiences (in the U.S. but also in Europe). Those are foundational issues that still need to be addressed before there's enough volume to generate real revenues. Make no mistake the revenues will eventually come but devices and services have to become more usable first.

Look at all the fervor around "unlocking" the iPhone: this goes to the hunger for more elegant, usable devices.

And just as a little vaguely related tidbit . . . From the Deloitte 2007 State of the Media Democracy Survey:

  • 46% of Millennials embrace their cell phones as an entertainment device.
  • 57% of all consumers text message on their cell phones compared with 84% of Millennials.
  • 56% of all consumers take photos with their phones, including 37% of Matures.
  • 60% of Trailing Millennials (those ages 13-18) have someone else footing the cell phone bill. Surprisingly, a quarter of older, Leading Millennials (19-24) are still getting financial support to pay for their fun.

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See also, my informal Facebook survey on mobile and (for clients) our analysis of the recent Harris-Ingenio mobile user survey.

Google Now Promoting Mobile AdWords

Although Google has been testing/running ads on mobile, the company is now starting to formally promote mobile to its advertiser base and SEM firms. Here's a copy of an email (originally appearing on Mike Blumenthal's site) that went out today:

We are happy to announce a new feature that will allow you to
easily reach additional qualified customers who are searching
Google from their mobile phones.

In the next few days, your search ads will be eligible to run on
Google Mobile Search pages (like they currently do on Google.com).
We are offering this feature - and any resulting clicks - for
free through November 18, so you can experiment with the rapidly
growing mobile platform while still reaching qualified customers.

Each ad's eligibility will be determined by its landing page and
only ads with landing pages that can be adapted for viewing on
mobile browsers will be shown. You can monitor each ad's
performance via a special performance tracking page within your
account called "Performance Data: Search Ads on Google Mobile
Search."

Again, you will not be charged for clicks on these ads until
November 19, at which time we will begin charging the usual CPC
prices. And as always, you may opt-out of this feature at any
time.

We hope you find this new feature helpful and profitable, and we
urge you to learn more about it at our AdWords Help Center:

http://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=72226

Thank you for advertising with Google AdWords.

Sincerely,

The Google AdWords Team

This is Google using mobile as additional distribution for existing AdWords buyers; providing them with reach into mobile with little or no additional work. What's also interesting is that Google is making this an opt-out for marketers.

VoodooVox Presages More Mobile Audio Ads

If the name RadioVoodoo rings a bell, you're among a few people who can hark back to 2002 when the VoiceXML was young and many a true believer (yours truly included) thought a "voice Web" would evolve in parallel with the decidedly desk-bound World Wide Web. In the ensuing years RadioVoodoo evolved into VoodooVox and the community of Voice Web proponents expanded to include Softbank Capital, Apax Partners, Village Ventures, and Steamboat Ventures (which is the Disney Company's venture capital arm).

The company's secret sauce is a proprietary registry of wireless phone subscribers that crosses the boundary among many carriers and includes demographic details on more than 1.2 million people. According to a report in Red Herring, that makes it one of the largest national cell phone demographic databases of its kind. It certainly was large enough to attract a new round of $8.1 million in financing from Softbank Capital, which sees ingress to ad supported services to a new generation of telephones - including Apple's iPhone and Google's much anticipated gPhone.

North Adams, MA, is not normally thought of as a media capital, but this is the era of Thomas Friedman's "flat earth". Five years of aggregating phone calls and cementing relationships with media companies - including Sirius, Clear Channel, Univision, Emmis, MTV and other old guard media - has attracted sufficient attention for the investment community to recognize that mobile ad insertion is a cost-effective advertising medium. It is only a short step from intelligent targeted ad insertion to highly targeted, ad-supported mobile search.

eBook Readers May Become Internet Devices

I wrote about the potential "two device scenario" below. And on a related now, there was an article in the NY Times that appeared last Thursday about the hypothetical resurgence of eBooks:

In October, the online retailer Amazon.com will unveil the Kindle, an electronic book reader that has been the subject of industry speculation for a year, according to several people who have tried the device and are familiar with Amazon’s plans. The Kindle will be priced at $400 to $500 and will wirelessly connect to an e-book store on Amazon’s site.

That is a significant advance over older e-book devices, which must be connected to a computer to download books or articles.

What's interesting to me is the potential for these readers to become Internet access devices and offer a better, desktop-like experience to mobile users. I'm making several leaps but it's not unlike the iPod Touch. The problem is inconsistent and expensive public WiFi; if the "free WiFi" infrastructure were really built out these devices would be viable as alternatives to smartphones. But that still needs to happen.

San Francisco's stalled process to build muni-WiFi with Google and Earthlink may be a metaphor for the entire muni-WiFi industry. I hope, however, that it is not.

One Millionth iPhone Served

Apple put out a press release this morning that says the company has sold it's one-millionth iPhone. While angering early adopters and investors with its recent price cut, expect that price cut to continue to build momentum for the device (recently joined by the WiFi, non-phone iTouch):

Apple today announced it sold its one millionth iPhone yesterday, just 74 days after its introduction on June 29. iPhone combines three devices into one -- a mobile phone, a widescreen iPod, and the best mobile Internet device ever -- all based on Apple's revolutionary multi-touch interface and pioneering software that allows users to control iPhone with just a tap, flick or pinch of their fingers.

A deficiency in the iPhone, beyond the slow AT&T Edge Network, is the perceived awkwardness of the keyboard: I haven't spent enough time with the iPhone to validate or contradict the claim. But voice would be a good remedy and may well be added officially or unofficially to future versions of the device.

Kelsey Mobile Forecast Adds More Numbers to Confused Market

The Kelsey Group released its U.S. mobile forecast saying that "U.S. mobile search advertising revenues to grow from $33.2 million in 2007 to $1.4 billion in 2012, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 112 percent."

These figures include the firm's relatively bearish estimate of ad-supported directory assistance revenues. Depending on one's perspective this $1.4 billion number could either be seen as bearish or simply cautious, based on a skeptical view of how fast mobile advertising will kick in.

Here are some of the other numbers already in the market:

Jupiter (U.S.):

  • Total spending on mobile messaging and display advertising will grow from $1.4 billion in 2006 to $2.9 billion in 2011.

Informa (global):

  • Forecasts search-related mobile ad revenue will climb to $1.5 billion in 2011, up from $3 million in 2006.

eMarketer (global):

  • Mobile ad revenues by 2011 will be $2.4 billion, up from a projected $63 million in 2007.

This is just a smattering; there are numerous others.

The challenge here, as with local search forecasting more generally, is what are the definitions behing used? There's also a good deal of confusion and conflation swirling around various revenue models and segments in mobile: carrier revenues and subscriber pays vs. ad-supported models. And right now what users are willing to pay for vs. what can be subsidized or successfully supported by ads is not entirely clear.

But in mobile growth assumptions (especially around usage) are also critical, given the early stage of the advertising market. Virtually all the forecasts out include different definitions and are scoped differently -- making it challenging to assess these forecasts side-by-side.

Local Mobile Search will be adding its assessment of the outlook for local mobile advertising and we'll try to be very clear about all these things. We've been chewing on and testing our assumptions for several months. We're bullish on the opportunity but the market is complex and there are a number of wild cards in play.

To put some of these mobile figures in local perspective, Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS) put total local online spending by 2011 at $19.2 billion. The VSS forecast didn't include mobile. The question is how much of those local online ad dollars will make their way into mobile distribution?

We're going to try and provide some thoughtful answers ... very soon.

Action Engine CEO on Google Mobile Hits & Misses

I'm sure you've heard the rumors that Google will be launching a Google branded phone packed with applications into the market sometime soon. While Action Engine can't say whether those rumors are true, as pioneers of the on-device portal market, we can tell you what we think Google has done well with its past mobile offerings and where they could use some improvements - especially if they plan to launch the type of mobile experience that everyone will expect from a power-brand like Google.

Google Mobile: The Hits
The ultimate UI. Google has the simplest user interface on the web. Google Mobile carries on the tradition. The search box is front and center, sitting above links to Gmail and Google Maps, and then allows consumers to tailor their page with as many -- or as few -- additional services as desired, e.g. news, weather, stocks, etc. Everything is Web-based, so the standard network delays remain an issue, but the stark simplicity of the presentation is appreciated by today's harried mass market consumer.

Advertising removes barriers. Google's Internet business model has been based on advertising and the mobile phone presents a significant opportunity to expand their advertising revenues by targeting the devices that people carry throughout the day. When it comes to Google's current on-device and mobile Web-based applications, all are advertising-subsidized or simply free, which prevents consumers from having to pay yet another subscription fee. In a day when the majority of U.S. wireless consumers don't use any data services beyond SMS, any business model that lowers the barrier to entry for wireless data services usage is a refreshing change.

Simple personalization. A recent London School of Economics report commissioned by handset giant Nokia forecasts personalization and interactivity will emerge as the key drivers behind mobile services uptake. Embracing that message, Google has made personalizing the Google Mobile front page drop-dead simple. When users select weather, they can just enter a zip code and have the weather displayed as an integral part of the front page.

Search results. Once personalized with a location, Google Mobile uses the information when returning search results. Users first get local results, then images, then web results. Clearly, Google understands that local search is critical in the mobile environment and presentation of the search results must be formatted to overcome the limitations of the mobile form factor.

Google Mobile: The Misses
While we love Google's simplicity, personalization and mobile advertising focus, so far their mobile solutions haven't stood out from their competitor's offerings. In fact, one could argue that the recent on-device portals presented by Yahoo! Go and Apple's iPhone far surpass any mobile services Google has presented. Here's where Google Mobile falls short:

Disjointed strategy. To the external viewer, Google can't seem to make their mind up on mobile. Google Mobile is all Web-based which has inherent network reliability issues. Then they have one or two standalone downloadable applications, like Maps and Gmail. The loose packaging of standalone applications prevents users from easily toggling and sharing information among the various Google services.

Limited device support. Technically, the Google Mobile Web page should work on any device. The same can't be said for Gmail and Google Maps. Limiting mass market device support ultimately limits monetization options.

Poor navigation. Yes, the Google Mobile front page is simple, but it gets crowded fast. By making it simple to add content to the front page, Google makes it easy to clog the front page with content. And that makes it difficult to navigate the front page as each choice gets appended below previous choices.

No multimedia content. Google Mobile doesn't support streaming multimedia. Yet Google Mobile search results may point to streaming multimedia on web sites not optimized for mobile. Users who click on such a link are in for long, slow ride.

Google Mobile: The Bottom Line
Google is experimenting in Japan with video and other applications and, if the rumors are true, they are investing roughly $8 billion on the Google phone which could change the landscape for mobile. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, "Google even envisions a phone service one day that is free of monthly subscription charges and supported entirely through ad revenue." However, to date, the company continues to take a slow and steady approach to mobile applications, which reflects an understanding of two key lessons learned by on-device portal companies:

First, when a company fails to deliver a superior user experience, customers won't use its applications. Period.

Second, once a company creates a superior mobile user experience they need to figure out a way to distribute it to as many consumers as possible. Google's focus on advertising helps remove the price barrier for consumers and is a good first step at promoting mass market adoption of mobile data services.

Next, if they can truly deliver a Google branded phone service that is free of monthly subscription charges and packed with user-friendly mobile applications then they may have all the pieces in place to change the face of mobile forever. Until then, we will wait and see how they balance the tricky needs and demands of all the people currently at the mobile applications party including: wireless operators, device manufacturers, content brands, technology vendors, and consumers. Welcome aboard Google! Glad to have ya!

This piece was written by Scott G. Silk, president and CEO of Action Engine. It has not been edited by LMS.

AT&T Expands 800-YellowPages Coverage

With ad-insertion and other support from Apptera, AT&T is rolling out its 1-800-YellowPages ad-supported local mobile search service to new markets:

The states covered by the service include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. A similar service was introduced earlier this summer in California.

Here's Opus' earlier Speech-Enabled Mobile Search report (for clients), which discusses the evolution of the DA marketplace. Ad supported DA will be a segment in our forthcoming Local Mobile Search forecast report.

The iPod Touch and the 'Two Device Scenario'

Many investors were disappointed by the Apple announcements yesterday. However, the new iPod Touch with WiFi is a very interesting and potentially significant device (I won't say "revolutionary"). It's essentially the iPhone untethered (to AT&T), although it doesn't have a phone. But it has WiFi.

Notwithstanding the proliferation of smartphones among business users, most people don't want to carry bulky devices with them. I happen to have two devices: a mobile phone and a Windows Mobile smartphone for email and mobile Internet use. I don't like it either but my "phone phone" is too small for the mobile Internet and my Windows Mobile phone is bulky and awkward to use as a phone.

Enter the Touch. It's an iPod and has WiFi and a Safari browser. In other words, it takes the elegant Internet browsing capabilities from the iPhone and moves it onto a new device.

While the Touch is not a phone, though it might turn into one eventually via WiFi. It's not unlike the Nokia 770, among a few others, in that regard. And while the Nokia device has little chance of widespread adoption, the iPhone Touch is a different story. It could sell well as a hybrid device, driven by its video, iPod and Internet browsing capabilities.

The Internet experience it offers is substantially better than the majority of WAP experiences and doesn't require a downloaded client. I would expect more iPods in the future to have WiFi and Internet browsing capabilities.

We'll see how well they sell. But if they sell well, they could well become a "second mobile device" that people carry along with their more traditional cellphones.

Related: The Case of the Subpar Cellphone from the NY Times explores why one phone can't be all things to all people.

CallGenie Behind New 1-800-CallDex

Yellow pages publisher R.H. Donnelley (RHD) is testing a new voice local mobile search product, 1-800-CallDex, in four U.S. markets: Denver, Phoenix, Spokane (WA) and Tucson. It offers a suite of services powered by CallGenie's Enhanced Voice Directory platform. The company also provides voice search and enhanced DA services to Verizon, Yellow Pages Group (Hello Yellow) and Say Hello. (I mistakenly previously reported that CallGenie was behind category search at 800-Free411. CallGenie never actually provided the service, which is now being provided by Nuance).

Like other offerings from CallGenie, 1-800-CallDex will permit category search in a neighborhood, near and intersection or a landmark. CallGenie-powered Hello Yellow was the flagship product in the free DA or voice-enabled local mobile search segment that permitted open-ended category search, as opposed to just conventional "name in mind" searches.

RHD is the latest to join a growing list of free DA providers who recognize voice-enabled local search as a broad entry point for consumers into mobile. Other competitors in the segment include:

While the new 1-800-CallDex service is a trial, it's likely to roll out to all of Dex's markets because of the broad appeal of voice and DA-like services. When it comes to mobile, publishers and providers need a diversified strategy to reach consumers. Voice and "free DA" represent the broadest market potential and lowest barrier to entry for mobile users.

It's quite likely that voice search will expand into verticals (e.g., restaurants, entertainment) soon. In fact, I'm somewhat surprised that IAC/Citysearch has developed such a product yet.
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Here's the CallGenie-RHD press release.

ITU: Twice As Many Wireless as Fixed Line Phones

There's no mystery regarding the attention paid to mobile search, or mobile services in general. It reflects an effort to capture a growing market. Of an estimated 4 billion telephones around the world at the end of 2006, more than half were wireless according to a report just issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Ten years ago the ITU reported a grand total of 1 billion phones (both fixed line and wireless) in service. At the end of 2006, there were 1.27 billion fixed line and 2.68 billion wireless phones.

The greatest growth was in areas that the ITU (and its parent organization, the United Nations) refer to as "developing countries." As a result, a little more than 60% of mobile subscribers reside in areas where phones are more of a basic necessity and less of a fashion statement or advertising medium. That said, even the least expensive handsets are likely to serve as terminals for rudimentary text-messaging as an introduction to ancillary or enhanced mobile services.

Anticipation Builds for Google Phone, Mobile OS, etc.

The Boston Globe site seems to confirm -- it's the latest in a long line now -- that Google has prototyped (at least) a mobile handset. Many reports and rumors have lead people to believe that a Google Phone or mobile OS announcement are imminent.

Google is aggressively seeking to accelerate development of the mobile market and is taking a "diversified" approach. A mobile handset may ultimately be a component of that strategy but the company is not banking on that one variable to break open (literally and figuratively) the mobile market.

Enough speculation, I'm eager to see what actually emerges.

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More facts and tidbits on the GPhone from Om Malik.

iPhone Beats Other Smartphones in July

According to iSuppli, the iPhone outsold all other smartphones in July:

Apple Inc.'s iPhone became the biggest-selling smart phone in the U.S. in July, according to iSuppli Corp.

The iPhone accounted for 1.8% of all mobile handset sales to U.S. consumers that month -- the first full month in which the iPhone was available.

Apple's device outsold the BlackBerry series, the entire Palm portfolio, and any individual Motorola, Nokia, Samsung or other smart phone model.

This is validation of both the fashion/buzz value of the phone but more importantly the perceived usability of the device even vs. other other popular smartphones and most notably the Blackberry.

The iPhone represents a bid to recreate the desktop Internet in mobile, something that a fair number of people appear to want. It remains a minority device unless or until it's untethered from AT&T, however. Yet, despite this minority status, it will continue to influence the design of competitors' products and in that way have a continuing ripple effect on the broader market.

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Related: AppleInsider has more on the data:

iSuppli's consumer panel survey revealed that approximately 57 percent of iPhones bought in July were purchased by U.S. consumers 35 years of age or younger. The majority of those iPhone buyers were men, with 52 percent of purchasers being male and 48 percent female.

Additionally, the firm's survey revealed that nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, of iPhone buyers in July had a four-college degree or more education, and one quarter of consumers who bought iPhones switched to AT&T service in order to do so.

This suggests that people are now not simply buying for the novelty of having an iPhone, given on the product information and reviews in the market, but see the device as a superior product that has real utility.

Orbitz Orbits Mobile Search Around Airports

For the frequent traveler, the most useful information is local, personal and mobile. Internet travel specialist Orbitz has launched Traveler Update, a web-based mash-up that includes flight information from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and security information from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) as well as user-generated content, called "travelers' tips" regarding such things as nearby traffic conditions, weather, wait-times for check-in and even the state of free access to Wi-Fi. Information is organized by "airport" and made available to mobile phones through via the wireless web @ http://mobile.orbitz.com.

The good and bad of the wireless Web is on display. Because the site is updated frequently with live data from several sources, it stays fresh. Travelers can get general advisories on flight delays or search for the status of a specific flight by carrier and flight number. So-called "Travelers Tips" is a nice touch and appears to be pre-populated with information about such things as the location of full-service banks (as opposed to ATMs) or where one can get breakfast 24-hours a day. The social element is "Travleer Updates", which contains postings from other (usually disgruntled) airline passengers logging words of advice to others.

The lay-out is pretty much text-laden to suit the small displays that characterize wireless handsets. With screens that are two inches in width or less, the print can be pretty small.

There are no banner ads on the landing page, but it is easy to see where they would fit. Traveler Updates (E.g. "arrived 30 minutes ago, still waiting for luggage" or "The line for arrivals at American terminal is a mess....") are less likely to be adds, but "Traveler Tips" appear well-suited to be sponsored links (E.g. "Cereality Cereal Bar has locations in Terminals A and B"). Online travel companies have, to date, confined their mobile offers to promotional messages (fare alerts) that are delivered as automated voice phone calls or SMS/text messages. In the wake of Orbitz' IPO last month, this is a great way to draw attention to the beginnings of what could be a well-populated local mobile social site.

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Other mobile travel sites (courtesy of ResourceShelf's Gary Price):

Mobilizing Mom & Pop Shops

An article in today's MediaPost, "The Parallel Universe of Mobile Search," discusses the impending yet uncertain development of mobile marketing and local mobile search. The author Steve Smith ruminates on the now-familiar challenges of selling online to "Mom & Pop" small businesses and suggests: if it ain't happening online it sure as heck ain't going to happen in mobile:

And that local economy is one of the key challenges for mobile search. If the platform does become more about nearby services than global information, then publishers face the same sales hurdle that has bedeviled local search for a decade on the Web. How do you activate the small and medium businesses that make up the neighborhood economy and get them to buy digital? If AAAA Plumbing and Sal's Pizza aren't included in Yahoo, Google or Microsoft's local listings yet, then what will it take to spur them to purchase mobile search listings? And what sales force on the ground gets to that market first? Yahoo? The Yellow Pages? Newspapers? "I don't think anyone has cracked the code on how to make that happen," says Hancock.

But this view is quite incorrect.

Mobile is actually going to be much easier than online. Why? Because the online sales and fulfillment infrastructure being completed right now will be the onramp into mobile. All the work is being done now to enable mobile distribution to take place later.

A case-in-point is Superpages' PPCall program and distribution via Free411. All its 5K advertisers are being ported to 1-800-Free411 (Jingle Networks). All the complexity goes on behind the scenes; the advertiser gets a call and that's all he/she cares about. She may not even know that her ads are appearing in Free411. Another: Yell.com in the UK pushed all its advertisers into mobile and will potentially seek to eventually charge for mobile after traffic grows and value is proven.

The yellow pages, the newspapers, the webhosts, the verticals and local search marketing agencies will send their clients into mobile, as an extension of their online services, and the local advertisers won't need to do anything -- and may not even know they're getting mobile distribution. The only question is whether mobile can be an upsell or positioned as a separate/premium buy, or whether (as with Superpages) it's just another source of traffic.

All the "heavy lifting" is going on now with the development of the ecosystem, sales channels and networks that will enable local SMBs to be distributed and found online. Mobile will ultimately just be an extension of all that.

The Nokia iPhone Clone

Among the latest of the iPhone-influenced phones is Nokia's iPhone clone, which has a large viewing screen that operates almost exactly like the iPhone. See the Engadget video.

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Photo source: Engadget/Nokia

This is further proof of how the iPhone has continued to shake up the handset market and stimulate further design innovation. In this particular case it's about fashion more than usability for Nokia . . .

FAST in Japanese Mobile Search Joint Venture

FAST Search & Transfer has entered into a joint venture in Japan with Rakuten Inc. (a diversified Internet services company) to develop mobile search and advertising services in Japan. The new venture will be equally owned by the two companies and is funded at a level of $6.9 million US dollars. The published reports and press release discuss the Japanese market only but it's a safe bet that any technology that emerges from this effort will make its way to other markets.

Earlier this year, FAST and InfoSpace announced a similar partnership to provide "white label" services to mobile carriers in the US and Europe. The offering combines InfoSpace's carrier relationships and content expertise with FAST's search technology and PPC platform. The combined InfoSpace-FAST effort is competition for JumpTap and Medio Systems, which are also offering similar services.

More on the Long-Rumored 'GPhone'

Yes, again. This time, according to Engadget, it's not hardware but a mobile OS slated for a post US Labor Day release:

Google's mobile device platform is well on its way, and will be announced in the very near future.

We understand that the "Gphone OS" (our name for it, not theirs) began development after Google's very quiet 2005 acquisition of mobile software company Android, started by Danger cofounder and former-prez / CEO Andy Rubin. At Google, Andy's team has developed a Linux-based mobile device OS (no surprise) which they're currently shopping around to handset makers and carriers on the premise of providing a flexible, customizable system -- with really great Google integration, of course.

As for the timeframe on this thing, we keep hearing Google will announce its mobile plans some time post-Labor Day (September 3rd); from what we've heard Google isn't necessarily working on hardware of its own, but is definitely working with OEMs and ODMs to get them to put the Gphone OS on upcoming devices. Think of it more in terms of Windows Mobile or Palm OS (in the early days) -- Google wants to supply the platform, but we don't think they want to sell hardware. Still, don't entirely rule out the idea.

I agree that hardware is much less likely than software. Regardless, it's very clear that Google will be doing dramatically more than it is now because of the emphasis it's placing on mobile and how strategic the category is for the company.

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Related: Our last post on the GPhone based on informed hearsay making similar timing predictions. And here's yet more from TechCrunch.