Sprint Introduces Personalization and Google Search

U.S. carrier Sprint has launched what it's calling "Sprint Web," which consists of an "adaptive" (passively customized) home screen and default mobile Internet search from Google. From this morning's press release:

Sprint Web offers an adaptive home page that delivers content based on the customer's previous usage, along with direct access to search from Google Inc. This enhancement is automatic for Sprint customers who currently access the mobile Web on these phones and requires no additional action on their part.

The new Sprint Web home page uses technology by ChangingWorlds, a global expert in mobile Internet personalization and content discovery technologies, to provide each customer with dynamic, relevant content and information as a result of their past usage. This makes each customer's Sprint Web home page unique, depending on their interests.

This move helps make the "carrier deck" be more "relevant" to end users -- and makes it less likely that they'll blow by that screen to get to the mobile Internet (those with data plans). The default search from Google, is part of a larger relationship with Sprint that includes a Clearwire investment by Google. That too makes it less likely that people will go off the home screen or deck to get to Google.

Sprint also has a mobile search relationship with Microsoft.

Separately, AT&T is reportedly complaining to the U.S. FCC about the merger of some of Sprint's WiMax assets into Clearwire. The substance of the complaint is quasi-procedural, but the subtext is that AT&T finds WiMax a threat given that it will enter the market at least a year before LTE, the 4G standard that AT&T and Verizon have embraced.

On the other side of the Atlantic, U.K. carrier 3 touted mobile broadband success, which potentially bodes well for 4G initiatives like Clearwire's.

Jingle and MapQuest in Reciprocal Branding Push

It was pointed out to me that there's a bit of reciprocal branding going on between Jingle Networks' 1-800-Free-411 and MapQuest. The former is promoting "directions" from MapQuest, when users call. MapQuest is promoting "driving directions & free directory assistance" from 1-800-Free-411 (below).

Here's the page online (after one selects "print"):

Mapquest + Mapquest

Dial Directions provides the speech recognition and related functionality on top of the Mapquest routing for 800-Free-411.

AdMob Launches iPhone Marketplace

AdMob has developed specialized ad units for the iPhone and, earlier this week, "launched a global iPhone ad marketplace." This includes a range of ad options that work with applications or the iPhone's Safari browser.

The company also announced it would give away $1 million to encourage further iPhone application development, with the idea being you'd support that with AdMob advertising.

Initial brands and publishers participating in the marketplace include:

  • Brand Advertisers: Ford, Electronic Arts, Land Rover, Jaguar and Universal Pictures "The Mummy"
  • Performance Advertisers: vsnax, Stitcher, Loopt and Shozu
  • Publishers: AccuWeather.com, MovieTickets.com, Mippin, Flirtomatic and Loopt

AdMob iPhone marketplace

Here's a survey video of some of these ad units in action (there are also videos on the AdMob site)

AdMob is very smart to try and position itself as the monetization engine for iPhone applications. Mobile-only business models will be under intense pressure to survive to until they can build sufficient traffic and scale to make them work on an ad supported basis. Publishers and apps developers will be hungry for ads that perform and drive revenue.

In all likelihood there will be a few large ad networks that compete for brand advertising dollars in mobile (AdMob, ThirdScreen, Nokia Interactive, etc.). While competition is important, having fewer rather than more networks is better for media buyers, who want reach and fewer "entry points," in this early stage of mobile.

iPhone for 'the Rich,' Android 'the Masses'

A day after I likened Android phones to Honda and the iPhone to Mercedes, I stumbled upon this interview with the young, German founder of an Android developer community:

Knowingly over bending I can say “Android is for the masses, iPhone for the rich." There will be a great variety of Android devices all over the world, where there will always be just the iPhone.

This is Google's hope: a thousand Android phones. That's both a strength and a weakness of the strategy -- more phones but less quality control.

So far there has been no phone to compete with the iPhone (notwithstanding the claims). But "good enough" experiences could in fact be competitive over the long term. Arguably the key to the iPhone's differentiation is the Apps Store. Presumably however Android will be able to match that with a similar range of functional and appealing applications.

TheFind Readies iPhone Application

We met with Siva Kumar, CEO of TheFind yesterday. He discussed the company's forthcoming iPhone application (in the approval process now), which we haven't seen in action but appears impressive. It's trying to bridge the gap between the desktop and mobile.

Perhaps most importantly, it brings TheFind's local shopping capabilities to mobile. TheFind is working with Krillion and NearbyNow for local inventory information. It's also crawling and matching online inventory with store locations.

Product search, inventory lookups and price comparisons are all going to be very popular use cases for mobile sooner rather than later.

AOL Reportedly to 'Sunset' MyMobile Application

According to an internal AOL memo from EVP Kevin Conroy, among a range of cost-saving measures and cuts, the company is going to "sunset" its fledgling mobile client (similar to Yahoo! Go) "MyMobile."

From the text of the memo:

We have decided to halt further investment in AIMWorld and will sunset MyMobile next year in order to focus on our core revenue producing products (i.e., mail, messaging, portal and mapping). Along with these core products we will focus on developing for key devices like the iPhone and the Blackberry. We will also leverage open services through OpenMobile to engage third party mobile developers in order to create new applications and experiences, which will expand distribution without additional internal development costs.

This isn't necessarily a blow to AOL's mobile prospects, because comparatively few people download mobile client applications. For example, the mobile mapping data released yesterday by comScore showed that although mobile maps' usage is growing "less than a third of Americans and Europeans are using a downloaded application, which allows even feature phones, with less computing power and often smaller screens, to better render graphic-rich maps and directions."

My initial response to MyMobile (based on an early demo) had been very positive, although the public beta version that came out was not as impressive a product. The shuttering of MyMobile undoubtedly reflects lackluster adoption (downloads).

Mobile Maps Usage on the Rise

Mobile maps usage is growing in both the U.S. and Europe, according to comScore:

8% of American mobile subscribers and 3% of European subscribers used mobile maps in the three-month period ending May 2008.This represents a growth rate of 82% and 49% in the number of users, respectively

The measurement firm added that the iPhone is the top device for mobile maps in the US and in Europe Nokia's N95 and N70 handsets are the leaders for mobile mapping. Nokia is now the owner of mapping infrastructure provider Navteq.

More data:

73% of mobile subscribers accessing maps are doing so via the browser in the U.S., and in Europe, 57 percent. (Most people aren't downloading mapping clients like Google Maps for Mobile or Live Search)

Despite the ubiquity of SMS usage in Europe, the penetration of consumers accessing maps and directions via SMS is 24%; only one percentage point higher than it is in the United States.

The vast majority of mobile map users are seeking driving directions, even in Europe.

comscore mobile mapping

Maps & Directions are one of the "killer apps" for mobile. According to a comScore survey earlier this year, mobile maps and directions were at the top of the list of user interest:

1. Maps / Driving directions
2. Directory assistance
3. Weather
4. Local search
5. Email
6. Instant Messaging
7. News
8. Pay Bills
9. Sports
10. Financial information
11. Shopping
12. Online gaming
13. Access home cable TV
14. Social Networking sites
15. Horoscope
16. Adult content
17. Dating Services

Source: comScore (May, 2008), n=2,000

Personal navigation devices and subscription services such as VZ Navigator have lead the way in mobile mapping and directions. However smartphones are making -- and will continue to make -- inroads on PND sales, leading makers such as Garmin to "diversify" by making their software available on popular handsets (e.g., Blackberry) and even building their own handsets (e.g., Garmin Nuvifone).

The popularity of mobile mapping and driving directions is a proxy for the popularity of local content and so-called "location based services." Clients interested in further discussion of these topics can see the following reports:

Google CEO Touts iPhone Benefits

Even though Google's Android is a competitor to the iPhone Google has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the visibility and success of Apple's device. Fortune captured some of Schmidt's remarks about mobile and the iPhone in particular during his one-on-one interview at the Fortune "Brainstorm Tech" conference in Half Moon Bay, California:

“It shows you the power of a device that is a step forward,” said Schmidt in an interview Wednesday at Brainstorm Tech with Fortune senior writer David Kirkpatrick. “The iPhone has a fully functional browser. We can show desktop ads, not mobile ads. That’s a huge change from our perspective.”

Google would prefer to have mobile and the Internet be more unified than separate for advertising purposes. But there are challenges with "full HTML" browsers: desktop ads are less visible and therefore much less effective on the smaller screen.

As we wrote earlier this year:

Even though Android was in the works before the launch of the iPhone there’s a way in which they’re “connected at the hip” or Android is the direct beneficiary of the iPhone in a certain way. There might not have been as much carrier and OEM interest in Android had their not been an iPhone to show the benefits of a better mobile user experience.

It's almost certain, because of the ways that it can be configured, that the Android phones and experiences that show up in version 1.0 will not be as "good" as the iPhone. But if they become as widely available as Google hopes they'll help push the mobile Internet forward on a larger scale. In many ways Google hopes to become Honda (less flash, more unit sales) to Apple's Mercedes (more prestige, fewer sales).

Yahoo Emphasizes LMS

Yahoo's Local GM Frazier Miller recently emphasized how important local content delivery on mobile phones is:

Frazier Miller, general manager of Yahoo! Local, said that by 2010 mobile phones are expected to outnumber PCs by three to one, adding that local information is the biggest demand from mobile users.

He continued: "We have a perfect storm brewing between user demand, advertising desire for targeting and mobile evolution that's going to make this an incredibly rich arena for the next few years."

Clients can see our analysis of Yahoo's survey of 20 million search queries. Local is a critical content category but it's not the only one in demand. Yet it's probably the most fruitful area for marketers, if they can learn how to tap the opportunity.

AT&T See Strong Wireless Growth, Has Voice for iPhone

Many companies, including Nuance, are working on voice control or speech enabling applications for the iPhone. But iPhone carrier AT&T has reportedly developed voice control for iPhone apps itself. The AppleInsider blog has a video showing use of the capability with the Yellowpages.com iPhone application. (Scroll for the video.)

The speech recognition capability and processing occurs on the server side and isn't on the device itself. It also isn't limited to the iPhone and could work with other handsets or appliances like IP-connected TV.

Meanwhile, AT&T posted modest growth in Q2 overall (4.7% YoY) but more "robust" growth in wireless (15.8%):

"The Apple iPhone 3G is a dramatic example of this transformation," Stephenson added. "In the days following our exclusive U.S. launch of this new device, powered by the nation's fastest 3G wireless network, customer response has been everything we had anticipated and more. This strengthens our wireless business, and it reinforces our positive view of the opportunities ahead for AT&T and the industry."

AT&T is subsidizing the new iPhone (to the tune of $400), which accounts for much of its rapid sales pace.