Jaiku & Location Awareness

Blogger Jonathan Mulholland speculates that Google acquired Finnish "microblogging" desktop-SMS platform Jaiku , rather than Twitter, because of Jaiku's location awareness and corresponding ad-targeting capabilities:

Jaiku is I think unique in combining micro-blogging AND user location awareness. For the uninitiated, when posting status updates Jaiku has the ability to capture and share the location information (neighbourhood, city, country) of the poster in real time. So in addition to a message post Jaiku can provide real time location awareness of users. Hmmm that's interesting...

And how does Jaiku do this? An integral part of the service is a client application for Symbian S60 platform mobile phones. The client uses location APIs within S60 devices to triangulate the handset (and the users) location based on nearby cellular network towers. The Jaiku client was in fact originally conceived as a "status aware address book," and as such integrates into compatible S60 phones to the extent that it also shares the phones (and again the users) status availability.

While ad targeting is clearly a value for Google here, I don't think that's the only use of location awareness the company has in mind. Local, contextual relevance (of the non-advertising kind) and friend finding are other location-aware activities that are potentially important in mobile.

'GPhone' on Sale Next Month, T-Mobile Sued Over iPhone Exclusivity

Silicon Alley Insider has pics of the first Android phone to hit the market. It's really not a mainstream device at all but goes on sale next month apparently.

And in Germany, the iPhone's deal with T-Mobile faces legal challenges over its exclusivity. Vodafone Deutschland has filed for an injunction against T-Mobile and is challenging its right to be the exclusive seller of the iPhone in Germany.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Vodafone said it has no plans to issue further injunctions against rivals exclusively selling the iPhone. "We're not taking any plans to replicate these actions anywhere else, or in the U.K.," a Vodafone spokesman said. "It's a different regulatory environment. We believe it's more to do with a breach of local German laws."

Yesterday, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin criticized the iPhone as a "pretty poor experience." Vodafone lost out to Telefonica's 02 to be the exclusive UK distributor of the device. Hence the criticism -- and possibly the litigation.

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Here's more from Reuters.

NPD: Smartphones 11% of Sales in Q3

NPD group reported on Q3 cellphone sales in the US. In order of market share, here were the top handset OEMs for the quarter:

  • Motorola 31%
  • LG 17%
  • Samsung 16%
  • Nokia 11%
  • Sanyo 4%

Apple came in sixth with the iPhone. In addition, the research firm said that 11% of the phones sold in the quarter were smartphones. User surveys show that smartphone owners search the mobile Internet more than non-smartphone owners.

AT&T May Join Google Mobile Alliance

Much to my surprise, AT&T is apparently warming up to the idea of becoming part of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) that supports the Android platform. AT&T has, at times, seemed like Google's mortal enemy, vigorously opposing, for example, Google's arguments for open wireless networks and the pending acquisition of DoubleClick.

However, according to Bloomberg:

AT&T has talked with Google about joining its mobile-phone software alliance. The phone company is "analyzing the situation" and may use Google's software for phones, Ralph de la Vega, chief executive officer of the wireless unit, said in an interview Friday. He refused to give details of discussions and said he hasn't personally met with Mountain View-based Google.

Verizon has also been in talks with Google to become part of the OHA. If Google succeeds in bringing these two carriers -- the largest in the US market -- into the coalition it will be a coup for the company in establishing the credibility and viability of the platform.

PPCall Provider Ingenio Acquired by AT&T

Speaking of AT&T . . . Earlier today AT&T announced that it had acquired Ingenio (no amount disclosed). Revenues at the company were roughly $80-$90 million in 2006, largely from the legacy online advice business (Keen). It's not clear at the moment whether the entire company was acquired. But if so I would imagine the acquisition price would have had to have been north of $250 million or more.

Ingenio has mobile distribution relationships with Jingle Networks, Medio, JumpTap and Microsoft Live Search. The company has been around since 1999.

MapQuest Launches Subscription-Based Navigator 5.0

AOL's MapQuest is introducing a new, enhanced version of its popular Navigator product. It's voice-enabled and offers turn by turn directions and is GPS enabled. According to the release, new features in this version include:

* Live Traffic -- Powered by INRIX, the leading provider of traffic flow information in the U.S., MapQuest Navigator lets users see the latest traffic flow along their route, get traffic alerts, and even be rerouted according to live traffic conditions in more than 106 markets across the United States.

* AOL CityGuide Content including City's Best Ratings -- AOL CityGuide provides MapQuest Navigator users with local listings and ratings of restaurants and nightlife information for nearly 40 of the top cities nationwide.

* Gas Prices -- Find the lowest fuel prices nearest to your location, and search by station brand, distance or fuel type, including diesel and alternative fuels.

* Text to Speech (TTS) Technology -- Street names and navigation instructions are voice-announced along the route in advance of turns; while each maneuver and cross-streets are conveniently labeled on the display. The voice interface will even specify the destination as "on the left" or "on the right" upon arrival.

* 3D Map View -- Full-color 3D moving maps, allowing users to gain an above-view and forward-looking perspective as they travel.

Coming soon, users will be able to leverage a new "Send to Navigator" feature, enabling them to research and plan their trips on MapQuest.com, and send locations from the site to MapQuest Navigator.

The product costs $4.99 per month. The challenge for MapQuest will be to keep the service one step ahead of the free services. Indeed, AOL's own MyMobile application will offer some of this content for free.

Over time, subscription services will likely die out in favor of ad-supported models but they have a chance in the near term to garner some revenue. Maps & Directions is one of the most popular content categories in mobile.

Google's Larger Mobile Ambitions

The company's mobile designs, specifically with regard to the upcoming wireless spectrum auction in the U.S. (and its probable bid), are speculated about and discussed in the Wall Street Journal this morning:

The company has said it wants to make mobile networks more open, so that consumers can use any Internet service and application and move their handsets between carriers without onerous restrictions. That's one impetus behind the Android software for mobile phones that Google announced Nov. 5, alongside a group of industry partners including Taiwan's HTC Corp., a handset maker, and Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile, a wireless carrier.

Google also views open wireless networks as key to sidestep any telephone and cable company efforts to make it difficult for consumers to access Google services, or to charge Google to deliver the services to consumers over their Internet connections. Carriers such as Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications, Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, say they guard their networks closely to provide high-quality phone and Internet service and protect consumers from security breaches and invasions of privacy.

Assuming Google does bid and becomes an operator or some version thereof, there are challenges and considerable risk to the company. There are the non-trivial challenges of providing complete and quality network coverage. There are also the ongoing challenges of running a wireless carrier, and so on. Then there's the matter of Android.

Google needs to build the widest acceptance of Android it can among carriers in the U.S. (and abroad). If the company cannot, arguably Android becomes "just another" platform that developers have to worry about instead of the great open platform that Google hopes it will become. However, if Google effectively starts to compete with operators they might be less than enthusiastic about participating or using the platform.

But Android also doesn't entirely solve the problem Google is trying to solve: opening up the wireless market in the US. That's because carriers could theoretically create locked or closed phones using Android that would potentially shut out Google Apps, thus partly defeating the ambitions of Android.

We'll see what happens. It's a fascinating and, in some ways precarious, time to be part of the wireless industry in the U.S. And Google is certainly stirring the pot.

Baidu Attempts to Preempt Google in Chinese Mobile Market

Baidu is the leading search engine in China. Now it wants to extend that lead into mobile search. The company is working with Chinese operators to ready mobile search for 3G Chinese networks.

China Mobile is member of the Open Handset Alliance/Android but is mentioned in this article as one of Baidu's potential partners for mobile search. Medio is also working with mInfo on mobile search for the Chinese market. There are some 500 million mobile subscribers in China according to Chinese government figures.

There are only two mobile carriers in China so how all this plays out will be quite interesting.

E-Book Readers and Mobile Internet Access

The Sony Reader has been around for some time and is now getting a big marketing push, especially in airports where I see it. On Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal and CNET, Amazon is going to introduce its "e-book reader," Kindle. The price is expected to be $399.

But this is interesting, from the CNET article:

The Kindle is equipped with a Wi-Fi connection that taps into an Amazon e-book store, which users can access to purchase new electronic books--and Amazon has reportedly signed onto a deal with Sprint for EVDO access. Additionally, the device comes with a headphone jack for audiobooks, as well as an e-mail address.

Like many other devices introduced for other purposes (Sony PSP, etc.) what prevents this from becoming a mobile Internet access device with a large screen -- or at least larger than my mobile phone? I think the answer is nothing.

Except for business travelers and with selected others, these readers will generally flop. Reading a physical book is a lot more satisfying and not as hard on your eyes. But there's another scenario that involves providing Internet access as an additional reason to purchase these readers.

The price will hold many people back, but if it came with Internet access or a good deal for access, then it would be a much more interesting piece of hardware.

Will Mobile IM Eventually Threaten SMS?

AOL put out some interesting IM-related research findings yesterday. Among the data were:

According to the second annual AP-AOL Instant Messaging Trends Survey, many IM users are spending time instant messaging from their cell phones. The survey, which examined instant messaging trends and usage habits among 1,246 IM users, revealed that 25 percent of respondents send IMs from their cell phones, including one in three (32 percent) teens.

Until there's true IM interoperability it won't replace text messaging. Anywhere from 50% to 70% of US mobile users text (to varying degrees). But over the long term IM could potentially replace SMS for mobile users, especially if people shift from text plans to Internet plans (unless they're bundled) as the mobile Internet becomes more important.