Google is making its mobile Navigation app available in more countries, throughout Europe: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. It's voice guided and offers voice search. In a related development, Google expanded the number of European languages for Google Voice Search.
Google's free Navigation (which works well) has not yet come to the iPhone, whether for technical or competitive reasons. However a new free app from Berlin-Germany based Skobbler offers free turn by turn navigation on the iPhone. I haven't used it so can't comment on its quality. It uses OpenStreetMap for base data.
Finally, Google Maps are now a part of GM's OnStar functionality. Users can email directions from PC-based Google Maps to select GM cars. Ford has also integrated Google Maps into its Sync system and will allow users to send directions to Sync from the PC or smartphones. Sync was co-developed with Microsoft so I would expect comparable functionality for Bing.
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! . . .
Despite the fact that Loopt has more than three million users it's largely running in place. Superseded by larger and more established brands as they've entered the mobile segment (i.e., Facebook), Loopt has tried to reinvent itself a number of times. For example, it went initially from a pure mobile social network to a Yelp-like application. And now it's doing a version of Foursquare -- with a twist.
Loopt's latest effort to renew itself is called Loopt Star. The idea is almost identical in concept to Foursquare, however the rewards for checking in to local places are more direct and tangible. Like Foursquare, MyTown and Gowalla, among others, Loopt Star is a "game" but explicitly conceived as a mobile loyalty program for stores and consumers as well.
Check in at stores and branded locations, gain points and rewards that translate into tangible offers, discounts, free stuff and so on. There's also a leaderboard. Users who check in most frequently can become the "boss" (rather than mayor) of their favorite places.
Loopt previously added local coupons to its app but this is a more structured and coherent effort. And it could turn out to be the one that gives Loopt new appeal and finally attracts a buyer.
Loopt Star relies on Facebook and users' Facebook networks instead of trying to create its own "organic" user base. In so doing Loopt hopes that it can more quickly gain adoption and momentum for Loopt Star. Yet it's also possible that Loopt Star will strike its target audience as duplicative of their existing LBS "games."
The LBS gaming phenomenon has yet to go mainstream. Accordingly there's an opportunity to build an app or service that will broadly appeal to mainstream consumers. That app could be Shopkick, which has yet to launch. It seeks to marry LBS gaming and retail specifically. And depending on the execution, it could appeal to mainstream shoppers and women in particular.
A report recently sponsored and released by the MMA shows that increasing numbers of US mobile users are engaged in so-called "m-commerce." The survey was conducted this past April. Here are some of the findings:
Apple and RIM users are the most active in purchasing content or services through their handsets. Here's an age breakdown by commerce category:
The mobile Internet was the avenue most people used to transact. And "young adults, age 18-24 years, were significantly more likely to purchase content for their mobile phones using mobile web (74% vs. 48% overall) while adults ages 55-64 years were more likely to purchase content through messaging (63% vs. 30%). Consumers ages 35-44 years were most likely to use mobile applications to use discounts or coupons (63% vs. 39% overall)."
Deals and coupons were a huge area of interest according to the survey findings:
Consumers are most interested in using their mobile phones to use discounts or coupons (30%) and to purchase content for their mobile phones (26%). Asians and young adults, ages 25-34 years, stood out as those most interested to use discounts or coupons (38% and 35% respectively were “very interested” or “somewhat interested”).
These findings confirm and say at least a couple of things to us:
As expected today Yahoo! and Nokia announced a strategic alliance. As part of that the two will incorporate selected services into each other's offerings:
The integration will begin later this year and roll out globally in 2011. Ads and search, interestingly, don't appear to be part of the deal. The deal does, however, offer Yahoo! a solution for its mapping product -- a product that had led the market initially but has now fallen way behind Google and Microsoft. Nokia gets additional credibility and reach for its Ovi Maps, powered by subsidiary Navteq.
It's curious to me that the press release and related materials are silent on the question of search and advertising.
Navteq has built/is building its own ad network. Does Navteq get to put ads on Ovi Maps on Yahoo!? And one would think that Yahoo! would have sought to be the "default" search engine for Nokia handsets.
I'm trying to find out more about these areas and will update this post if I get more information from Yahoo!
Update: I just got this from a Yahoo! spokesperson:
Search is not part of the initial agreement announced today. The two companies will work on future collaborations. The companies plan to monetize the services in the future.
Let's consider what might be the most intriguing mobile aspect of this deal from a Yahoo! perspective: Yahoo! branded turn-by-turn navigation. Google Navigation is a terrific app. Ovi Maps has tried to match it and claims better data and routing (vis-a-vis Navteq). Yahoo! could potentially just co-brand Ovi Maps and throw in some additional Yahoo! Local content along the way.
I would be surprised if Yahoo! didn't see this opportunity and want to develop it. That, combined with the chance to make Yahoo! (PC) Maps better probably justifies this entire deal.
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.
Local search application platform Aloqa has added some nice new features and content to its Android app (and I believe iPhone app). I typically don't try and cover individual apps at this level of detail because there are just too many to keep track of. However I ran into Aloqa CEO Sanjeev Agrawal at the Google I/O developer event. He demo'd some of the new features launching today.
Among them are the inclusion of the Like button from Facebook across channels and individual profile pages. There is also a range of new channels and content, including a Coupons.com integration with more to come.
He pointed out that, using the Android Widget Capability, users can create a homescreen widget for any channel of interest, including brands, fast food places and deals. Users can set notifications (for their phone to ring or vibrate) as well. Accordingly, you could set your phone to vibrate when, for example, you physically passed or were in close enough proximity to a Starbucks or local business with a coupon, etc.
The screenshots below illustrate the new functionality.
Local product data provider Krillion is behind a new barcode scanning/local shopping capability integrated into Nokia's Point & Find service. Krillion's retailer (mostly big box) data now enables owners of Nokia S60 devices to "point" them at the UPC barcode of products in the store or in the kitchen and "quickly locate nearby retailers that carry a specific item, determine current availability at each store, and compare prices."
Krillion provides this same data to dozens of sites online and is also doing something similar for the ShopSavvy mobile product search engine. There are a number of fairly obvious use cases for this capability. In addition, Krillion says that if there's no local product availability to display it will show the same item from an online store.
Other local product inventory data providers include NearbyNow and Milo. Google is also working directly with retailers to offer a similar capability in mobile and online. There are several other companies beyond Krillion and the others above, which have "proxy" information for local inventory data (e.g., what's shipped from OEMs to stores, what's on sale or special in local stores, etc.).
The larger point reflected in this announcement is that smartphone cameras and barcode scanners will be used to gain product availability information, pricing and reviews -- and eventually initiate to m-commerce transactions.
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.
In this post, Microsoft's Justin Jed highlights two new features that ship with the latest version of the Bing App for Mobile, designed for phones running the Windows Mobile 6.x operating system. First is a new look for the apps "Home Page" which, like its counterparts running on desktops, laptops, iPhones and Androids, sports some stunning photography. But more important is the one-touch access to popular uses and features that emphasize local activities: Movies, Traffic, Maps, Local, Directions and Favorites.
Of greater interest from our point of view is the integration of Microsoft's Tellme service into the Windows Mobile mix - this time as the foundation for voice-based turn-by-turn driving directions. It has been over a year since Greg Sterling posted this assessment of Tellme Mobile and its ability to support voice-based search, messaging and call origination. As one of the originators of the whole "Voice Portal" concept, Tellme has had the ability to offer turn-by-turn directions for a number of years. Starting with the first Droid and its "car mount" (introduced in October 2009), smartphone makers have had their sights set on the Personal Navigation Device (PND) market.
Just last week, Nokia stepped up competition by creating a marketplace for "own voices" to provide turn-by-turn directions for its OVI Maps application. Making turn-by-turn directions part of the Bing Mobile application makes navigation an integral part of the local, mobile search experience and is a very nice touch. Microsoft already incorporates directions (sans the "voice guide" feature) into the Bing app on iPhones and Android devices. The new application is designed to work on the Sprint, T-Mobile, or AT&T networks, and could emerge as an important differentiator in what is emerging as an increasingly competitive market.
In his column on Search Engine Land, Greg Sterling added: There are a lot of installed Windows Mobile smartphones but their share, at least until Windows Mobile 7 comes out later this year, is declining. A provocative question to ask is: will this feature come to the excellent Bing iPhone app? Google has been holding back Navigation from the iPhone (my guess is to try and differentiate Android handsets). A free voice-guided navigation app as part of the Bing iPhone client would probably be widely used by iPhone owners and probably motivate Google quite quickly to bring out Navigation for the iPhone. RIM users would also welcome the new Bing functionality I’m sure. While the scenario immediately above is speculation on my part I would be surprised if Bing didn’t try and populate this across the top smartphone platforms — perhaps even Android.
In October of 2009, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) partnered with Foursquare to promote public transit use:
Bay Area Rapid Transit has become the first transit agency to partner with the location-based mobile network Foursquare, with the goal of encouraging public transit use. . . .
"A lot of BART riders are already having fun with this game," said Timothy Moore, BART website manager. "We hope this partnership will encourage them to check out different stations and neighborhoods, and will show people who aren't already BART riders some of the great things to do that are easy to get to on transit."
The agency released the results of a consumer survey (1/10 - 3/10, n=446) conducted earlier this year. It appears to be creating more "fun" and engagement around public transportation for the riders using Foursquare:
Nearly a third of respondents said they typically ride BART five days per week; a third also said they check in regularly on Foursquare at BART stations. Fourteen percent said they're riding BART more often because of their interaction with Foursquare.
So the experiment and unlikely partnership appears to be a success. With more riders, hopefully BART can hold off the relentless fare increases.
Google has updated the look of its UI on the PC, with new search options. There's also been a corresponding change in mobile. It makes search options/filters more prominent and easier to access. They're also more colorful. According to the Google Mobile Blog:
When you go to Google.com in the US on your iPhone or Android-powered device, and enter a search, you can now tap on the button to the left of the search box on the results page to see a new search options menu. Then, selecting any item in the menu will refine your search. For example, if you are looking for recent results for "Mother's day gift", simply tap the "Past week" option.
Here are a couple of screens I just pulled on a search for "camera." On the left is the default view. The right shows the new, more colorful search options, which you can access by tapping the ">>" icon to the left of the search box:
Not all the same tools and filters appear to be available in mobile as online. You can, in my example, find local stores that carry cameras and currently have them in stock (at least via big boxes). In order to do so, you need to select "products" and then the "in stock nearby" link associated with particular, desired item in Google Shopping.
There was reportedly also supposed to be a "reviews" filter, which would be very useful on the go. But that isn't in this version of the rollout.
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.
Like other folks this morning I received a press release from Skyhook Wireless PR that said Motorola was replacing Google's core location services with those from Skyhook Wireless:
Skyhook Wireless, the worldwide leader in location positioning, context and intelligence, today announced that Motorola, Inc. will deploy its Core Location across much of the company’s portfolio of Android-based mobile devices. Skyhook-enabled Motorola smartphones, which will begin shipping later this year, will have the ability to better support a new wave of location-aware applications by leveraging Skyhook’s precise, reliable, and fast-performing location engine.
Reportedly some Android developers are not entirely satisfied with Google's accuracy. In my casual observation and usage I've never found Google location positioning to be incorrect or bad. But I'm not a developer. Let's assume that greater accuracy is what Skyhook can offer Motorola.
I don't know whether or how this will affect Google services like Navigation on future Motorola phones. That's an interesting question for another more technically inclined person to answer. Reportedly it won't affect Android developers.
This would appear to me, however, to be another statement of independence from Motorola vis-a-vis Google in relation to Android. I infer from this as well as other moves that Motorola wants to prevent its brand and handsets from being totally subordinated to Google or becoming simply a vehicle for Google-branded services.
I've reached out to Motorola for comment about the rationale. I may not get a response but I would imagine if I do it would focus on Skyhook's accuracy or the quality of the service rather than say anything inflammatory or controversial.
Foursquare is a little over a year old and it seems that it is now looking at $100 million buyout offers from a range of players that are rumored to include Yahoo!, Microsoft and Facebook. I had long ago predicted that Facebook would buy Foursquare, but Facebook probably doesn't have to if it does location right.
Facebook was also rumored to be looking at Loopt, which is now the equivalent of the Palm of LBS services.
We previously wrote "How ‘Geo-Social Gaming’ Is Changing Local Mobile Search," and Foursquare is the most visible of the companies in the segment. Foursquare would be a tremendous asset to Yahoo or Microsoft, but would they be able to keep its momentum going? That's not clear. Large companies that buy startups often sap the vitality of those smaller companies over time.
It would probably be a different matter at Facebook. But, as I said, Facebook likely doesn't "need" Foursquare, especially if its Open Graph strategy succeeds; it will have more valuable local information than any other player in the market. It could then do a wide range of things with that data.
Foursquare has recently started paying more attention to the (small) business side of its services. But winning in the SMB market is a tough, long-term slog. It also has a number of high profile deals with cable TV companies and publishers. Those are more promising in terms of near-term and maybe even long-term revenue.
But the temptation for CEO/co-founder Dennis Crowley is to take the money and run vs. try and build Foursquare into a sustainable business. I can tell you that if I were him I would probably take the money.
Yelp declined to be bought out by Google and instead took a $100 million round of financing. Yelp told me that will partly fuel international growth and engineering hires but a large chunk of that will be devoted to salespeople, needed to obtain ad revenues from SMBs.
If Foursquare continues on as an independent entity it will be going up against that very same Yelp, yellow pages, Google, (maybe Twitter), newspapers and eventually Facebook, among numerous others. Just getting SMB attention is a big challenge, let alone selling anything to them.
While it's tempting to argue "we don't know how big Foursquare could get" and take a big round, I would bet there will be an acquisition.
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: