At the recent Bing Search Summit Microsoft mentioned in passing that some of their internal research revealed that 60% of mobile users wanted input alternatives to the keyboard. There are basically three: voice, the camera and some sort of visual shortcut on the touchscreen (images/icons).
Voice search has improved so dramatically that I use it on my EVO at least 50% of the time. I have Vlingo on my device and I've casually been testing it beside Google voice search. In my very non-scientific and non-controlled tests I've actually found Google voice recognition to be slightly more accurate and reliable than Vlingo. But Vlingo is a broader tool and can do a wider range of things on the device.
CEO Dave Gannon told us several weeks ago when he was last in town that there's a perception in the market that speech is now a commodity. Vlingo, which has both free and paid versions of its app, is trying to become a much broader tool -- moving into Siri-like "personal assistant" territory -- that consumers will think of "front door" on the device and way to get acces to everything from their contacts and apps to local search results.
Siri was not long ago acquired by Apple for an undisclosed amount.
Vlingo is now releasing what it calls "Super Dialer," a local search tool that includes sponsored results from directory publishers. This also diversifies the revenue that Vlingo collects, which has largely been subscription based to date. TechCrunch reported that Gannon said that about 8% of users who try Vlingo convert to the paid version.
Here's a general demonstration of Vlingo for Android devices:
At the Mobile Beat conference Eric Tseng, head of mobile products for Facebook (and former Google-Android exec.), announced that Facebook now has 150 million "active" mobile users (that means daily usage). That's up from 100 million in February.
Against that backdrop there are indications that, at least in the US Facebook's growth, may have slowed. The company however sees mobile as a driver of its next phase of growth. Overall, there are more than 500 million Facebook users globally.
Tseng suggested that Facebook would soon become a "mobile platform." That means that Facebook will be extending "the social graph" to third party applications and sites. The Open Graph API and the Like button will also make their way into mobile according to Tseng.
Facebook is poised to roll out some sort of location-based service. Its exact form is uncertain. I've argued that instantly Facebook would be a huge mobile ad network should it decide that it wants to become one. Yet there are reasons to believe that won't happen in the near term.
Facebook's forthcoming Q&A service is also one that could be a potent location-based recommendations engine. And the Like button data will be a huge source of local favorites and recommendations. Third parties will be tapping all this data to enhance their apps and sites.
The company sees mobile devices as a growth engine party because in developing countries (e.g., India) mobile is the primary (and maybe only) tool for Internet acces. This is why Facebook developed its SMS-based "0.facebook.com" site earlier this year.
The car is the ultimate "mobile device" isn't it? And increasingly cars are becoming "connected" to the Internet. Google now has an impressive roster of car brands on a global basis to which users can send Google Maps directions.
According to the Google LatLong blog:
With today’s additions, drivers can send destinations from Google Maps directly to their connected vehicles in 19 countries and more than 20 different brands.
In the US alone, Send-To-Car is now available on more than 15 car brands and we hope to see even more partners join us soon.
On a smaller scale Mapquest and Nokia's Ovi Maps offer in-car integration. However Navteq (owned by Nokia) powers most of the PND devices that operate in vehicles in the US. In Europe it's Teleatlas, owned by TomTom.
Google has introduced a social network (of sorts) for parking: Open Spot. Before you say, "How is Google gonna find open parking spots?" it's actually fairly simple and clever. The idea behind the new Android app is to create a network of people telling each other where there's available parking locally.
Open Spot app users indicate when they're leaving a spot. The phone's location awareness finds/locates that person on the map and broadcasts that information to other Open Spot users.
Spots are hypothetically "open" for a maximum of 20 minutes. There's a color-coded, time-based system to indicate the probability that spots remain open. According to the FAQs:
Humorously Google has even created a name for those who might try and fool others by creating fake parking spots: "Griefers."
We call these people ‘griefers’. We’re watching for behavior that looks like a griefer spoofing parking spots. We have a couple of mechanisms available to make sure someone can’t leave a bunch of fake parking spots. If we see this happening we will take steps to fix it.
This is a very clever and social approach to parking inventory. It sidesteps the creation of databases and other potentially costly or unwieldy mechanisms that could be used to indicate available spots. The drawback is that it requires people to download an app and join the network.
Paradoxically this is a network that you don't want to be too small or too large. Too small and you don't have enough "inventory." Too large and you may have too much competition for that inventory. However, at least in theory, as the network grows so too will the available parking spots.
Geodelic is one of a handful of independent LBS content providers in the market. Where.com and Aloqa are also part of that group. They pre-date Foursquare and its geo-social-gaming kin. Geodelic has had some success with carriers, white labeling and with its consumer-branded smartphone apps; yet it remains a "tier 2" player for at least the time being.
Yesterday the company announced new funding, bringing the total to $10 million over two rounds:
Geodelic, a mobile media platform, announced today that it has raised $7 million in a Series B equity financing. MK Capital led the investment, and current investors Clearstone Venture Partners and Shasta Ventures joined the round.
Founded in 2008 and incubated by Clearstone Venture Partners, the company has quickly gained traction since the launch of their first application with T-Mobile in 2009. This latest round of financing brings total investment to over $10 million. To date, the Geodelic smartphone application has been downloaded over half a million times on Android phones. It is also available for iPhone, and currently in development for Blackberry devices.
There are lots of companies and lots of noise in the LBS segment and it's seemingly getting more crowded by the day. There's also the question of revenues. This is the same question that Foursquare confronts as it seeks to grow and develop a business model.
Without a sales channel it's very difficult to sell to local businesses; and without massive reach it's tough to get brands' attention -- though Foursquare has managed to because it's so "hot."
All the "traditional" Internet companies, with any interest in local are pushing into mobile. Google is coming at mobile and location from several directions at once. Twitter just announced Places. And Facebook, with 100 million active daily mobile users, is threatening to launch both a local capability as well as a Q&A service. Yelp recently announced that it had two million mobile users and that 27% of its search query volume was coming from the iPhone.
Over time LBS on mobile devices will probably be dominated by the major online services and companies. There will be room for a few independents and start-ups. But most of those will need to focus and specialize. The "horizontal" market will probably go to the giants.
One of the questions for Geodelic is whether to continue with its consumer strategy or push white labeling more aggressively. They're not mutually exclusive of course but it will be tough to have success in both areas equally.
The company refers to itself as a "mobile media platform." That may be an indication of its future direction.
One of the long-standing debates in mobile is "apps vs. browser" and what will win over time. Many people are betting on mobile browsers because they're smartphone-platform agnostic and the "open" Web has to win vs. the "closed" world of apps -- right? Maybe not.
ComScore just released numbers that shows consumer mobile usage of map applications is growing and now trumps browser-based maps. That makes sense because the map-app experience is richer and offers more functionality than Web-based mobile maps. (We just wrote about the hybrid "wapplication" category, which to some degree will extend to maps.)
As you might expect, most of mobile maps' usage is for navigation in car (87%). ComScore also reported that 69% of users are accessing maps at least once a week, with 9% using them on a daily basis. Here are the comScore charts:
One question making the rounds -- without a good answer -- is "what percentage of mobile search is local?" Let's put aside app usage, which can be a form of search, for the time being.
Google previously said that on the PC "20% of searches on Google are related to location." Because of the challenges in defining a local search -- is "flat panel TV" a local search because 95%+ are bought in stores? -- this 20% figure is probably conservative.
On the mobile side of the house, two Google employees have been cited (Paul Feng and Diana Pouliot) as sources for the metric that roughly one third (33%) of mobile search have a local intent. I asked Google to unpack this figure for me and I was told by a Google PR person that this number came from BIA/Kelsey Group.
I'm not confident that's actually the case, but if it is it's really weird that Google would repeat a piece of third party data when it has actual mobile query data. BIA's data are survey based and self-reported. Surveys are good directional indicators but not as accurate as actual behavioral data.
Previously Microsoft presented data (from 2008) that argued if "local intent" is the value, at least 50% of mobile searches featured local intent:
Source: Microsoft (3/10, based on 2008 data)
This morning I was playing around with Google's keyword traffic estimator tool, which allows you to look up mobile search volumes for specific queries. I looked at a number of categories and query terms: doctors, restaurants, movies and a few others. One caveat here is that I selected terms that are predominantly local terms. Product-related terms are far less local (in Google's attribution) though most products are going to be bought in stores.
What I discovered was that the portion of queries attributed to "local" on a monthly basis varied, as one might expect, by query and category. The range was 29% at the low end to 67% at the high end for the terms I selected. The average of this small sample came out at around 43%.
Someone with API access could probably do this calculation across a broad range of queries and get a better "average" than I got off my small non-scientific sample. But the point here is that there's a lot of LBS action in the query mix on mobile devices. And with specific local-intent queries there's going to be an accompanying "need it now" interest in many or most cases as well.
So let's not call it "one third." Instead, let's say there's a "local intent" mobile query range from about 20% in ambiguous categories to as much as 70% (or more: e.g., restaurants) in some categories where fulfillment is offline.
eBay has acquired the RedLaser mobile application and related technology from Occipital for an undisclosed sum. In this interview with ubiquitious blogger Robert Scoble, Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice president of mobile, explained that RedLaser would be quickly integrated into eBay's mobile offerings (calling it a "close cousin to Shopping.com").
RedLaser provides an iPhone app that is highly rated as a UPC (barcode) reader. Yankovich sees it as a very accurate way to enter a product description for the purpose of discovering the best price or determining availability from a nearby retailer or online vendor.
The giant online marketplace, eBay, is morphing from an auction house, where mobile devices enable members to monitor the status of their bids into a deal-finder where mobile phones are utilities through which shoppers can enter keywords for the items they seek and then eBay finds the lowest price for goods, not just on its core eBay site but, more importantly, on shopping.com, which provides search tools along with both product and merchant reviews from the Epinions community. RedLaser becomes a mechanism for accurately entering product descriptions to initiate the shopping process.
As an immediate result of the acquisition, the RedLaser app (which used to carry a $1.99 price tag) is now offered for free in the iTunes App Store, where it had already been downloaded a reported two million times.
Microsoft has relatively quielty released a new version of Bing for the iPhone. It adds a range of features and capabilities, as well as improving some existing features. Bing on the iPhone was already a very strong app and now it has a lot more to offer.
Among the list of things that are new:
The barcode scanner, like others in the market, makes it possible to quickly check prices and product reviews in the store without typing in product names or other identifiers. The social features are also fun/useful. You can search on a product or place and see if your friends have said anything about it.
The Bing iPhone app is underappreciated in my view. It's quite a bit richer and more user-friendly, for example, than the comparable Google app for the iPhone. Google offers many of the same capabilities spread out across Maps, Product Search and Goggles however.
These new Bing upgrades have made it more useful in my opinion. Beyond this, though not new, it has very good voice search. At some point soon, I'm going to do a quick "head to head" comparison of Vlingo, Nuance, Bing and Google voice search results.
This is just a quick overview. There's more on the new Bing iPhone app at Search Engine Land.
Where, which has built its own local ad network for mobile devices, is now lauching "Where Deal Alerts." These are SMS-based coupons, offers and deals, that factor in user preferences (by shopping category) and location:
By opting into the service, customers can set up a user profile that will allow them to receive WHERE’s Deal Alerts via text message. Consumers simply select proximity, day of week, time of day, and content categories such as restaurants and shopping, and WHERE will automatically send coupons via SMS based on preferences.
Where Deal Alerts launch first on AT&T (though not yet on the iPhone) but will expand to other carriers over time. The one limitation of the system is that users have to specify a single time of day for delivery of the alerts.
Deal alerts are set up from within the Where application but, as mentioned, come in the form of SMS notifications tied to location. Thus proximity to a QSR chain or particular merchant (at a particular time of day) would trigger delivery. Because Where has access to location from the carrier, users don't need to be in the Where app itself, "check in" or even be "online" to receive the offers.
From the Where application users configure deal alerts from within the coupon widget. Here's how the site describes the sign-up process:
Where has aggregated lots of coupon inventory from multiple partners (e.g., Valassis, ValPak) to provide sufficient coverage to make the program interesting.
Placecast offers a conceptually similar program for the retail category with ShopAlerts, and individual marketers and stores are doing their own ad-hoc opt-in SMS-based loyalty marketing.
The Where program, however, is novel in several respects. And because it's category-based (after opt-in) it can function as a new customer acquisition program and not exclusively as a mobile loyalty vehicle.
Citi Cards has introduced Citi Shopper, a smartphone app that offers deals and local product inventory information. It's partly a branding play and partly a loyalty play for Citi. The content is provided by mobile shopping platform Slifter (GPShopper).
According to the release the free app "delivers local offers and deals on products from electronics to apparel; compares prices; provides maps to nearby retailers; as well as reminds Citi cardmembers of offers and benefits specific to their Citi credit cards . . .
Once installed on their mobile device, Citi Shopper lets users:
--Browse deals and promotions at major local and online retailers
--Be reminded of Citi credit card-specific rewards, benefits and offers
--Search local store inventory for over two billion products
--Sort products by price or distance
--View product details, images, availability, and a map to the nearest location
--Save products and promotions into a mobile Shopping List
--Share finds with friends and family
--Contact participating retailers with just one click
This is a smart idea and strong concept. The only problem is that the user experience absolutedly stinks. It may well be downloaded heavily if Citi promotes the app to card members in billing and marketing materials. However it will need to be dramatically improved if Citi hopes for repeat usage.
This app is another example of a company thinking that it needs to do something -- with an app -- in mobile and not thinking the entire process through carefully. It's very similar to the more attractive but equally unusable "Priceless Picks" shopping app from Mastercard.
There are other product and shopping vendors that Citi could have worked with. And the bank should have paid much more attention to the user experience. Perhaps it will go back to the drawing board for version 2.0. There's clearly potential here; it's just very far from realized.
We met with Vlingo yesterday. The company is previewing some new functionality and we had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion about the product and strategy. My question is: why isn't Vlingo investor Yahoo! leveraging the heck out of it? There was some initial fanfare about voice search on Yahoo! Mobile but since then there's been little or nothing.
I think that Yahoo! should aggressively integrate Vlingo into its mobile app as a discovery tool for all types of content and not just Web search. It should also build a mobile version of Yahoo! Answers and think about Vlingo as a front end to that experience.
Alternatively our friends in Finland (Nokia) might consider buying a company like Vlingo and integrating it as a core component of its handsets -- for smartphones and not-so-smart phones.
Voice will continue to improve as a tool for a broad array of uses on the handset. Apple obviously bought Siri, which is not about voice search per se, but about semantic understanding of voice queries and matching with transactional services. And Google continues to invest in voice and see it as a differentiator.
Microsoft of course had formidable voice assets but has not fully exploited or marketed them. Perhaps with the release of Windows (Mobile) 7 handsets we'll see a more prominent role for voice on the device.
But Yahoo!'s got to get into the game more here.
The anomaly that is Apple just threw down another challenge to third-party application developers who look to mobile advertisements as the ultimate source of sustainability. Terms and conditions in the newly updated iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (which has been revised in conjunction with the release of iOS 4) starts with the wording that developers "may not collect, use, or disclose to any third party, user or device data without prior user consent" and then adds further strictures which, in the most damning case for many of the aspiring analytics providers, prohibit release for the purposes of "aggregation, processing, or analysis".
While the change in wording appears to be a broad prohibition against third-party analytics, it is most commonly seen as a direct attack on AdMob, the mobile advertising services company recently purchased by Google. Apple will only let developers release user information to a third-party only if it is "an independent advertising service provider whose primary business is serving mobile ads." In other words, not an affiliate of the largest provider of sponsored search services on the planet. To turn the knife a bit, or perhaps to provide transparency, Apple provides examples of the sorts of third-parties that are not, by their nature, "independent", saying explicitly that "an advertising service provider owned by or affiliated with a developer or distributor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems or development environments other than Apple would not qualify as independent."
If you take as a given that advertisers are often the companies with whom mobile subscribers want to carry out business, this is not an empowering move. Apple apparently doesn't think that it is in the iPhone user's interest to share data with third-parties even if the user consents to it, especially if release of such data might benefit Google, Microsoft, Nokia or dozens of other firms that pose direct threats to Apple's vain efforts for smartphone primacy.
Clearly, there will be work-arounds and arrangements to be made in the name of providing relevant messages (promotional, social, realtime or other) to Apple's mobile customers. Still, the message is clear. None of this will take place without prior consent from both Apple on behalf of its iOS-based device users.
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.