Given the array of truly novel and impressive mobile offerings in evidence at AlwaysOn, it seems almost counter intuitive that its advisors would have ranked the Israeli-based Modu as their mobile category winner. Clearly, they were captivated by the device itself, which was described as “sleek” with customizeable “jackets” and features.
What’s jarring about this is that everything seasoned observers said at the show seemed to indicate that phone makers will have to start looking a lot more like publishers if they’re to survive because the platform itself is becoming a commodity.
Take Nokia. Kamar Shah, Head of Industry Marketing, Services and Software, for Nokia, painted a picture of the future where Nokia sounds much more like a publisher than a device manufacturer. In Shah’s world, social networks become the crossroads of mobility and the Internet. “People, time, place all start to make sense… Equipped with GPS and a mobile camera, you can take a photo and share it in real time instantly with a network.” Advertising in such a space will bring new levels of relevance. Nokia maps will point to services users can find near them. More…
Shah says Nokia bought M-pocket, a mobile advertising and media company, to begin to monetize this new world. “When you buy your Nokia device, it comes with a subscription to music, and you can purchase games.” Since both this and the Symbian platform it also purchased are “open platform,” Nokia hopes others will use these tools to build services for mobile users.
Shawn Conahan, CEO of Intercasting, a company that builds highly specialized mobile interfaces for social networks, said every player in the mobile space aspires to be the ‘google of social networking.’” What worries him a bit if the interfaces are completely open is that anyone will be able to grab the public friends directories off of sites like MySpace and duplicate users’ whole “social graphs,” a prospect he called scary.
Maybe they should call it a ‘Friend’ vs. a ‘Phone’
But if they’re worried about this, consumers don’t show it. Nokia says its own research shows that mobile users are only talking 12 percent of the time, meaning the rest of their mobile connect time is spent sharing photos, with social applications and browsing. And, in more than 20 emerging markets, he added, for most mobile users, the interactive functions of their phone are their first experiences in social networking.
The trend towards opening the platforms where mobile networks live was in part spurred by Google, which said it would spend nearly $13 Billion on wireless spectrum if the Federal Communications Commission forced open mobile operating sytems. The FCC propagated such rules, AT&T and Verizon bought the spectrum, and google will benefit by being able to furnish its Android OS to any phones that connect to these carriers.
Yet Anthony Lewis, VP of Open Development at Verizon Wireless isn’t bothered by the trade-offs. Claiming he relishes the role of “insurgent,” he says opening up the software for cell phones “gives us carte blanche to line up more cool devices” like Kindle. “We’ll take any device and load any device” onto the network, he vowed. He predicted a wave of machine-to-machine devices such as parking meters that could talk to a central hub using more open software. The issue becomes one of pricing and it’s the one fear he has of making a misstep: “We have to be innovative,” he said.
Was this the kind of “open” system Google had in mind? “It’s going the right direction,” said Rich Miner, Google’s VP of Mobile. “We wouldn’t have AT&T and Verizon fighting about who is more open if it weren’t a value to consumers,” he added.
In this new world, the manufacturer sells a device to a consumer, who goes to a certified Web portal and downloads the usage plan of his choice. It’s up to device manufacturers and carriers to make sure the devices and applications they download won’t harm the network, Lewis said.
The whole reason for Android, Miner said, is that mobile developers needed a common platform for which to develop. “The existing fragmented Lynux world was bad for the mobile space.” Now software developers, OEMs, carriers “are all an important part of the ecosystem and are helping us with the requirements.” Beyond some open source compliance testing, Minder forsees extensive freedom in designing the user interface, so long as it conforms to google’s idea of usability.
As for whether news publishers would ever play in that development space, that would depend on their willingness to get out there and play with the tools, but Mark Rolston, chief creative officer for Frog Design said, that Google had produced “a fantastic toolkit and SDK. Already it’s a really elegant environment to work on. “
What this marks for mobile is a big shift in who is influencing the development of the mobile platform, from phone manufacturers and carriers to people who understand software and user applications.
Apple may be credited in large measure for the shift, said Matt Murphy, a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. “The iPhone ap store changed the world in 10 days,” he said. Giving developers a fixed 30/70 revenue share lent a measure of certainty to the environment as well, making the effort of developing to the iPhone worthwhile.
Who will Profit from Location Based Services?
As for who stands to make money with location-based services, most Summit attendees predicted that carriers will take a major share. But with GPS in more than 300 million handsets, the real issue becomes how locally-based information fights its way back upstream to navigationally-empowered users.
Even without its Android operating system installed, google has changed the landscape by making its maps available to mobile users. Where things get interesting is when either carriers make the actual cell-ID location of users available as information to be tapped by potential marketers and information providers, or when landmark recognition databases make even this targeting obsolete.
(That last comment might have whizzed by – as Nokia’s CTO, Bob Iannucci explained it, Nokia is experimenting with landscape recognition software so mobile users in the future might be able to scan in a picture of where they are, and so find things of interest nearby.)
So, who owns the user’s location? The user, said Sumit Agarwal, senior product manager for mobile at Google. “All our applications ask the user whether they want to share their location” to get more information. Today Google’s My Location feature already takes information broadcast from mobile towers nearby and can offer local dining or shopping choices.
“Cell tower information is the property of the carrier, so it would be better if we all saw a way to monetize that and take it out of the closet,” said Iannucci, but panelists agreed that until they see revenue coming their way, carrlers would rather play “cat and mouse games” to mask these location data.
“The question is, how can I create a marketplace for my location information, so I benefit by giving it up?” Ianncci said. “Maybe it’s not just about more targeted ads,” either. Developers have only scratched the surface, he said.
As for what mobile applications that most appealed to me – well this came as a surprise. While mobile video applications like ZipClip (which promises to “fun up” your phone), and GoldSpot Media (mobile industry’s first end-to-end dynamic ad insertion solutions for 3G) captured much of the buzz, it was the personal applications that really grabbed me.
PageOnce is that company that, once you see it, you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life. Billed as a “personal internet assistant,” PageOnce allows you to compile and consolidate on one page all the Web sites that are important to you, including all of the passwords, codes, access keys etc. for which you may rely on any single computer. Imagine if you were to change jobs… suddenly. Do you know all your log-
ons to the sites that help you run your life? What if you couldn’t ask those sites to email you your passwords because you could no longer access that email address? Now you’re starting to appreciate just 1/10th of the efficiencies PageOnce provides.
It was developed with direct-connects to your account pages using the kind of “military level” security you’d expect from an Israeli-based firm. In fact, once your accounts are organized in one place, it becomes much easier for PageOnce to detect and alert you of fraud in any of your accounts. Now, imagine this application not just on the Web but on an iPhone. CEO Guy Goldstein says the company is planning to extend the platform to other devices soon, but it may not be necessary. His application alone could make a market for the device.
Mind you, it does serve to turn advertising on its head. The way the site will make money is in the “taglines” or custom customer communications that each company may make to their own constituents in the interface. Just as your American Express or Dish bill may contain offers, so will your PageOnce page when you pull up any given site’s data. Sort of gives “direct” marketing a whole new meaning.
The second application you’ll wish you’d though of comes from a company called reQall, based in Moffett Field, Ca. ReQall connects all the ways mobile users communicate in one easy, seamless system, and even works free with the technology you may already use to keep yourself organized. Pulling together IMs, news feeds, to do lists and other reminders, it makes ideas almost magnetic. If you’re the kind of person who often has so many things to do in a given day that it almost doesn’t matter which one you pick, just shake your iPhone – reQall will pick one for you and bring it to your opening screen. (Do not attempt with un-enabled phones.)
How reQall makes money is a bit more elusive, but a sponsorship for Adderal seems a likely fit.