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Android Wobbly Shaky Ground MobilestanceWhat’s Behind What Some View as Android’s Growing List of Self-Inflected Problems. Conspiracy? Complacency? Or Raw Genius At Work?

At first glance, it might appear that things are going pretty well for Android.  The free-to-license mobile OS has quickly become popular among many cash strapped mobile OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Heavyweights such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola, along with handset newcomers Garmin and even Dell (hold for laughter) have all announced plans to develop handsets for the Google-run platform.

Supposedly, T-Mobile even managed to sell roughly one million Android-powered HTC G1’s last quarter… a respectable, yet not exactly iPhone-worthy performance (but to be fair, Apple and AT&T set an impossibly high standard with iPhone 3G, accomplishing in three days what Android did in three months – who knew AT&T would deliver on their promise of “Raising the Bar” so literally!).

Yet a quick peek below the surface reveals a conflicting scenario emerging for everyone’s favorite “Little (open-source) engine that could.”  Depending on your point of view, the OS is either plagued with systemic flaws, or designed with a profound sense of Machiavellian perfection. The exceedingly real threat of viruses, worms and other forms of malware, combined with a system seemingly “design to fragment” (read: seriously frustrate application developers) leaves one wondering if (as the conventional wisdom would have you believe) that Android’s model scales so well, and its backers so powerful and smart, that it can’t fail to become a serious contender over the long term…  or what we’re really looking at is nothing more than “Yet Another (seriously flawed) Google Beta Product.”

The issue of Android’s well-publicized “open door” security policy reared its pathogenic head again last week in the form of an all-out malware scare, and although the jury’s still out on whether or not the now infamous “MemoryUp” application did (as was accused) take over a user’s mobile, spam out its contacts and wipe its memory, or is just (as was suspected by cooler heads), merely a poorly designed, near universally-panned app… the frightening fact remains that the only thing standing between us and just such a dark reality is the relatively low profile group known as the Android Security Team.

Unfortunately for Android users, this team (of which whose public presence appears to consist entirely of one message board post dated August 18, 2008) seems to operate in a decidedly passive capacity: rather than vigilantly seeking and tracking down security flaws wherever they might appear in the system, the model works more like a ticket-based complaint counter, addressing user-submitted security threats when (and only when) the Goog Squad is alerted to their presence by the public.  It would be as if the local police force was replaced by an automated 911 system (and we all know how efficient that system can be). While it wouldn’t be 100% accurate to say that “no one’s minding the Android App store” (er, market) – there’s far more truth in that statement than many are willing to admit.

Moving on, the other significant issue facing the Android system – that of the looming threat of OS fragmentation – has (unsurprisingly) garnered scant attention in the trade press.  I say “unsurprisingly” as so far the threat of OS fragmentation is fairly complex and has yet to be an issue as, with only one Android handset on the marketplace (so far) – the HTC G1 – there just isn’t that much of a marketplace to fragment.  That said, this issue seems to have some real legs, not to mention real intrigue, and is, in our opinion, very likely to seriously impede Android application development over the long term.

Before we get into all the wide-eyed intrigue and half-baked conspiracy theories, a little background information on the subject of OS fragmentation is in order.  At its core, the issue revolves around the fact that Android, as an open source software platform, freely publishes its source code to the world under the general assumption that under “the eyes of the world’s” constant viewing, tinkering, and deploying – the software will ultimately become more robust, stable and efficient than any system created and maintained by a finite number of (paid) employees.  As is the case with a great many subjects, the devil is in the details.  It seems that when Google formally launched the Android project back in late 2007, it chose the to advocate a licensing model (Apache) whereby third parties could maintain private ownership over any modifications made to Android’s publicly-available source code, and would not be compelled (as in other open source licensing models) to turn over said software modifications or enhancements back “to the public domain” – so that (among other reasons) these modifications could (potentially) be incorporated into future versions of the software… thereby making the whole system more unified, and less “fragmented.”

So here’s where things can really get messy.  As said, mobile handset manufactures designing smartphones are turning to Android in large numbers, driven mainly by its price point (free), as well as its many innovative design features.  That said, not all of these “Android” devices will be running the same version of Android, as handset manufactures will be under extreme pressure to modify Android in order to maximize the performance of the particular hardware components making up each of their individual handset models.  This means that Android developers will soon have to create multiple versions of each Android application they develop in order to insure that their apps will run correctly on each “version” of Android in the marketplace (i.e. all the different handsets running “Android”).  This time-consuming and labor-intensive process, known to overworked software developers the world over as “porting,” significantly drives up the cost of software development.  Ultimately, Android developers will need to limit the number of Android handsets they can support as simply a matter of cost/benefit.  This well-known problem has been identified as one of the primary barriers that has held up mobile software development to date, as the current crop of Java, Symbian and BREW feature phones are simply fragmented beyond belief.

We’ve already seen the beginnings of fragmentation in the Android system, as differences in handset specifications play out over the various geographic regions – and with the sheer number of players about to enter the space in the coming year this issue is bound to accelerate dramatically.  That said, it is inevitable that that this scenario will negatively impact the development of innovative, new applications for Android over the short term.  The only real question is to what extent will Android innovation be stymied?

What makes this issue to interesting to many is that, due to advocating the Apache licensing model for Android, Google seems to be actively encouraging Android fragmentation.  Ironically, this apparent paradox was first identified by Sanjay Jha, Chief Operating Officer of Qualcomm’s chipset division (ironic in that Qualcomm is one of the founding members of the Open Handset Alliance and the Android initiative!)  who, in a  Register story that emerged out of last Spring’s CTIA conference, was quoted as saying that “Google wants fragmentation in the [mobile] industry.”

Here’s where the conspiracy theories start kicking into overdrive.  Keeping all of this in mind, some have speculated that – in a thinly veiled strategy against its old desktop rivals (Microsoft), Google would potentially benefit from Android fragmentation in that it would be prohibitively expensive for any one developer to dominate any fragmented system with a mainstay-like platform such as Microsoft Outlook or Office, both “heavy clients” that rely on sophisticated software applications running on the device’s (local) hardware (e.g. the desktop PC, or the mobile handset).   A fragmented system would ultimately favor companies like Google that favor thin client / “cloud computing” models (e.g. Gmail and Google Docs), where all the application’s heavy lifting is done on the server side (via the network), rather than on the client side (i.e. the mobile handset) – in this case the actual applications on the client/handset side usually reside in nothing more than a decent web browser.  All of this poses a very intriguing question: Could Google be subtly sabotaging device-side Android application development in favor of its browser-based / thin-client model?

Bringing this post full-circle, it is possible that both these two issues (fragmentation and security) may cancel each other out, sort of… again, ultimately resolving in Google’s favor.   The theory goes a little like this:  The folks that write software viruses, worms and other such programs do so primarily for the notoriety that comes with affecting many systems/users all at once – either with benign or malicious intent.  Platforms that don’t scale simply are unappealing to most virus writers.  Similar to the natural virus protection afforded by using a niche desktop system such as a Macintosh (sorry guys, I love ya but you’re still using what I would consider a niche product), few developers will waste their time writing a virus that only affects a (relatively) small number of people, when they can get better “bang for the buck” elsewhere.  The same forces that make it prohibitively expensive for (most) application developers to support a wide range of devices in a fragmented system will also similarly affect virus writers.  In affect, by encouraging fragmentation, Google could be enhancing Android security while simultaneously crippling many of its former rivals in the desktop space (or is this giving Google just a little too much credit?).

Thoughts?  If you have an opinion, share it… as there’s nothing like a good conspiracy to spice up the industry some!

j


mobilestance 2009 mobile predictions sm2Peer into Mobilestance’s Proprietary Crystal Ball!

Well it’s that time of year again… when pundits and publishers large and small exploit the slow end-of-year news cycle to recap the old and forecast the new.  Here at mobilestance it’s a extra-special time of year… as it was nearly one year ago when we formally “came out” of beta with our 2007 Recap piece and spammed it out to our publisher’s 3,000 +  email address book.  Ahh… memories!

This year, rather than spend the next thousand words rehashing what was undoubtedly the most exciting year in mobile since the advent of the crazy frog ringtone, we decided instead to take the easy way out and peer ahead to future…   casting our lot into a sea of like-minded posts from across the blogosphere.

So what will occur in 2009 at the intersection of Mobile and Marketing?  Will location become (as Dan @ Organic so eloquently put it in a recent Facebook status) “just another input”?  Will MMS finally become interoperable between carriers and ShortCodes, and finally emerge as a realistic marketing vehicle?  Will a wave of consolidation sweep the industry, as smaller independent mobile agencies, technology vendors and ad networks become casualties of the “great recession”?   Will newly legislated digital privacy-controls arrive just in time to kill the mobile web?  And of course the big question on everyone’s minds: Will mobile finally jump from the backwater of marketing budgets known as “emerging,” grow some legs, ditch the tail, and finally walk upon solid (budgetary) ground?

So read on then, fearless time shifters… and arm yourself for the ensuing complexities that will envelope our fledgling industry in the coming year!

Mobilestance’s Top 10 Mobile Marketing Predictions for 2009

  1. 2009 Will be the Year of Mobile.   After many false starts the Long Joke will finally end… and Mobile will finally have its moment in the sun.  With the rising popularity of smartphones; the lower cost of mobile data; and the pervasiveness of mobile broadband, internet and other “beyond voice” services, Mobile (with a capital “M”) will finally achieve critical mass in the US – and agencies, brands and business infrastructure providers alike will finally start paying attention with the purse strings.
  2. 2009 Won’t be the Year of Mobile.  What would a mobile marketing prognostication piece be without some conflicting signals?  Call it hedging my bets… but I just couldn’t resist punching up the contradiction that is the current state of mobile marketing.   Sure, everything I said in the previous ‘graph is dead on… the crystal ball is crystal clear on that.  But will that make 2009 “The Year of Mobile?” Hardly.  Sure, mobile has made some great strides of late in terms of its effectiveness as a marketing channel, and there is NO doubt that will come even farther, faster in 2009.  But sorry kids, it simply will not find its way out of the “emerging” bucket when it comes to budgeting.  No, the “Year of Mobile” can only be declared after we see dedicated “mobile” advertising, CRM and/or marketing budgets… or (at a minimum) a substantive breakout from a larger “digital” line… and with 2009 shaping up to the second coming of the “Flight to ROI” of 2002 (warning: pdf link) , we’ve probably got until 2010 until we can finally herald the end of the Long Joke. In the meantime there’s still plenty for Mobile Marketers to do – namely, hone our skills and prepare ourselves for when the money spigot really opens up in 2010.
  3. Mobile Search Comes of Age.   OK, enough with the levity… let’s get into some serious forecasting. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about mobile usage in ‘08, it’s that smartphones = search volume.  While previously a mere academic curiosity, this correlation will show real legs in ‘09, as legions of iPhoners, Crackberry Addicts and the like will continue take to mobile search like a longshoreman on a bender (read: heavy consumption punctuated with colorful language) .  We’ve already witnessed both Google and Yahoo fine tuning their mobile search products – albeit in very different ways – and in 2009 we will see the beginnings of a real business emerge in this sector. Watch for the leading engines and agencies make a major mobile plays in ‘09, as both will look to the sector to help sustain revenue growth and counter the “leveling off” of the (once interstellar) growth trajectory of “traditional” online paid search and/or SEM – as both (especially the former) begin to show early signs of maturation.
  4. Mobile Video (finally) Gets Interesting.  Along with search, the other interesting affect that comes with increased smartphone penetration is increased consumption of mobile video.  I say “interesting” as in “somewhat viable” or “worth experimenting with”- which should not be interpreted as “it’s going to explode” (or even that I’m reasonably bullish on the channel).  No… while I’ve been a mobile video hater for many years for reasons too numerous to count, we’ll see enough scale in 2009 to merit some testing… as after all, leveraging the moving image remains (arguably) the most effective method by which one can influence consumer behavior.
  5. Apples Grow on Trees… While Android Picks up Steam.  A no brainer that simply cannot be ignored… and the importance of which cannot be overstated.  Most likely, Apple will successfully keep its momentum into ‘09 by rolling out popular, yet evolutionary iPhone models (think new colors and modestly increased storage capacity/performance, rather than new form factors or revolutionary new features or price points).  Android will likely see a bigger increase in Mobile OS share (albeit from a smaller base) than Apple, as Samsung (Spring) and Motorola (Fall) roll out hot new handsets utilizing the Open Source mobile OS.  And speaking of Open Source, it will be interesting to see if the (reasonably) open Android starts “out innovating” Apple’s proprietary mobile OS when it comes to features and applications.  As it is we’re still waiting for Google to integrate a working commerce model (safe money is on Google Checkout… duh!)  into the Android Marketplace so that developers will have an easier time charging consumers for applications (expected Spring, 2009) – so it might be awhile before developers truly embrace Android as tightly as they have with the iPhone SDK.  Our prediction:  in 2009 Android will become the “hip incubator” for mobile application and/or OS innovation… with Apple and/or independent iPhone developers skimming the cream and co-opting the most interesting ideas of the bunch.
  6. Biggest Losers of 2008: Motorola, Palm and Sprint Stay Alive.  Notable for their ability to keep breathing, the “Crap Pack” of ‘08 will not kick the bucket as so many are predicting.  Sprint will slowly turn the corner in ‘09 under Dan Hesse’s steady hand (is it us, or is anyone else getting a “Fred Thompson” vibe from his gently reassuring, speak-directly-into-the-camera series of commercials?), making incremental customer support improvements and leaning on that “Clearwire Thing” to leapfrog ahead in the bandwidth arms race (see “Wi-Max Casts Wide Shadow” below for more on this).  The great recession saved Motorola’s Wireless business, as the venerable Schamburg, Illinois red ink factory likely found no suitable suitors.  Now the company is forced to do what it does best… crank out a hit product to save the company – which we believe we’ll see in the form of a swank Android handset sometime late next year.  Until then Moto will occupy itself by doing the other things it does best: bleeding market share and taking on further debt… which brings us to our last lovable looser, Palm.  The fact that Elevation Partners decided to invest $100MM to keep Palm afloat just last month proves that there’s somebody out there for everybody… no matter how unsightly, aged, infirm or otherwise unappealing.  Seriously, we’re not entirely sure know how much lifespan $100MM buys Palm, but we’re betting 18 months, at best.
  7. Cash Poor Mobile Start-ups Get Snapped Up by Web, Traditional Media Players.  Another obvious one that needed to be said: the credit crunch / recession combo will start claiming casualties among the most vulnerable in the mobile sector, while traditional media giants and other web firms lacking mobile chops go bargain hunting.  Specifically, the time might be right for WPP’s 24/7 RealMedia to formally acquire one of their partner mobile ad networks (such as JumpTap or Millennial), should the opportunity present itself.  On the Cable side both Comcast and Time Warner have already made big bets on wireless with their Clearwire investments… yet neither have much else to leverage here in the form of inventory of other mobile-ready assets. A mobile video acquisition for each of these players on the order of a Rhythm NewMedia or Transpera might just be in the cards.
  8. WiMax Casts Wide Shadow.  While 2008 was all Apple and Google, newly-formed Clearwire (not to be confused with the “old” Clearwire, which had the same management yet different investors – a confusing situation that deserves a dedicated posting of its own) quietly rolled out what we believe to be the first real mobile broadband network in the US… (OK, well in Baltmore, MD – but heck, it’s a start!).  As Clearwire partner Sprint Wireless brings new WiMax hardware to market, and  the high speed service rolls into new markets like Portland and Chicago in 2009, look to Verizon Wireless and AT&T to fall all over themselves to attempt to bring their competitive 4G “LTE” (Long Term Evolution)  product to market by the end of the year.  It’s a moot point if Clearwire ever really rolls out a national WiMax network, or instead (like many are predicting) runs out of cash sometime in 2009 (prediction: cash-laden Clearwire partners Intel and Google will pony up an additional round of investment in the network while cash strapped partners Comcast and Time Warner sit this round out – slowing, but ultimately sustaining, Clearwire’s national rollout) what matters most is that Clearwire and WiMax is giving the industry a huge kick in the pants… and with this we’ll finally get the true mobile broadband experience we’ve all been waiting for.  Cue the brass band!
  9. MMS Gets its Act Together (Just in Time to Become Totally Irrelevant).   It’s no secret that MMS never really caught on with the public… and even when the carriers got their act together in 2006 and brought cross-carrier MMS interoperability online, the bloom was already nearly off the rose, as it were.  Marketing applications remained uber-niche, as lack MMS support for cross-carrier short codes left brands with two, equally unappealing options (e.g. the use of either a ten digit phone number or an email address in the primary Call-to-Action).   Still, while some consumers are giving the “Most Morbid Service” a second chance, the last nail in the coffin may have come from Apple, when it shafted the technology by not supporting it on the iPhone.   Now it seems the CSCA , along with their strong-armed cousin, NeuStar, are working with the US carriers to bring MMS support to intercarrer (common) ShortCodes… which, if achieved, would greatly expand the effectiveness of the channel as a marketing medium.  The question is, will this work be completed before the technology becomes altogether irrelevant?  Perhaps… although no one (including us) is betting on it.
  10. Application “Bubble” Doesn’t Burst… Yet.   A minor one, but just squeaks into our Top 10 (take that, “Privacy Concerns!”).   First, in order to predict that a bubble won’t burst, you need to prove the existance of a bubble.  Case in point: iFart (point proven!).  Now just when will the “App Bubble” burst?  Well, it would seem that in order to “burst”, the bubble would first need to achieve maximum volume, which won’t happen until iPhone and similar “ReallySmartPhones(TM)” achieve critical mass (we’re thinking 15-20% penetration) – and that’s not happening for at least a year or two – even in the rosiest of scenarios.  Still, for all the whooplaa around “+300MM iPhone app downloads in the first six months of app store,” some have acutely pointed out that the iPhone app growth curve has already started to flatten out.  That said… we’re likely to see a whole new crop of iFarts-like hits in 2009 – and needless to say Mobilestance awaits on baited breath.

Well folks… there you have it – our top 10 predictions for 2009.  Feel free to leave a comment if you feel we’ve missed something… or if you just want to throw some gasoline on the fire… and check back with us throughout the year as we continue to chronicle this thing we call Mobile.

j

google-mobile-logo-copy.jpg Google’s Newfound Strategic Advantage in US 4G Market Goes Largely Overlooked.

While coverage of last week’s WiMax Mega-Deal largely focused on how the new venture would affect Sprint, Clearwire, and its largest investors (Comcast and Intel), there was strangely little attention payed to the tremendous up-side Google stands to reap from its relatively minor investment of “only” $500 million (as compared to Comcast’s $1.05 billion, Intel’s $1 billion and Time Warner’s $550 million investments).

With little fanfare, the WSJ reported that “Google will become the preferred software developer on the WiMax network, meaning its search service would be the default on new mobile devices.” Additionally, Sprint “agreed to put Google’s mobile operating system, Android, in some Sprint phones.” While the second point is not that surprising (Sprint, as well as Intel, are both members of the Android-focused Open Handset Alliance), the first point may have tremendous impact on the long term landscape of the US mobile search market.

Historically, the major US carriers have been reluctant to grant Google access to their customers, resulting in the search giant’s well-documented difficulties in penetrating the domestic on deck Mobile Search market. Now, as WiMax is likely years ahead of competing domestic 4G technologies such as LTE, Google sits atop a de facto mobile search monopoly in the US wireless broadband space (3G services, while a significant improvement from their predecessors, can hardly be deemed a true “broadband” product experience).

This is a tremendous strategic advantage that may extend beyond mobile search into other highly lucrative areas such as mapping, email, and perhaps event streaming video (YouTube), depending on what Google’s position as the venture’s “preferred software developer” ultimately means. True, consumers will likley be free to navigate to and/or download competitive services from the likes of Yahoo!, MSN and even IAC, but we all know that the majority of users will be content using the default services preloaded on the device.

Google’s advantageous position is further enhanced by the venture’s aggressive cable system partners (Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House), who view the platform as the ultimate response to the “quad-play” service bundles currently offered by Verizon FIOS and AT&T U-verse. The cable companies are locked in a no-holds-barred, block-by-block, all out war with the telcos, and no one should doubt the MSO’s willingness to fiercely market their advantage in wireless broadband. Google, of course, will profoundly benefit from these marketing efforts.

All told, the real value of Google’s first mover advantage in the domestic 4G space will be their opportunity to define their mobile brand in the best of environments, while Yahoo! and company must more or less wait for AT&T and Verizon Wireless to roll out their LTE networks – content with their standard 3G-based services that will no doubt seem primitive in comparison to Google’s souped-up WiMax products.

mobilestance world of WAPcraft warcraft GFXThis week was marked by an extraordinary series of high profile Mobile Web developments… which, when viewed in aggregate, were seen by many as evidence that the nascent channel has finally reached an inflection point.

All three major areas of the mobile web “ecosystem” (carriers, publishers and advertisers) announced significant site launches, partnerships and traffic milestones, including several blue-chip advertisers and content publishers such as American Airlines, YouTube, Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, A&E and the New York Times.

Despite these encouraging developments, several notable marketplace events served to point out the shortcomings of the emerging mobile web space, including a reminder of a glaring limitation of the mobile web from a metrics and reporting standpoint, as well as accounts of a public tirade involving nearly the entire mobile value chain – from one of the mobile industry’s more prominent (and animated) executives.

A busy week in the World of WAPcraft to be sure… here’s some of the major highlights:

  • Carriers. Last week’s most significant Mobile Web development came from AT&T Mobility, who announced a strategic alliance with Yahoo! whereby the internet giant will begin serving ads on the carrier’s “MEdia Net” mobile portal. Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! and AT&T will divide up the on-deck advertising inventory for sale and/or for internal use. Additionally, AT&T ’s yellowpages.com will now power local search on both AT&T’s Mobile and Wireline Web properties. AT&T has not yet announced when these changes will take affect.

    AT&T Mobility’s move follows earlier moves by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Collectively, the three carriers represent approximately 78% of the US mobile market. T-Mobile, the last of the “big four” US carriers without an on-deck mobile advertising play, has tied up with Yahoo! to serve ads on its UK “Web’n'Walk”mobile portal. Clearly the announcement from AT&T Mobility would inhibit T-Mobile’s ability to expand their Yahoo! relationship here in the US.

  • Publishers. This week witnessed an abundance of mobile website launches and/or relaunches from many of the larger content providers. YouTube announced the launch of its new Mobile Web site (m.youtube.com), as well as a new J2ME application (supported on Nokia 6110, 6120, E65, N73, N95 and Sony Ericsson k800 and w880). NBC announced the launch of 40 new WAP sites (as well as 3 new mobile video channels), including dedicated mobile web sites for NBC programs such as 30 Rock, ER, Friday Night Lights and Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, ABC News announced that its mobile site (m.abcnews.com) would be providing “real time” US presidential election results, although Mobile Marketer reports that ABC refreshes its mobile website content [only] on an hourly basis.

    On the cable side, A&E Television announced the launch of mobile the A&E Network portal (mobile.aetv.com), as well as dedicated sites for The History Channel (mobile.history.com) and The Biography Channel (mobile.biography.com). The A&E mobile sites feature fairly standard mobile web fare, including “What’s on Tonight”, “Program Descriptions and Photos”, “Fan Polls and Trivia Games” and “Downloadable Wallpapers and Ring Tones.”

    Finally, moconews.net reported that the New York Times mobile website is now generating an average of 10MM page impressions per month, a 600% year-over-year traffic increase.

  • Advertisers. American Airlines announced the launch an extravagant new mobile web site that is sure to raise the bar for mobile websites in the airline category. The site utilizes a common URL approach (www.aa.com), which automatically redirects mobile users to device-appropriate site versions (although mobile users have the option of reverting to the full HTML site, an option that hopefully will soon become a standard feature on most mobile websites). Currently the AA.com mobile site features include the ability for users to “check in for a flight, view their itinerary, check schedules, check the status of their flights, get information on destinations, weather or airports and contact American Airlines.”

    Future AA.com mobile enhancements targeted for a Spring ‘08 launch include the ability for users to “book flights, change their reservations, view fare specials, request upgrades and enroll in” American’s AAdvantage loyalty program. Additionally, the carrier states that “many pages also will be viewable in Spanish.”

  • Criticism. UK SEO provider AccuraCast cast a spotlight on Google’s inability to effectively track conversions generated from AdWords Mobile. The challenge faced by Google is that its ability to track conversions relies on either Java script (embedded on a publisher’s page) or tracking cookies – technologies not supported by most (if not all, in the case of Java) mobile web browsers. To its credit, Google acknowledges its system’s shortcomings, noting that “conversion rate, cost-per-conversion, cost-per-transaction and value/click are adjusted to reflect only those sites from which we can track conversions.”

    In lighter news, this week at the AlwaysOn Media event in New York City Cyriac Roeding, SVP of CBS mobile, unleashed a public rant against the complexity and inherent dysfunction of the mobile ecosystem. Apparently no one was spared from Teutonic executive’s assault on the mobile industry; From the carriers (there’s too many of them! lack of technology standards! too many pricing options! too many service packages! poor marketing!) to the publishers and handset manufacturers (poor usability! content poorly organized!) and even the advertisers themselves! (they don’t understand mobile or the value it brings!). While attendees reported that Mr. Reoding’s “marketplace observations” were greeted with wild applause, mobilestance finds it ironic that the current Chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association Board of Directors would choose to publicly rebuke, ridicule and embarrass nearly all of the organization’s members.

Analysis: While development of the mobile web ecosystem seems to be accelerating, it remains to be seen if a critical mass has been achieved – both in terms of users – as well as content. Still, all the major players in the space (carriers, content publishers, and advertisers) are taking the necessary steps to advance the channel towards reaching the seemingly inevitable goal of mainstream use. That said, it is clear that several prominent hurdles (most notably usability issues such as UI and network speeds, as well as the inability to cookie most mobile devices) still stand in the way of large scale consumer adoption and commercial exploitation of the mobile web.

mobilestance 2007 year in reviewThe slow news week after Christmas is notorious for the oft-derided “year in X” reports, but rather than take time exploring the value of such “Remembrance(s) of Things (less than a year) Past,” mobilestance.com would like to take the time to indulge in our own year end recap of the most notable US Mobile Marketing developments in 2007 (and yes, the illustration on the left depicts “Old Man 2007″ knowingly handing an iPhone to “Baby New Year 2008″).

And what a year 2007 has been. Between the flurry of VC and M&A activity, the reality of a declining global ringtone market and the re-orgs that followed, the explosion of ad supported business models, growth in consumer use of key mobile data services, notable marketplace exits, divestitures and bankruptcies, new entrants in the wireless space (yes, I’m talking about Apple here), and the aggressive moves on the part of the internet portals (most notably Google, but also Yahoo and even AOL and IAC), 2007 may yet be remembered as the year mobile finally “happened” -much to the delight of the Business 2.0 crowd.

After reviewing the list please take a second and weigh in on what you feel was the most important Mobile Marketing event of ’07 by participating in the poll at the end of the piece. Also, since 2007 was such a busy year no doubt there’s plenty more that could be added to this list… that said feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to add some additional insight or if you feel something crucial has been overlooked.

Thanks much… and now without further delay, mobilestance.com proudly presents “The 2007 US Mobile Marketing Game Changers.”

  1. Google Steps it up. Not content to merely sit on the sidelines and play by the rules set forth by the US carriers, the search giant spent much of 2007 re-writing the rules of the US wireless industry. With their conspicuous “open access” lobbying effort, leadership in the Open Handset Alliance, the launch of their open Android platform, and their plans to enter the upcoming 700 MHz US wireless spectrum auction has a legitimate player, Google has stirred the 2007 US wireless pot like no other single corporate entity. While it remains to be seen as what will ultimately come of its aggressive moves in the space (although it seems Google has single-handily forced the biggest hole to date in Verizon’s vaunted walled garden) , it is clear that Google is determined to usher in a far more flexible (read: marketer-friendly) US wireless marketplace… a market that will likely be a boon to innovative third party mobile application developers, hybridized business models, and – most importantly – accelerate consumer adoption of “beyond voice” mobile services.
  2. The Rise of MMS. 2007 was the year that US consumers finally got behind MMS in large numbers, exiting news for marketers not satisfied with the simple Joys of Text. In November of 2007 the MMA reported 33% of all US mobile phone users reporting monthly use of “Picture and/or Video Messaging” – that’s up dramatically from a paltry 16% in 2006. In the younger demographic segments the numbers are even more attractive, with monthly usage peaking in the 18-24 year old group at an astounding 55%. So what does this mean? Bottom line, now that MMS has reached critical mass in the US marketers are free to (finally) capitalize on the expanded interactive and multimedia prowess of the enhanced messaging channel. The possibilities are endless… everything from moblogging, MMS-based couponing, photo contests, video alerts, pattern recognition, html email-type CRM communications and so much more. Sure, there’s nothing actually new with all of these tactics… but now we’re talking about the difference between MMS-based marketing campaigns with real ROI back to the brands, versus the eternally frustrating”test campaigns” of earlier years.
  3. Enter the iPhone. So much has has already been written on the sleek Apple device that it’s become extremely difficult to assess its actual impact. Never mind the recent eye-popping stats released on the iPhone’s disproportionate share of the overall browsing universe, or recent efforts (while fascinating and seemingly quite worthwhile) by marketers to leverage the device to deliver hypertargeted messaging to the forward-leaning, early-adopting, free-with-the-dollars demographic. No, the real impact of the device lies in it serving as a “showroom model” for the full potential of the mobile marketing channel. An independently sold (from the carriers, mind you) Wi-Fi/GSM hybrid with a beautiful touch screen, snappy web browser (snail-like AT&T EDGE network speeds notwithstanding), usable video, music and photo management options… and coming in February, a public SDK for the development of third party applications and a (rumored) flash plug-in for the device’s browser – a first for the “mobile” web (and hey just because it’s the holidays let’s not get into a debate on what is or is not actually the “mobile” web – for now let’s just go with it). It’s amazing how quickly the standard for what is “possible” in mobile has been raised since the release of the iPhone less than six months ago – and how what once passed for cutting edge has so rapidly become not simply dated, but altogether irrelevant. More than any other event in the mobile marketing industry’s short history, the entrance of the iPhone has fueled a frenzy of interest in the space – both from brands and agencies alike. The motivational equivalent of the ‘69 moon landing… with all the junior rocket scientists that followed.
  4. Mobile Advertising Comes of Age. After a few years of luring in the shadows of the mobile marketing industry, the mobile advertising market became incredibly hot in 2007, punctuated by major acquisitions by leading interactive and mobile firms, as well as a dizzying array of venture-fueled deals in the space. The two leaders in the nascent mobile advertising industry, Third Screen Media and Enpocket were promptly acquired by AOL and Nokia, respectively – while Microsoft, once again outmaneuvered in the interactive ad firm acquisitions game, was forced to settle on European Mobile Ad Firm Screen Tonic. The remaining independent mobile ad firms were also firing on all cylinders, with Amobee, Millennial Media, AdMob, Greystripe, and Quattro Wireless all expanding on the heels of fresh investment capital raised in ‘07. Newspaper giant Gannett made a major investment in SMS-based ad firm 4INFO, while Google and Yahoo played a bit of small ball (we can gut Google a little slack here… they’ve been busy rewriting the rulebook for much of the rest of the mobile industry after all). The former taking the much anticipated step of expanding AdSense into the “mobile web,” while Yahoo! announced mobile publisher services and plans to integrate mobile inventory into their Panama ad platform. As for the internet display advertising giants, DoubleClick (soon to be Google) launched their publisher platform, while aQuantitative’s Accipiter Unit (now owned by Microsoft) tied up with NYC-based MoPhap to bring mobile capabilities to their publisher-side interactive ad serving platform. Add daily press releases by major web publishers bringing mobile inventory online, and I think you get this picture: 2007 was the year that nearly everybody in the space simply had to have a mobile adverting play. Sure, there was a bit of herd mentality going on, and no doubt we’re in for… shall we say, a bit of a “correction” in the coming years (this kind of activity surely cannot be sustained indefinitely) – but regardless, the business and technological systems are now in place for brands to reach out and communicate directly with consumers via the mobile handset. Keep in mind this is very different than previous (primarily SMS-based) mobile marketing activity that simply leveraged mobile as a direct response channel activating other forms of media such as television, print and radio (as so eloquently described by Jeff Minsky of OMD in a then accurate but increasingly outdated assessment of the channel – sorry Jeff, but I couldn’t take that one lying down!). Using mobile as a broadcast-type media may be a bit controversial to some, but as long as there remains checks and balances with regard to consumer privacy (yes, the carriers seem to be pulling their weight here, although some needed to be prodded a bit on the subject) an effective system of reaching consumers via their mobile devices should flourish in the months, years and decades to come.

 

Reader Poll – 2007 Mobile Marketing Game Changers

What was the biggest game changer in ‘07?

  • Enter the iPhone (50%, 24 Votes)
  • Mobile Advertising Comes of Age (33%, 16 Votes)
  • None of the Above (10%, 5 Votes)
  • Google Steps it Up (4%, 2 Votes)
  • The Rise of MMS (2%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 48

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Myspace launched a free, ad-supported mobile website today (mobile.myspace.com), this according to both moconews and MobiAd. From what I understand the site soft-launched a few months ago, so this new announcement must be the official “hard” launch, although the site still says “beta” in masthead (the Google affect, no doubt). The move comes after the launch of the subscription-based myspace mobile J2ME client on AT&T and Helio about a year ago.

From a user experience perspective, the site works well and is quite snappy in my testing on a Verizon Blackberry 8830. That said, the Ford Focus ad displayed was not optimized for my handset. It could be that the 8830 was not recognized by the ad server and therefore defaulted to the 215 x 34 ad size (instead of the 305 x 64 that should have been served), although it’s far more likely that myspace’s mobile ad server is simply not optimizing ad delivery based on the device, as the 8830 is a highly popular handset and would therefore be included in any decent device library, including WURFL. Additionally, after many page refreshes the Ford ad is the only unit shown, indicating that either the site doesn’t permit advertiser session / frequency capping, or that this campaign simply isn’t using it (perhaps Ford is the only advertiser on myspace mobile at this time?).

Fox Interactive Media’s mobile partner on the advertising-side is Boston Baltimore-based Millennial Media, who is handling both the ad serving for myspace mobile (as well as most other FIM mobile sites) via their MYDAS server, as well as repping the inventory directly to advertisers and agencies. Currently they are serving banners basically an ROS basis, although I am told plans are in the works to bring advanced demographic, geographic and psychographic targeting online “in the coming year” – all based on user registration data. While advanced targeting is attractive from a planning / efficiency standpoint, in my view ad targeting becomes less relevant that overall reach (at least until the mobile web’s scale reaches critical mass)… and in myspace’s case, what I’d really like to see from them is a targeting option that can restrict an ad rotation to pages that do not contain user generated content, for obvious reasons.

So much has been written in the last week or so following the announcement by Verizon Wireless that they would be opening up their network to handsets sold by third parties, and that they would be streamlining the (currently) painstaking process of third party application development.

Most have focused on the reactionary nature of Verizon’s move, that it was simply a defensive move to counter the coming Android threat, AT&T’s iPhone, as well as to satisfy the new FCC rules governing the upcoming Spectrum Auction… rules also pushed through in large part to Google’s marginally-successful Congressional lobbying efforts. In general, the bulk of the coverage from the mainstream media and major industry blogs have largely written off Verizon’s move as a token gesture that will have little impact on the market for at least the next several years. In many ways these publications are correct, yet clearly they have missed the larger picture.

But to the mobile marketing community, as well as the marketing community at large, the shift represents the beginnings of a long-awaited shift towards a working Mobile Marketing system. I say “working” because the current environment of carrier-specific technology standards and business practices makes for an overly-fragmented, cumbersome system that seems counter its own ends. Divergent carrier technologies notwithstanding, the idea that third-party developers can now publish applications on the Verizon network without having to be “approved” by the carrier is a watershed moment in US mobile marketing, opening up roughly 25% of the marketplace that was, until now, more or less unreachable to the “free to the end user,” advertising-supported model.

For US consumers, innovative and (just as important) inexpensive (handset and/or ad-supported) mobile applications will become far more commonplace, as handset manufacturers will now have the freedom of preloading applications that consumers (rather than the carriers) are interested in using. While these handsets will inherently carry a higher MSRP due to the lack of carrier subsidy, it is my prediction that pricing for “non-carrier subsidized” / D2C handsets will ultimately not become a barrier to purchase, as consumers will value the benefit of getting the handset they (actually) want, rather than being forced into the handset the carrier wants them to have.

Change is a beautiful thing.

google_wireless_logoNo one really expects that they will actually win the bid, or even wants to… why then is Google engaging in this escapade?

a) to further push open standards, so as to aid in Android penetration?
b) to aggregivate Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and others?
c) world domination, FUD-style

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