Archive for the widgets Category

31849319-2-300-overview-11.gif Today at CES Yahoo! is planning on announcing that they are opening up their “Yahoo! Go” mobile application to third party developers, this according to the New York Times. The Times is reporting that MTV, eBay and MySpace have already created Yahoo! Go widgets that consumers can download either online or directly via the mobile application. Yahoo! Go has been ported to roughly 250 mobile devices, and comes preloaded on some phones made by Motorola, LG, Samsung and Nokia outside the US (domestic carriers force users to manually download and install the application prior to use, although this might change once device manufacturers start selling handsets directly to consumers).

Analysis: Yahoo!’s work on developing Go to a more mature platform is commendable. While the move does serve to further fragment the development environment for mobile (What, another new platform to write for? Better hire another developer!), the platform’s large (for mobile) install base of 250MM users worldwide will be attractive to major publishers and content brands (although some estimates confirm less than half of this base are actively using the application).

A no-brainer for Yahoo!, the move costs them little in oversight, while serving as a short-term defensive move against Google’s open Android platform. Ultimately the long term success of the play will hinge on the ease of developing third party widgets for Yahoo! Go, as well as any advantages that the development environment might afford (access to the address book? GPS data feed?). More on this as it develops.

Zumobi’s (formerly Zenzui) much anticipated launch of their widget-based mobile content application was announced yesterday (beta version). The then Zenzui was spun off of from Microsoft in March of this year, and has been busy attracting third party content developers, such as Flickr and MTVN to provide content to its application ever since.

The application features a unique user interface, with content widgets are arranged in “tiles” so that users can “zoom” in and out of content areas by using the familiar “9 up” arrangement. Reviews of the application have been mixed, in that the interface has been viewed by many as slick, but ultimately overly complex. The company anticipates a hybrid pay-for-distribution (a la cable television) / ad supported business model, although I have my doubts that the application will reach the critical mass needed to attract major advertising dollars.

A few months ago I was asked to draft a POV on the business prospects on the application. Below are some excerpts from this report that (should be) OK to share publicly:

  • While on its face the ZenZui application seems to offer an elegant mobile browsing-like experience, it is faces many severe challenges from both a product and business-model perspective that would seriously put into question the firm’s prospects for success (both in the short and long term).
  • ZenZui’s decision to target “Heavy (mobile) Users” is likely born out of necessity, and one should not assume that the ZenZui product will follow the usual technology-adoption curves. Several key factors render ZenZui exclusively a “Heavy User”-only product in both the short and mid term. Optimistically, one would need to look out beyond 2010 before the product’s scale would appeal to even the least risk-averse national brands.
  • As of today the application is only available on Windows Mobile devices (<2% of current handset market). Unspecified plans to expand to J2ME devices (roughly 60% of handset market) and BREW (roughly 25% of handset market) would do much to alleviate this, but lack of any (even approximated) release dates in either of theses two environments leads one to assume they are very far from even an alpha launch (update: the J2ME version has been slated for release in “2Q 2008.Not exactly a hard release date).
  • Also somewhat surprising was that fact that Palm was specifically identified as an unsupported format (with no development plans), despite the popularity of the platform among Zenzui’s identified “heavy (mobile)-using” consumer target.
  • Without regard to specific memory requirements, the main challenge from a handset resource allocation perspective is that in order to function properly the ZenZui application would need to be “always on” (running in the background) on the end user’s device. It is well-known among mobile developers that multithreading on a mobile device is fraught with challenges, and that other than the most expensive Windows Mobile, Apple and Blackberry handsets, other (more common) handsets would likely suffer severe performance issues if the ZenZui application were “always on.” In the short term this issue would seem to reinforce ZenZui’s decision to target “heavy (mobile) users,” as they would likely be the only ones with handsets that could support the application, regardless of development environment (Windows mobile, J2ME or BREW). This limitation could be overcome over the long term once handsets “caught up” to this requirement (an unlikely scenario in the next few years due to the 18-24 month handset replacement cycle).
  • ZenZui’s non-standard coding environment assumes that developers will be willing to learn a new programming language in both a new / untested medium (mobile) and an application space that has yet to reach any legitimate level of consumer acceptance (ZenZui). As it is, brands and digital publishers are just beginning to embrace the need for “mobile-dedicated” sites in general, and when they do so are overwhelmingly choosing to code in resource-saving standard XML, or parse their standard web pages through a web-to-mobile “auto rendering engines,” which essentially remove page images and parse the (online) page into a standard mobile style sheets on the fly.
  • Numerous high-profile research studies relating to consumer adoption of mobile data products and services identify price sensitivity as the top barrier to adoption. Other than the severe handset requirements detailed above, Zenzui’s other major price-related barrier to consumer adoption is the requirement that, due to the Zenzui application’s need to refresh its (local) content over-the-air via the carrier data networks, the user must subscribe to an unlimited (“all you can eat”) mobile data plan. As of 3Q 2007 the majority of wireless subscribers have balked at unlimited data plans, which (notable AT&T iPhone bundled voice/data rate aside) can cost consumers a hefty $15 to $30 per month.
  • By pursuing a pay-for-distribution / advertising revenue-share hybrid business model, ZenZui seems to be following a model highly similar to that employed by the Cable Television Industry (Cable System Operator model). While clearly brands are comfortable “paying for placement” (even in the advertainment space), most digital content providers are not. High profile digital publishers will likely balk at paying a CPM and/or CPC on use of their content (on the contrary, many content brands would insist on payment for allowing Zenzui to gain distribution on the back of their content and brand equity). In the short term ZenZui has circumvented this issue by giving their product away to their content providers, but over the long term this will likely become a barrier for many premium content brands.

You can watch the Zumobi youtube promo video here: