wellsie halloween costumeMobilestance.com is back!  Now with More Polling (our homage to the polled out US Presidential election cycle, see end of post!)

After a disastrous night spent marching as a human mobile in the NYC Halloween Parade (note to self: find a new place for the “zero” button), I have successfully exercised the demons of Summer and am ready to return to blogging.   I sincerely apologize for not “returning in September” as promised, but there were… well, complications.

So much has happened in mobile during my three or so month hiatus!  Android arrived in the form of the HTC G1 on T-Mo, and so far hasn’t (yet) taken over the known universe…. The mobile-centric top level domain “Dot Mobi” passed the one million mark in registrations, as thousands of major publishers and brands launched mobile-specific versions of their websites… The AT&T Blackberry Bold was announced, then delayed, then announced, then delayed, then recalled (on Orange in the UK), then announced for release in the US sometime next week.

With all that, the biggest story by far was the iPhone going 3G (I was in St. Petersburg at the time, and it even made the headlines there).  The iPhone juggernaut, and it’s partner the iPhone App Store, have been fueling excitement in the US and (to a somewhat lesser extent) across the globe.  All of this – the growth, the applications, the new business models, are exciting enough – but what really turned my head was story in the new iPhone comScore study, which found that since July sales of the handset have been driven by relatively low to middle class households – those making between $25-50k (+48% growth).

Some have theorized that the recent economic “downturn” is spurring many low income households to substitute iPhone for not only their landline telephones (as expected), but also their landline broadband lines as well (fixed line broadband revenues have also been declining with this same income segment, over this same period).  If this were true, it would place the US Middle Class on par with that of many emerging nations, B.R.I.C. and the like – where most people, even the “rising middle classes” simply cannot afford both a mobile and PC internet connection (or fixed line internet simply isn’t widely available, again ultimately due to price).

In my opinion this may be a bit of a stretch.  I for one absolutely LOVE my iPhone… and I use it for many, many things that I once did exclusively on my desktop PC.  But as a total replacement?  I suppose there have been other, less expected affects resulting from the current economic crisis than a shift from fixed line to wireless broadband subscriptions among the US lower middle class.

What say you?  Please take 5 seconds and weigh in!

Poll:

[poll=4]

ps – It feels great to be back! – j

AndroidWho Among Us Can Argue with the Time-Tested Wisdom Of “Whoever Denied It, Supplies It?”

There are few gadgets, mobile or otherwise, more eagerly anticipated than the release of the world’s first handset running on Google’s Android operating system.

So when leaked details from HTC’s upcoming Android handset hit the web late last week many were quick to take notice. The handset, dubbed “Dream” by HTC’s Philip K. Dick-loving creative team, includes “a large touchscreen and a full (flip/slide out) QWERTY keypad,” this according to Infoworld. According to an unidentified source “close to the situation” the “HTC’s Google handset is just over 5 inches long and 3 inches wide, with a keypad underneath the screen that either slides out or swivels out… Internet navigational controls are situated below the screen on the handset.”

The source claims that “the handset will likely hit the market near the end of this year” and that the handset may be the first “Google Android” phone on the market. HTC would not comment on any specific details of the handset, other than to confirm its existence.

The HTC “news” comes on the heels of a string of related Android-related rumors of variable accuracy. Back in January Dell was rumored to be working on the world’s first Android phone that many speculated would be announced in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress the following month. This rumor ultimately turned out to be false, as not only did Dell officially deny any such handset or future Android-related products were in development, but it was also a no-show at 3GSM.

Not to be left out, serious rumors began swirling around Samsung’s Android designs following a Robert X. Cringley post claiming that the Korean handset manufacturer would be releasing two Google-branded Android handsets in 2008; a high-end model in September and a lower-end device around the holidays. Cringley also cites an unnamed person (“you know who you are”) as the source behind the leaked information, who goes on to claim that “both [devices] will include WiFi… The high-end phone will look somewhat like a Blackberry Pearl, but the screen flips up and there is a keyboard for texting. No word on pricing for the high-end phone, but the second model is intended to be less than $100 — AFTER Christmas.” The post identifies both T-Mobile USA and Verizon as potential carrier partners.

We find it curious that the Samsung handset described by Cringley is eerily similar to the leaked details of HTC Dream (including the swing out QWERTY keyboard), perhaps giving more credence to the adage “Whoever Smelt it, Dealt it.” Regardless, mobilestance.com will continue its Android Watch series until an actual sighting appears in the wild. In the meantime, please send us any unsubstantiated rumors, gossip or just pure speculation relating to what will likely be the biggest moment in mobile for 2008: Day one of the Android Invasion.

 

 

mobilestance-dot-com-anarchy-in-the-uk.jpg UK Operators Try a Radical Approach to Tackling Thorny Issues Like Commerce and Advertising: Cooperation.

It’s obvious that the mobile marketing industry must resolve several key issues if mobile is ever to emerge as a legitimate marketing channel. These overreaching issues, mostly relating to a lack of standardization and of market access, are simply far to broad to be solved by any single entity within the space, regardless of their size, technological prowess, or market share. These big issues must be addressed by the industry as a whole, and unfortunately too few global markets possess the maturity to put aside their competitive instincts and collaborate on market solutions that benefit all members of the mobile value chain.

Thankfully, operators in the UK seem determined to buck this trend.

Looking back, clearly one of the first truly significant examples of (mobile marketing-related) industry-wide cooperation was the achievement of “intercarrier SMS” functionality, or the ability for consumers to send text messages to anyone, without regard as to whether the sender or the recipient are on the same wireless network or not. Obviously this challenge could have only been met on an industry-wide basis, with all the carriers in a particular territory coming to agreement on the base technologies and economics of the system. The results speak for themselves: Text message volume increased 350 percent in the first seven months after interoperability was introduced in the UK in April of 1999, and a similar effect was seen after interoperability was introduced in the US in 2001. In hindsight, most in the industry agree that text messaging would have remained a niche service with fairly limited appeal had this key milestone not been reached.

In further gestures of industry cooperation, the British operators appear keen on tackling sticky issues like mobile commerce and accountability in mobile advertising with a similar unified approach. Both areas, commerce and advertising, face key hurdles that can only be addressed by the industry at large… and leave it to the British to continue to set an example to the globe on how cooperation and civility has the potential to “elevate all peoples” –or in this case, all peoples looking to monetize mobility.

  • Easy Billing on the Mobile Web. Starting back in May 2006, the five largest UK operators (Vodafone, Orange, 3, O2 and T-Mobile) created the Payforit organization – with the goal of standardizing and launching the necessary systems to enable “seamless and secure” (off-deck) WAP commerce of digital content. From an organizational perspective, Payforit builds upon the successful “Aggregator” premium SMS model in that the m-commerce standard establishes a group of “Accredited Payment Intermediaries” who utilize a common set of API’s to connect directly to all five carriers… in this case for the purposes of authentication, and (ultimately) carrier managed billing. The system officially launched in September of 2007, and early results indicate the standard represents a marked improvement over existing premium SMS billing systems. In the two months following the launch, Bango reported that “92 percent [of Payforit transactions] were completed successfully with an error rate of less than 1 percent… with refund levels at below 0.01 percent,” representing a “significant reduction in the need for costly customer care” Furthermore, Bango found that the average transaction speed “across all five networks [was] five seconds” – another significant improvement over premium SMS. Additionally, mobile game developer I-Play reported a near “15 percent conversion rate” on its mobile web site following their implementation of Payforit

It should be pointed out that although these results are highly encouraging, Payforit is not (as of yet) the “m-commerce” silver bullet we all desire. Unfortunately Payforit is limited to small transactions of less than 10£, and only for soft (digital) products. The organization has made no public statements indicating that the carriers intend on expanding the program to include larger transactions and/or to accommodate non-digital (physical) products, unsubstantiated rumors and overzealous public comments notwithstanding. The reasons behind these limitations was likely driven by carrier unwillingness to accept the risks associated with essentially “vouching” for larger-sized, physical purchases. Additionally, a complex regulatory system in the UK’s financial sector presents significant hurdles for carriers wishing to (directly) facilitate large transactions. Currently the carriers do not fall under the UK’s (banking) regulatory system due to the low Payforit purchase price ceiling of 10£, but any increase would likely land the operators into this undesirable (read: the reddest of tape) direction.

Still, Payforit represents a tremendous leap forward in the evolution of mobile commerce. With this platform the critical obstacle of authentication via the mobile web has been overcome, and with it the comes the very real potential for secure, unrestricted mobile web-based transactions of any type of good – at any price point. In order to reach this ultimate goal we would need to see a supreme display of cross-industry cooperation, where the carriers agree to share their authentication data with the banks and credit card companies (either directly or via an intermediary). One can only imagine the tedious negotiations that this type of complex (and lucrative) arrangement would entail.

  • Eying Real Accountability in Mobile Advertising. As with commerce, the UK wireless operators are displaying a similar willingness to band together to take on the most significant challenge impeding the long term success of the mobile advertising market: accountability. In a joint release issued at this year’s 3GSM in Barcelona the very same five leading UK carriers announced that they had “formed a working group to define common metrics and measurement processes for mobile advertising.” The working group will be focused on drafting a feasibility study examining “the deliver[ry] of cross-operator metrics to the media and advertising communities” in the UK. No timetables were revealed other than that the group planned on releasing “recommendations” before the end of 2008.

It is no secret that there is a profound need for drastically improved mobile advertising metrics (cross-carrier or otherwise). Many industry leaders and publications have become increasingly vocal on the lack of real accountability in the mobile ad space and how this will ultimately hold back the industry if it is not seriously addressed. As cookies and page scripting aren’t viable options on the mobile web, our only real hope for true accountability in the immediate future lies with the carriers.

Ultimately, it will be interesting to see what approach the working group recommends. If history is any guide they will probably suggest a scenario similar to the aforementioned SMS and Payforit model, whereby a select few companies will be “given” (the right to purchase) preferential access to (in this case) key mobile web tracking data. This data is necessary to calculate crucial (and rudimentary) campaign stats such as unduplicated audience/reach and frequency, over multiple and overlapping wireless networks. These companies will then either act as data brokers and/or serve directly as providers of campaign and publisher-side metrics. This scenario begs some follow-up speculation, should the working group indeed decides to go down this well-worn path…

  1. Which companies will get the nod? Traditional fixed-line internet ad serving companies and networks (Atlas, Doubleclick, etc) and their mobile cousins (Amobee, AdMob, et al) will likely be competing with the site metrics specialists (Overture) and data brokers (Telephia, M:Metrics), as well as some of the more ambitious SMS aggregators and Payforit Accredited Payment Intermediaries looking to make a more aggressive push into advertising services. Serious spoils to the victors no doubt.
  2. What Data Points will be Passed by the Carriers? It would fair to say that at a minimum the carriers would need to pass an anonymous Unique Identifier to the ad server or other 3rd party. Other highly coveted data points of interest include subscriber IDs (mobile phone numbers), location and subscriber data. The former stands a good chance of inclusion in specialized cases should a real need be identified (such as a m-commerce extension), while the latter two seem too controversial for immediate consideration.

The Opacity of Hope? Undoubtedly the mobile marketing industry faces tremendous challenges if it is to realize its great potential as a promotional channel. While it’s commonly known that these challenges will only be met if the companies making up the mobile industry can put aside their differences and agree on common goals and approaches, it is encouraging that markets like the UK are taking a leadership position in this area. We can only hope that other markets will soon follow suit.

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.