Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mobile Location is here (now for real)

In the last couple weeks I've been playing around with new mobile technology. This time, I came across this nice piece that enables marketers to learn their audience location as they view their mobile web pages.
Mobile location, it seems, has been the talk of the industry forever. Devices that don't come out with GPS chips installed seem to be the minority these days. Many applications have some form of mobile location awareness to them. Even Google has stormed in with Google Latitude, although the availability of that database for commercial purposes remains unclear. Has the real time location awareness made a dent in how marketers think of entering the mobile playground? questionable, I think.

One reason for not making a dent is that the effort associated in creating a mobile application is not insignificant. You need to consider coverage, features, maintenance etc. There's not an obvious easy entry point for marketers to test the ('mobile') water if the options are limited to mobile applications. If users' location were available on the mobile web, then with the development of a small portal, marketers can get huge reach instantly, and figure out the next step.

It seems that the technology is becoming available to create location-aware websites, and more specifically, location-aware mobile websites. I am hoping that this will really open a new path for marketers that wasn't available before, it is certainly an exciting opportunity for innovation!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New England Mobile Sector

As I read XConomy's post on the top 10 NE Venture deals of Q3'09, all I can do is remember that only this last Monday, at Mobile Monday, I was inside a room full of mobile entrepreneurs, money people, business people and what not, everyone saying: Mobile in Boston is reality, look around you.

Well, maybe we can argue that there are people working in the mobile space in NE, trying to make a difference and make miracles happen, but at the bottom line, money talks:
NE ventures are about science projects, or late-stage successful businesses. Numerous NE VCs are uncomfortable about investing in mobile, as are the early stage angels and independents. They need infrastructure, health, IP, enterprise. That works.

Maybe it's a way to ensure mobile businesses in NE are stronger (whatever that means) because there are fewer who can survive w/o funding. Or otherwise, if you want mobile, go west.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monetization in Mobile

Image: TextMovers
Yesterday night's great Boston Mobile Monday had an interesting panel of speakers who were talking about Monetization in Mobile. The panel included a developer, carrier, OEM and a VC, perfect.
Anyway, the question on the table is, to me, a critical question to ask: How to build a profitable business in mobile?
The panel, IMO, went down the obvious path of:
  • Interesting content and services
  • Compelling, yet simple engagement
  • Powerful marketing, discoverability and distribution
  • Advertising is not it
All true, but, duh.
Duh because the free business model, as successful as it may be (is it?), should be viewed as a pathway to an upsell. That's the critical point people seem to forget. Users have money, and they are willing to spend it. On tickets, goods, experience, less so content but some, etc.
Once we figured that out, we come to the real question of, ok, how do you charge the user
  • In both scenarios: resident apps and mobile web
  • In a highly user-friendly way, that does not require you to pre-sign up on the web. Yes, I'm talking about a one-click checkout on-bill transactions. Like they had for years now with PayForIt in the UK.
If developers could answer that question, then the way the US mobile space looks would have been very different. Suddenly the Mobile option would seem like a money generating, obvious decision for marketers, who are today sitting on the fence. It's not to say app stores don't allow charging, and Apple just recently approved on-app follow-on charges. But it's not anywhere near being readily available mainstream technology.
What are the available options to bill the user, in the US, today? (this is my knowledge, please correct me)
  • Carrier billing
    Pros: very simple, user friendly and familiar checkout process. Does not require pre-signup on the user. Support for refunds etc.
    Cons: Expansive setup and recurring charges, to the degree that it is prohibitive for startups. Unimaginable transaction % left to the carriers. Service Guidelines (dictated by the carriers) change on a weekly basis (creating a massive engineering effort).
    • SMS Billing
      Pros: Works (almost) cross carrier. Users are comfortable and familiar with the SMS.
      Cons: see above.
    • WAP Billing
      Pros: Mobile web one-click Amazon-like experience, beautiful. Money savings (not sending premium SMSs).
      Cons: Definitely not cross carrier. Massive efforts required to maintain and add new services to conform with carrier guidelines.
  • Off-Deck billing
    The reason off-deck billing is very interesting is because in the US it has huge potential: In many world countries (the Philippines is a a great example), esp. where people's access to cash and banks isn't as easy, carriers identified the potential and provided mobile solutions for financial transactions, money transfers etc. In the US, there is a growing need for mobile financial solution, but the carriers do not have the silver bullet solution today. That's the definition of a gap that entrepreneurs can fill.
    • Pre registration solutions:
      So yeah, Amazon, Paypal, Google and others provide great solutions, with great payout as well. The only downside is that you either need to
      • Be a pre-registered member of the service: an Amazon signed customer, Google checkout, Paypal mobile etc.
      • Own and be willing to enter your full credit card details (including address etc.) on your mobile phone (these days, with an increasing number of phones that have full keyboards, it's not as bad).
      Bottom line: Mobile is about immediacy. If we can't enable real time access to shopping for a first-time user, it's a real limitation.
    • On the fly: I'm actually not aware of these solutions (enlighten me). On-the-fly off-deck solutions, to me, is exactly what is needed.
To summarize this long post (sorry), I think there is a gap in the US as far as mobile solutions for recurring user billing transactions. It could come from the carriers in the form of financially and technically reasonable ubiquitous solution (like PayForIt), or it could come from entrepreneurs who can figure it out as a service that plugs into apps and mobile sites.