The Future of Contextual Mobile Commerce


In the early days of the gold rush to create location aware and contextually relevant mobile applications for smartphones, I was constantly bombarded with business plans that showed revenue models driven from advertising. Although advertising is a plausible way of earning revenue, there is a high level of inherent risk since those businesses are largely at the mercy of market rate CPMs/eCPMs and available ad inventory (unless you have a rockstar in-house ad sales team). Ad inventories are beginning to improve as advertisers are becoming more and more aware of the high interaction and engagement rates of mobile ads. However, for startups looking to differentiate in their niche, monetizing solely through ads is a risky road to travel. That being said, I believe that ads are still relevant  for *lite* versions of apps that supplement a paid model of some form and for monetizing certain consumers that would not otherwise become a paying customer.

Tim O’Reilly wrote a short article last week on the convergence of Advertising and E-commerce and I thought he hit the nail right on the head. He says that “E-commerce is the killer app of the phone world. Anyone whose business is now based on advertising had better be prepared to link payment and fulfillment directly to search, making buying anything in the world into a one-click purchase. Real time payment from the phone is in your future.” I completely agree. Square is a great example of real-time point-of-sale (POS) coming to iPhone.

In the article, O’Reilly arrives at this conclusion by making a few theories about what can be expected from the marketplace based on some recent announcements and common sense:

  • Google, Apple, and Microsoft will announce e-commerce programs akin to AdSense, in which retailers will register with “app stores” to allow physical goods and services to be bought as easily as apps
  • We can expect announcements of partnerships between phone providers and Amazon or Wal-Mart to fulfill mobile e-commerce requests

There are a number of mobile apps that are positioned well to capitalize on some of these trends such as foursquare and other mashups of local and geocoded information. IMHO, there is a more exciting category that is only starting to gain excitement. Companies like Layar, Tonchidot (Sekai Camera), Mobilizy (Wikitude) and TAT (Recognizr) are creating augmented reality browsers and applications that use location data and combine it with image recognition technology to recognize specific people or places in the physical world and allow the application user to interact with them in some capacity. I strongly believe that these are some of the fundamental technologies that will make this category of future applications possible. By linking interaction of location-aware data through to payment and fulfillment functions, one can point a phone at a local pizza restaurant and order a pizza to their home en route. Another example may be pointing a phone at a friend and performing a money transfer with only a few clicks.

What killer apps can you think of that combine hyperlocal, e-commerce and fulfillment?

Gartner: Top 10 Consumer Mobile Apps for 2012


Gartner, one of the leading market research firms, has recently identified the top 10 consumer mobile applications for 2012. The research firm listed mobile apps based on their “impact” on consumers and industry players, considering revenue, loyalty, business model, consumer value and estimated market penetration.

“Consumer mobile applications and services are no longer the prerogative of mobile carriers,” said Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner. “The increasing consumer interest in smartphones, the participation of Internet players in the mobile space, and the emergence of application stores and cross-industry services are reducing the dominance of mobile carriers. Each player will influence how the application is delivered and experienced by consumers, who ultimately vote with their attention and spending power.”

Gartner reports that the top 10 consumer mobile applications in 2012 will include:

No. 1: Money Transfer
This service allows people to send money to others using Short Message Service (SMS). Its lower costs, faster speed and convenience compared with traditional transfer services have strong appeal to users in developing markets, and most services signed up several million users within their first year. However, challenges do exist in both regulatory and operational risks. Because of the fast growth of mobile money transfer, regulators in many markets are piling in to investigate the impact on consumer costs, security, fraud and money laundering. On the operational side, market conditions vary, as do the local resources of service providers, so providers need different market strategies when entering a new territory.

Other than SMS, another technologies such as USSD, NFC, or web applications may also play a role in increased mobile money transfer.

No. 2: Location-Based Services
Location-based services (LBS) form part of context-aware services, a service that Gartner expects will be one of the most disruptive in the next few years. Gartner predicts that the LBS user base will grow globally from 96 million in 2009 to more than 526 million in 2012. LBS is ranked No. 2 in Gartner’s top 10 because of its perceived high user value and its influence on user loyalty. Its high user value is the result of its ability to meet a range of needs, ranging from productivity and goal fulfillment to social networking and entertainment.

Some interesting services that already exist include: Foursquare, buzzd, and about 500+ iPhone applications.

No. 3: Mobile Search
The ultimate purpose of mobile search is to drive sales and marketing opportunities on the mobile phone. To achieve this, the industry first needs to improve the user experience of mobile search so that people will come back again. Mobile search is ranked No. 3 because of its high impact on technology innovation and industry revenue. Consumers will stay loyal to some search services, but instead of sticking to one or two search providers on the Internet, Gartner expects loyalty on the mobile phone to be shared between a few search providers that have unique technologies for mobile search.

No. 4: Mobile Browsing
Mobile browsing is a widely available technology present on more than 60 percent of handsets shipped in 2009, a percentage Gartner expects to rise to approximately 80 percent in 2013. Gartner has ranked mobile browsing No. 4 because of its broad appeal to all businesses. Mobile Web systems have the potential to offer a good return on investment. They involve much lower development costs than native code, reuse many existing skills and tools, and can be agile — both delivered and updated quickly. Therefore, the mobile Web will be a key part of most corporate business-to-consumer (B2C) mobile strategies.

No. 5: Mobile Health Monitoring
Mobile health monitoring is the use of IT and mobile telecommunications to monitor patients remotely, and could help governments, care delivery organizations (CDOs) and healthcare payers reduce costs related to chronic diseases and improve the quality of life of their patients. In developing markets, the mobility aspect is key as mobile network coverage is superior to fixed network in the majority of developing countries. Currently, mobile health monitoring is at an early stage of market maturity and implementation, and project rollouts have so far been limited to pilot projects. In the future, the industry will be able to monetize the service by offering mobile healthcare monitoring products, services and solutions to CDOs.

No. 6: Mobile Payment
Mobile payment usually serves three purposes. First, it is a way of making payment when few alternatives are available. Second, it is an extension of online payment for easy access and convenience. Third, it is an additional factor of authentication for enhanced security. Mobile payment made Gartner’s top 10 list because of the number of parties it affects — including mobile carriers, banks, merchants, device vendors, regulators and consumers — and the rising interest from both developing and developed markets. Because of the many choices of technologies and business models, as well as regulatory requirements and local conditions, mobile payment will be a highly fragmented market. There will not be standard practices of deployment, so parties will need to find a working solution on a case-by-case basis.

No. 7: Near Field Communication Services
Near field communication (NFC) allows contactless data transfer between compatible devices by placing them close to each other, within ten centimeters. The technology can be used, for example, for retail purchases, transportation, personal identification and loyalty cards. NFC is ranked No. 7 in Gartner’s top ten because it can increase user loyalty for all service providers, and it will have a big impact on carriers’ business models. However, its biggest challenge is reaching business agreement between mobile carriers and service providers, such as banks and transportation companies. Gartner expects to see large-scale deployments starting from late 2010, when NFC phones are likely to ship in volume, with Asia leading deployments followed by Europe and North America.

No. 8: Mobile Advertising
Mobile advertising in all regions is continuing to grow through the economic downturn, driven by interest from advertisers in this new opportunity and by the increased use of smartphones and the wireless Internet. Total spending on mobile advertising in 2008 was $530.2 million, which Gartner expects to will grow to $7.5 billion in 2012. Mobile advertising makes the top 10 list because it will be an important way to monetize content on the mobile Internet, offering free applications and services to end users. The mobile channel will be used as part of larger advertising campaigns in various media, including TV, radio, print and outdoors.

No. 9: Mobile Instant Messaging
Price and usability problems have historically held back adoption of mobile instant messaging (IM), while commercial barriers and uncertain business models have precluded widespread carrier deployment and promotion. Mobile IM is on Gartner’s top 10 list because of latent user demand and market conditions that are conducive to its future adoption. It has a particular appeal to users in developing markets that may rely on mobile phones as their only connectivity device. Mobile IM presents an opportunity for mobile advertising and social networking, which have been built into some of the more advanced mobile IM clients.

No. 10: Mobile Music
Mobile music so far has been disappointing — except for ring tones and ring-back tones, which have turned into a multibillion-dollar service. On the other hand, it is unfair to dismiss the value of mobile music, as consumers want music on their phones and to carry it around. We see efforts by various players in coming up with innovative models, such as device or service bundles, to address pricing and usability issues. iTunes makes people pay for music, which shows that a superior user experience does make a difference.

Additional information is available in the Gartner report Dataquest Insight: The Top Ten Consumer Mobile Applications for 2012.

New Video 2.0 Website to come from NBC and News Corp


I’m not sure who would really want to go head to head with Google, but apparently the answer to that question is NBC and News Corp. who are launching a competitor to YouTube.com in Summer 2007.

The company, which has “yet to be given a name, or a managment team” already has distribution deals with AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, and MySpace and are planning on featuring TV shows and full-length films. Hmm … pretty good job considering there is no management team! More details on the venture can be seen in this NY Times article.

The unnamed company plans to generate revenue by making the video feeds free to watch, but subjecting the users to advertisements. How will they structure these ads?

My Thoughts
I’m not sure how the company plans to work advertising into the streaming video, if its alongside the video, or if there are interruptions within the streaming videos themselves. I can say right now that people are NOT going to like interruptions in their programs being streamed from this website; so, if that’s the plan, many people will surely be disappointed.

I wonder how long it will take before some 15-year old tech-geek programs a method of “PVR-ing” the streaming video, and either (1) cuts out the commercials and saves the video commercial-free on the computer for later playback when its convenient for them; or (2) saves the video allowing for playback with a fast-forwarding option.

I guess we’ll see what happens … either way, it could be an interesting service to check out.