The mobile landscape: 10 things media pros should know

What’s the current state of mobile media, what might the future hold, and what should media and communications professionals know about it? This week I’m speaking at a boatload of sessions on these topics at the Annenberg school for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Their event is Mobile News Week 2011.

Many of these sessions involve me explaining important trends and context likely to affect how people use phones as media tools. Here are 10 key points I think are worth noting…

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Why the Qualcomm-Opera Mini deal could mean a boom in mobile web traffic

Earlier this week, Qualcomm announced a deal to make Opera Mini (a really slick, lean, fast mobile web browser) the default browser on its  BREW MP platform for feature phones.

So a new slew of cheap handsets with much better browsers will be hitting the stores as early as this summer.

Over on the blog for House of Local (a media consultancy I work with), I wrote about why this is such a big deal:

See: Qualcomm, Opera deal means cheap phones will be doing LOTS more web surfing

And for the Knight Digital Media Center, I explained why news organizations should care about this development, and start taking lean mobile more seriously in their mobile and business strategy:

See: Qualcomm, Opera deal could dramatically boost mobile web audience

The point is: Do you want to get most of the mobile audience now? Or neglect that audience so much that they decide you’re not worth their time?

This year is the big opportunity for building mobile audience. Smart publishers should try to not get their heads stuck up their apps.

Mobile users team up to map wireless network coverage, quality

If you’re shopping for a wireless carrier, one of your first questions is (or should be): Which carriers offer the best coverage in the locations where you spend most of your time?

You could try to figure that out by looking at the coverage maps the carriers all provide, but take that information with a big grain of salt. Those maps often overstate the reach, strength, and quality of their coverage, and they don’t give detail down to the block level.

On CNN.com Tech today, I wrote about two projects where mobile users are creating their own maps of carrier coverage:

Crowdsourced maps help mobile users compare network reliability

These efforts are handled via iPhone and Android apps — which means that BlackBerry, Palm, and feature phone users can’t participate in making these maps. But the maps (which you can view on Open Signal Maps and RootMetrics) are potentially useful to anyone.

…Well, at least, to anyone in a major metro area, so far. There’s sparse reporting from other regions, but the more people who use these apps, the better these maps will get.

I really like these projects, not least because they’re an important way to hold wireless carriers accountable for delivering the speed and coverage they advertise. They’re also useful if you want to figure out whether your carrier is throttling your data.

How Obama’s national wireless initiative could make the digital divide worse

I’ve long been annoyed by, and concerned about, the long-term implications of the digital divide. Today, my mobile blog post on CNN.com Tech is: Obama wireless initiative silent on net neutrality.

President Obama announced this initiative last week. The intent is to bring wireless broadband to 98% of Americans. That’s great, but my point is: What if most of the people in range of those networks can’t afford to use them fully, or at all?

This is likely, since the new Open Internet Rules passed last December by the FCC largely exempt US wireless carriers from key net neutrality requirements. This leaves the door open for wireless carriers to charge mobile customers extra to access just about any site or service at an acceptable speed.

In my article, I explain how that might happen, and what it could mean for people who can’t afford to take full advantage of those networks.

MetroPCS takes leapfrog approach to wireless network technology

Last week on CNN.com Tech I wrote a story about an interesting new offer from MetroPCS: No-contract smartphone may lure first-time users. In a nutshell, this discount carrier (which is one of the most popular carriers here in Oakland, CA), which previously has offered only feature phones and low-end BlackBerries, is starting to offer an unlocked smartphone running Android 2.2 under an affordable no-contract plan: $50/month for 1GB data, and $60/month unlimited data. (Plus unlimited talk, text, etc. on both plans.)

This is not the first discount wireless carrier to offer a no-contract smartphone. But it is the first such offering from a carrier that has already rolled out its high-speed LTE network in 13 metro areas.  And here’s why that’s interesting in terms of business strategy, and for consumers…

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ComScore Digital Year in Review 2010: My takeaways

Last week, ComScore published its big annual Digital Year in Review statistics compilation for 2010. I covered this report for both CNN.com Tech and the Knight Digital Media Center. While the report covers many media, communications, and tech topics, I focused on what it had to say about mobile.

My key takeaways…

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Coming soon from Yahoo: Personalized mobile content platform

Say what you will about Yahoo, but I’ve always liked that they’ve generally realized the value of reaching out to feature phone users — who, according to ComScore’s latest numbers, still comprise three quarters of the current US mobile market.

For instance, Yahoo apparently has deals with many wireless carriers to have its mobile offerings listed in the default menu options for feature phone web browsers. This generates a lot of traffic to Yahoo News — and in turn, to lots of news sites.

Now they’re cooking up something else that should interest news and content publishers who are considering their mobile strategy. Today on the Knight Digital Media Center site, I wrote:

Yahoo to launch personalized mobile content platform

The bottom line for news orgs:

Feature phone users are especially likely to desire content personalization, given the difficulty of navigating and searching web sites from those devices. If this Yahoo platform makes that easier for consumers, and if Yahoo offers some fair revenue opportunities for news publishers, then a platform like this might be a useful complement to a news organization’s own direct mobile offerings.

Yeah, I know at Mobile World Congress next week, Yahoo’s official announcement will make this sound like it’s all about smartphones and tablets. But I hope some people will be asking about how this platform will work with Yahoo’s mobile web offerings — and whether it will include support for Javascript-based apps that can run on many feature phones.

Three generational gadget trends for news orgs to watch | Knight Digital Media Center

Today at the Knight Digital Media Center site, I took another look at a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project about generational differences in tech gadget ownership and user.

See: Three generational gadget trends for news orgs to watch

The trends & implications I saw are:

  1. Picture-taking is the most popular non-voice cell activity, even more than texting! So why not do more with community-contributed pictures?
  2. Tablets are still a niche market. Right now, there are much bigger mobile fish to fry in terms of potential market size. Consider where your business interest really lie.
  3. MP3 players are especially popular with young adults, so consider doing more with podcasts and other audio content.

I discuss the details more over at my article on KDMC.

How mobile device use varies by generation

My latest CNN Tech mobile blog post . Pew has a new report out examining how Americans in different age groups use tech gadgets. The report also covers stuff like computers and game consoles, but I focused on mobile devices.

It’s not especially surprising news, but still good to know.

Report: 90% of Americans own a computerized gadget – CNN.com.

One point I note: According to Pew, 5% of US adults currently own a tablet.  I wrote:

If tablet prices start to drop and more options for size and connectivity emerge (especially likely for Android models), it’s possible that that many people who rely primarily on feature phones might choose to invest in a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet (a one-time expense) rather than upgrading to a full smartphone (with higher monthly bills and often unexpected charges).

Thoughts?

Verizon reserves right to throttle data for high-consumption users: Is that you?

As of today, Verizon Wireless says it may start “throttling” service to the 5% of its customers who consume the most data over its network.

Today is also the first day that people can pre-order the new Verizon iPhone. A Verizon spokesman told the Wall St. Journal that this is just a coincidence.

Yeah. Right.

A move like this indicates that Verizon is concerned about growing network congestion, which affects service to all customers. And they should be. But the way they’re going about it is pretty frustrating…

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