Monthly Archives: September 2011

Priceline targets Hotel Tonight with day-of hotel booking service

Travel bookings giant Priceline.com is updating its iPhone app with a service that lets customers book hotels at the last minute. The company said Thursday that its Tonight-Only Deals service is now available for the iPhone and iPod touch. It’s part of the company’s existing Hotel Rental Car Negotiator that lets customers bid on rooms and cars.

The feature only works for discounted three- and four-star hotels, and only for rooms available that night. It’s in 34 major cities to start with, with promise to expand further.

Sound familiar? It’s essentially the same concept as mobile last-minute hotel booking app Hotel Tonight, whose latest expansion into vacations I covered Thursday. Of course Priceline.com is huge compared to Hotel Tonight, with hundreds of thousands of hotel listings. Hotel Tonight is purely mobile, with no desktop or web equivalent, and in only a couple dozen cities. Are its 750,000 app downloads in nine months making its much larger competitors nervous, or is this market for finding deals on quality hotel rooms at the last minute just now ripe for tapping?

Perhaps both. Priceline says 70 percent of the bookings via its existing mobile app are already for rooms the same day a person plans to stay. I talked with Priceline spokesman Brian Ek:

We just saw that with the sheer number of people booking of the same night, obviously there’s a market need. In general we’re finding that mobile apps we put out there are being used by a different set of travelers; we a call them ‘the untethered traveler.’ They tend to hold off booking their travel reservations until the last minute…many of them wait until they’re actually in town.

Ek said that’s very different from “what you typically expect of a desktop consumer.”

It’s easier to target travelers toting smartphones with higher quality, and sometimes pricier rooms, too. Hotel Tonight has a hand-picked selection of “hip, elegant, or basic” rooms to choose from. Priceline says it’s sticking to just three- and four-star rooms for its new service because the statistics of the booking habits of mobile travelers show “they treat themselves well” when on the road. Eighty-two percent of mobile customers chose three-star hotels or higher, versus 75 percent of those who book travel from a desktop computer, according to Priceline’s findings.

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Amazon Kindle Fire is hot according to social media

In the months leading up to the press conference earlier this week, speculation about the prospects for Amazon’s new tablet reached a crescendo.  Would the new tablet be a worthy competitor?  Might it even dethrone the iPad?

Even before details were leaked to the press, Forrester predicted that Amazon would sell 3-5 million tablets in Q4.  Following an exclusive hands-on preview, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler reported that “it’s going to be a big deal… potentially huge.”

Since Monday, when CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage to unveil Amazon’s new tablet, named the Kindle Fire, individuals have posted some 11k+ comments in sources tracked by SocialNuggets, a leading social media analytics firm.  Mining these data gives us an early indication of how the market views and may react to the Kindle Fire when it is introduced mid-November.

Will the Kindle Fire unlock demand for tablets?

While not available for another six weeks, almost 10% of individuals posting comments earlier this week explicitly indicated whether they intend to purchase a Kindle Fire or not. These early results bode well for Amazon – among those expressing intent, the number intending to purchase a Kindle Fire outnumber those “rejecting” by 2:1.

Of course, that leaves a large number with intent “unstated,” so we (and competitors) will be watching these numbers closely.  As more individuals express views about the Kindle Fire, the data will permit us to report not only the Intent to Purchase Ratio but also break out users’ reasons for (intending to) purchase a Kindle Fire or not.

Reactions to Kindle Fire’s pricing and features

At $199, the Kindle Fire is priced at less than half the prevailing prices for an iPad and most other tablets on the market.  Not surprisingly, Amazon’s bold pricing generates considerable enthusiasm among prospective buyers. Almost 10% of the comments contained a favorable mention of Fire’s pricing – previous research from immr has shown that tablet prices must drop below $300 to open up the tablet market beyond early adopters,  so Amazon has clearly hit the mark with respect to pricing.

Although overshadowed by price and other features, Amazon also introduced a new browser named Silk that is integral to the overall user experience.  Touted by Amazon for its “optimized content delivery,” the browser generated quite a bit of discussion among early posters.  While the “cloud” was most frequently mentioned in connection with the browser, a significant percentage of individuals commenting on Silk – 1 in 3 – expressed concerns about privacy.

In the days following Amazon’s announcement, tech writers have also begun to explore the privacy implications of Silk.  Clearly, Amazon will need to monitor views closely and address concerns at it brings the Kindle Fire and its “split, cloud-based” browser to market.

Is the Kindle Fire hobbled by missing features?

Surprisingly, a very small percentage of individuals’ comments mention Fire’s “missing features” – for example, only about 1% commented on the fact that Fire will not offer 3G, while even fewer commented on the fact that the initial model due out in November lacks a camera.

While Amazon is taking a calculated risk by leaving these features out, evidence from other sources supports their decision – based on immr research with prospective buyers, at the low-end of the market only 1 in 3 choose tablets with 3G (the majority choose lower-priced models with Wi-fi only).  immr’s research also shows that most prospective buyers expect to use a tablet “primarily at home,” so 3G, especially given the incremental price and monthly recurring cost, is not a highly sought tablet feature at present.

In addition, out of some 15 tablet features that immr examined using Choice Modeling, cameras rank #12 in terms of impact.  Apparently, consumers are content having cameras on their smart phones and are not overly concerned that tablets and the Kindle Fire in particular lacks a camera. However, given the relatively low cost to add a camera and the growing popularity of video chat on Skype and other services, we suspect that Amazon will offer this feature on future models of the Kindle Fire.

Has Amazon hit the sweet spot?

While these results are very preliminary and should be interpreted accordingly, these “early votes” suggest that Amazon has hit a sweet spot with the Kindle Fire.  Pricing is a big plus and the missing features don’t appear to be major deficits.  While privacy with the Silk browser could be a significant issue, we suspect most users will accept the trade-offs and “trust” Amazon with this data – nonetheless, Amazon will need to closely monitor and carefully address users’ concerns.

Of course, sentiment could shift as more information become available and users get more familiar with the Kindle Fire.  As SocialNuggets continually tracks these and related sentiments, additional findings will be reported throughout the weeks ahead and of course after Amazon launches the Kindle Fire in November.  Stay tuned!

Dr. Phil Hendrix is the founder and director of immr, a leading research and consulting firm focused on markets for “very new products” and an analyst with GigaOm Pro.

R. Paul Singh is the CEO and co-founder of SocialNuggets, which delivers real-time data and market intelligence to the consumer electronics industry by analyzing millions of social media conversations about products.

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Untether.tv on Mobilize 2011: top themes and trends

Earlier this week, we held our 2-day Mobilize 2011 event, which was jam packed with interviews, discussion panels and fireside chats all revolving around the mobile industry. We have archived video footage from all of the sessions, which I recommend if you missed out on our show.

After our Mobilize concluded, I had the opportunity to meet with Rob Woodbridge. Rob creates a large amount of digital content on Untether.tv and he asked if we could do a video summary of Mobilize once I flew back home to the east coast. We did the video session this morning; Rob from California, while I was in my home office in Pennsylvania.

Chatting with and meeting Rob in person was a treat. As you’ll see in the video, he and I collectively point out a large number of important themes and trends that were uncovered at Mobilize, ranging from the consumerization of I.T. to the slowness of mobile payment adoption and the importance of thinking mobile first for apps and services.

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Report: Amazon eyeballs HP’s WebOS

If Amazon ends up buying the orphaned webOS from Hewlett-Packard, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Last night, VentureBeat, citing a well placed source reported that the two companies are in “serious negotiations” about buying HP’s Palm business.

It’s been clear for a month that HP was looking into options for the operating system. HP bought Palm and its OS know-how for $1.2 billion in April 2010.

People who have followed HP over the past year could see the writing on the wall. Here’s a quick recap of WebOS-related news.

Earlier this week, Michael Abbott, who led webOS development at Palm before joining Twitter as VP of engineering last year, said he hoped WebOS innovation will live on, whether it is bought by another tech company or not.

“There were novel things we were doing around notifications, and how you could enable a notification to not distract what you were currently doing,” Abbott told Mobilize 2011 attendees.

Amazon dominated headlines this week with the debut of its Amazon Kindle Fire and its own Amazon Silk browser, optimized for use with Amazon Web Services.

Amazon could not be reached for comment. An HP spokesman said the company does not comment on rumors.

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Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus boasts Honeycomb, dual-core CPU

Samsung officially announced the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus on Friday, saying the 7-inch Android tablet will initially launch in Austria and Indonesia, but later expand to the U.S. and most other regions around the world. The slate is an upgrade from the original 7-inch Galaxy Tab that launched around this time last year. The new version runs the tablet-focused Honeycomb version of Android.

Among the improved hardware are a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 720p high-definition video recording, 1080p video playback and support for 21 Mbps HSPA+ networks. Here in the U.S., the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus will run on ATT’s mobile broadband network unless Samsung later builds a GSM version specifically for T-Mobile or a CDMA model for Verizon and Sprint. Samsung’s new slate is slightly thinner than its predecessor at 9.96 millimeters. It also supports Wi-Fi channel bonding for faster wireless connectivity.

Some specifications are unchanged from last year’s Galaxy Tab, so this isn’t a complete overhaul of the device. The tablet still uses a 3-megapixel sensor for the rear camera, although the front camera is boosted to 2 megapixels. The 7-inch display is an IPS LCD, so don’t look for Samsung’s Super AMOLED Plus technology which brings brighter, more vivid colors. And the screen resolution remains at 1024×600 pixels, unlike the 1280×800 screen resolution on the slightly larger Galaxy Tab 7.7 slate.

 

As a current Samsung Galaxy Tab owner who has used the tablet daily since December of last year, I see little reason to upgrade. There are some nice, new hardware features that I’d like, but I’m more impressed by the Galaxy 7.7 with its higher resolution and better display. Additionally, my Tab was bought with a two-year data plan contract. I’d either have to pay an early termination fee or pay full price for the new tablet, as a result.

This situation is part of the problem for nearly all tablets other than Apple’s iPad, which is sold without a contract. Instead, the iPad is purchased at full price with the option of monthly data plans as needed. Samsung, Acer, Asus, Motorola, LG and others who build Android tablets would do well to work out similar deals with carriers. In not doing so, their tablets with mobile broadband are tied to lengthy contracts that may garner a few more sales up front due to subsidized hardware prices, but limit upgrades and sales of new models down the road.

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Does the world need another mobile OS?

The race in mobile has defaulted to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems, but that hasn’t stopped Samsung from thinking about open sourcing Bada, or Microsoft from pushing ahead with Windows Phone 7 and a partnership with Nokia. So while Meego, Symbian and webOS have hit the rocks, there’s still plenty of competition gunning for the chance to fight it out with Apple and Google.

At our recent Mobilize conference, I accosted our speakers and attendees, such as Stephen Bye the CTO of Sprint and Ville Vesterinen, the CEO of the hot game company that created Shadow Cities, to ask them whether or not the world needed another mobile OS. For the most part folks were doubtful, but one developer surprisingly didn’t mind the idea of a third, and it’s clear the carriers want one to dampen the power that Google and Apple hold over the ecosystem. Check it out.

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iPhone 5 cases hit AT&T stores, suggest design changes

Case Mate’s iPhone 5 designs were live on their site briefly in September before the company pulled them.

ATT retail stores are reportedly taking delivery of iPhone 5 cases a little early, according to a new report. Photos obtained by MacRumors show boxes of new cases allegedly delivered to one ATT store late Thursday. The cases feature a tapered back design and what appears to be a mute switch opening on the opposite side of the phone relatively to where it’s currently located.

A tapered back redesign is in keeping with some other early case leaks we’ve seen from Chinese accessory makers and other vendors, although separate rumors have suggested we’ll see a new iPhone that closely resembles the previous generation. One theory is that Apple will unveil two new models of iPhone on Tuesday during its special media event, one of which is a modest evolutionary upgrade of the iPhone 4 as a low-cost option, and the other a complete redesign.

The cases could be fake or based on an uninformed, just-in-case ordering decision on behalf of ATT or this store in particular. Some have pointed out that the packaging seems unrealistic, but ATT retail is known to repackage products from accessory-makers in generic packaging. And considering how close we are to the iPhone 5′s reveal — Apple is holding an iPhone launch event on Oct. 4 – it’s more likely that important partners like ATT would be privy to some knowledge of the next iPhone’s actual design.

Personally, I think we’ll see redesigned hardware, and the tapered look seems to be garnering the most support. For Apple to wait 16 months just to introduce a minor refresh would not go over well with consumers, as we’ve seen from recent survey results.

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Why Shazam’s free iOS app has unlimited music tags

Shazam, a popular music tagging mobile app, announced on Thursday that it would remove the five-song limit from the free version of its iOS software. The change is a result of fast growth in Apple iOS devices combined with revenue opportunities from mobile advertising and sales partnerships.

Shazam’s free Google Android app removed limits in April of this year, and I wonder if the company learned something from that action. It provided Shazam with several months of data on user behavior, which I expect showed that the more music tags users share through the app, the larger the overall Shazam audience, which ultimately leads to more overall revenue through ads and content sales.

In a press statement, Shazam CEO Andrew Fisher alluded to this combination of income opportunity by pointing out how the software generates music purchases from partners, and of which Shazam receives a cut:

Shazamers already identify over 1 billion songs each year and go on to purchase over $100 million in digital music via our service. Now, with no limits, people can Shazam even more songs they don’t know — or they already know — to conveniently purchase them, see the lyrics, watch the official music video, share on Facebook, Twitter or email, get recommendations and purchase concert tickets instantly. Unlimited free access means people can use Shazam even more as part of their daily lives.

By limiting the free software to just five tags then, Shazam was essentially limiting the chance for additional music sharing and, therefore, limiting potential music purchases. This same concept applies to last week’s Facebook news with music applications such as Spotify’s, Rdio’s and MOG’s having hooks into Facebook for “frictionless sharing”: As Facebook-connected apps are used, more people are exposed to content and potential purchases.

The news is also a bright spot for Apple’s iAd platform, which debuted last April. Earlier this year, Apple cut the minimum ad spend in half, from $1 million to $500,000, amid suggestions that the mobile advertising platform wasn’t meeting expectations. It also illustrates that mobile advertising in general continues to grow but can be supplemented with additional revenue streams, even for free or freemium applications.

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The new Kindle: Hands-on and first impressions

Amazon unveiled its new Kindle lineup Wednesday, and the first one available, the basic, simply named “Kindle,” reached my doorstep Thursday morning. Here’s what I think about Amazon’s latest reader, and how it stacks up so far to previous Kindles and other similar devices.

This entry-level Kindle will cost you $79 with Amazon’s ad-supported pricing, or $109 without. It comes with Wi-Fi, but no 3G connection, has a 6-inch e-Ink display, and lacks a speaker or audio output of any kind. It comes with 2 GB of onboard storage, compared to 4 GB for all other Kindle e-ink models, and offers one month of battery life, vs. two months for the Kindle Touch and Kindle Keyboard.

This Kindle doesn’t support touch, and the hardware keyboard is gone, so for text input you have to use a virtual keyboard, and it only ships with a USB cable, not a plug-in power adapter. It’s a Kindle distilled to its most basic essence — an e-book reader — and that’s a big reason why it’s sure to become my Kindle of choice.

Amazon may have cut features to get the new Kindle down to that $79 starting price point, but it kept intact and even improved upon the things that are most important in a dedicated e-reader: The 6-inch display is big enough to be easily readable; it’s small enough to fit in a pocket; and it weighs nearly three ounces less than the previous generation Kindle, and almost two ounces less than the Touch edition. Plus, general speed is better than on the last-gen Kindle, as is display contrast and quality.

 

I’ve had a Kindle since the second-generation device, and have also owned the last-gen Kindle with 3G (now called the Kindle Keyboard) as well as a Kindle DX. I’ve also owned a 5-inch Sony Reader (PRS-300) and used a Kobo Touch extensively. The quality of Amazon’s overall experience always keeps me coming back, and the new Kindle is a solid continuation of that legacy. It looks good, keeps the handy page turn buttons on either side of the device, and features a slightly rubberized back that helps you grip without picking up smudges, dust or dirt.

The size and weight immediately strike me as huge improvements over the last generation. Both are key factors for a successful e-reader, since you’ll be holding the device in various positions when you dig in for long reading sessions. And in case you’re concerned about rotation, it’s also present in the basic Kindle; there’s no accelerometer to auto-detect your orientation, but you can change it manually from the settings screen.

One tick against the Kindle: I’d rather Amazon had repositioned the power button from the bottom center to the top right corner of the device, but that might just be because I expect to find it there as an iPhone user. The lack of an included power adapter doesn’t bother me, because frankly, with iPhone, iPads and previous Kindles, I’ve got too many to begin with. If you need one, Amazon will charge you $10 extra for one boxed individually.

This Kindle is light, feels durable, and performs better than previous generations. If you’re looking for frills, wait for the Kindle Touch or Kindle Fire, both of which arrive in November, but if what you want it pure e-reading pleasure for the lowest price around, this is a big, definite winner. And one that I’d say should have every Kindle competitor scrambling to come up with an adequate response strategy.

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Why Shazam’s free iOS app now has unlimited music tags

Shazam, a popular music tagging mobile app, announced on Thursday that it would remove the five-song limit from the free version of its iOS software. The change is a result of fast growth in Apple iOS devices combined with revenue opportunities from mobile advertising and sales partnerships.

Shazam’s free Google Android app removed limits in April of this year, and I wonder if the company learned something from that action. It provided Shazam with several months of data on user behavior, which I expect showed that the more music tags users share through the app, the larger the overall Shazam audience, which ultimately leads to more overall revenue through ads and content sales.

In a press statement, Shazam CEO Andrew Fisher alluded to this combination of income opportunity by pointing out how the software generates music purchases from partners, and of which Shazam receives a cut:

Shazamers already identify over 1 billion songs each year and go on to purchase over $100 million in digital music via our service. Now, with no limits, people can Shazam even more songs they don’t know — or they already know — to conveniently purchase them, see the lyrics, watch the official music video, share on Facebook, Twitter or email, get recommendations and purchase concert tickets instantly. Unlimited free access means people can use Shazam even more as part of their daily lives.

By limiting the free software to just five tags then, Shazam was essentially limiting the chance for additional music sharing and, therefore, limiting potential music purchases. This same concept applies to last week’s Facebook news with music applications such as Spotify’s, Rdio’s and MOG’s having hooks into Facebook for “frictionless sharing”: As Facebook-connected apps are used, more people are exposed to content and potential purchases.

The news is also a bright spot for Apple’s iAd platform, which debuted last April. Earlier this year, Apple cut the minimum ad spend in half, from $1 million to $500,000, amid suggestions that the mobile advertising platform wasn’t meeting expectations. It also illustrates that mobile advertising in general continues to grow but can be supplemented with additional revenue streams, even for free or freemium applications.

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