A Step Forward For Mobile Local Search

One thing that has stood in the way of mobile local search adoption is the lack of a clear and compelling value proposition. This is partly a result of hardware restrictions; there are small screens and keypads on most cell phones and smart phones haven’t reached mainstream penetration (although prices are coming down which should bode well for mobile local search).

But another major factor has been that the control exerted by carriers in the U.S. and their ability to decide what devices and platforms work on their networks (this is not the case in Europe). This has effectively stifled a lot of innovation at the application level, as explored in the recent Kelsey Group report Targeting Users: Application Level Innovation in Mobile Local Search).

Even though applications can be developed that require users to navigate to a site on the mobile web using a WAP based phone, and other more robust programs can be downloaded, both of these options require an additional step. This represents a sizable adoption barrier in an already early-adopter medium.

Therefore the few search applications that get the endorsement of carriers and are correspondingly planted “on the carrier deck” are the only ones that currently have a shot at worthwhile traction. And the carrier’s filter for choosing the best mobile search products are not always the same as what the market would bear.

Enter Nokia and Motorola, which announced yesterday at the annual 3GSM World Congress that they will launch their own navigation services that don’t require carrier networks. With the thought that carriers have been slow to innovate, both companies announced new GPS enabled hardware and navigation services that they will sell directly to consumers.

These navigation platforms will include, local search, directions, and the ability to download maps for any destination in the world. These services will be free, with the option to upgrade to features such as voice directions and live traffic updates. CNet has in depth coverage both announcements and some of the dynamics surrounding them.

This could be a significant move and the first shot in a battle against carriers to effectively sidestep their rule and offer compelling products that don’t require cellular networks. WiFi enabled mobile phones that are able to make VoIP calls when in range a network are another example of something that could disintermediate carriers. And as municipal WiFi approaches reality, more phones like this will be offered.

Combine this with the announcements from Nokia and Motorola, and you can start to see the stars aligning for disruption to carrier dependence, and thus control. Eventually, this should in turn lead to the innovation in mobile local search, characteristic of a free market. Something like this needs to happen if Mobile Local Search is to get off the ground in the U.S, and you can start to see the wheels turning.

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