2007 Review: Big Web Brands In Mobile Have Strong Effect

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To a large extent 2007 has been dominated by the moves of big web brands into mobile. In fact, if I was under pressure to point to the strongest effect on the mobile industry this year I would point to Apple’s (NSDQ: AAPL) entry into the market (note that I didn’t say iPhone), which I’ve explained below. I include Apple as a “web brand” because its entry was linked more to its iPod/iTunes music service than its computer hardware offerings. So here are the significant moves by the big brands into the mobile and the effect they had:

Apple: The first Big Brand off the bat in 2007 had already received a lot of hype and managed to keep it going all through the year, which could only be Apple’s iPhone. The FCC approval process meant that Apple revealed the iPhone at MacWorld in January several months before it hit the stores at the end of June. Apple and AT&T (NYSE: T) sold a million of the devices in two-and-a-bit months, and Apple managed to sign similar carrier deals in Europe where the iPhone was warmly welcomed, even if the European launches lacked the fanatical exuberance of the US market.

Effect: Despite all the breathless commentary about revolutionary design and inappropriate usage of the word “sexy” to describe a gadget it was mainly the trade press that picked up on the important parts of Apple’s mobile effort. Because Apple’s move into mobile was a game-changer but it wasn’t because of the iPhone, nor the cut of ongoing revenue it sliced out of the operators (because let’s face it, that is very unlikely to become common). Apple’s revolution came by finally convincing the operators that they couldn’t keep their content gardens behind walls forever, and that there is a real benefit to making it easy for their customers to access services from other companies. Nokia (NYSE: NOK) has been trying to offer content and services for years, but it wasn’t until Apple broke the seal (to borrow a metaphor) that it was able to make something like Ovi stick. Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC) quickly followed suit with a music store, which Nokia then countered with an unlimited free music subscription offer. Now that the handset manufacturers are in the content and services market with a vengeance it looks like a lot of the innovation in the industry will come from them.

Google: Rather than a specific handset, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) launched a mobile platform instead: Android. Google got a bunch of companies to form an alliance, and the announcement was generally well received because…well…it’s Google. Reaction to the move tended to be polarized, with some seeing it as the beginning of the end for the current mobile industry and others dismissing alliances as something companies do when they can’t do anything else. While developers are interested they plan to hold off developing anything for the platform for now — until there are actual handsets heading for the market I’m guessing. While some have inferred this could be a problem for the platform, Google can put out a pretty decent service package on its own and then wait for everyone to follow…after the bugs are fixed. Perhaps the most interesting part of Google’s move is the way it will force the existance of an open network for Android by bidding in the FCC auction.

Effect: The effect of Google’s mobile move is that operators’ networks are likely to be increasingly open. Things were going this way anyway (thanks to the handset manufacturers’ moves already noted) but Google gave it a strong push along, especially in the US. In fact, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) went from suing the FCC over the open access rules in the upcoming auction, to dropping the lawsuit, to proudly proclaiming it would open its network. The idea that all this was prompted by Google’s machinations was only strengthened when Verizon announced it would use Android in its open network. The move to open networks has gotten over the crest and will come faster and faster from here on in.

Yahoo: Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) had the most traditional mobile push: OneSearch was launched in January at CES, only a day before being pushed into near-obscurity by the iPhone launch. In May it rolled out to six countries outside the US, and now has the search service in 19 countries around the world. For all its mobile services, Yahoo has 20 territories listed at the bottom of its mobile page.

Effect: Yahoo’s mobile efforts aren’t “game changing”, they’re simply intended to get Yahoo a significant share of the mobile search and portal markets — it has even argued that this is a strength, that operators have nothing to fear from Yahoo.

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Google was the biggest web brand in the year 2007 by making its entry into the mobile industry

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