Can Yahoo win in mobile?

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Marissa Mayer held her first earnings call last night since taking the helm at Yahoo, and she made it clear that mobile is the company’s top priority. Yahoo will soon “have to be a predominantly mobile company,” she said, which will require the attention of “at least half of our technical workforce.”

Yahoo was once a major player in mobile (thanks largely to strong carrier ties), but its relevance has waned in the era of the iPhone. It failed to expand its online traffic by building apps that were tightly integrated with its PC-based offerings (such as fantasy sports leagues), and it didn’t capitalize on the huge opportunities in the early days of mobile advertising.

There are signs of hope, however. Mayer said Yahoo now offers “more than 76” different apps for iOS and Android, and I’ve been impressed with some recent changes to its Flickr app. But Yahoo must address a few other critical challenges if the company is to regain its lost relevance in mobile: It will have to continue to improve Flickr and make the app more tightly integrated with Facebook, which has become the default photo-sharing site for mainstream consumers. It should focus on location as it ramps up its local search and advertising businesses in mobile. And it should continue to develop Axis, a promising mobile browser that could thrive as native apps become less important in the coming era of the mobile web.

It’s highly unlikely that Yahoo will ever reclaim the dominance it once enjoyed on the traditional Internet. But enormous opportunities remain in mobile, where smartphone sales continue to ramp up and the tablet market is just beginning to explode. If the company makes the right moves, it could once again become a major player in mobile.

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