Yahoo Hears The Call

Americans are a bit stodgy when it comes to using their cell phones for anything other than talking or text messaging, so don’t expect Yahoo’s New Go for Mobile 2.0 to take the country by storm.

But the future of Internet distribution of news and entertainment is in hand-held devices and Yahoo is planting its flag firmly atop The Next Big Thing.

“More people have cell phones than computers,” says Tom Taulli, author of Tapping Into Wireless and a venture capitalist. “There are huge opportunities for delivery of news and entertainment via the Internet in China, Japan, South Korea and India. But many people in the United States don’t have any interest in using their phone as a search or entertainment device. And, if calls in the U.S. are routinely dropped, how can anyone seriously think about streaming video or large amounts of data via cell phones?”

Yahoo says Go for Mobile 2.0 is intended to put the Internet in the hands of mobile phone users with news, sports, finance, entertainment, weather, photo sharing, e-mail and search capabilities. Users can set up Yahoo's product to track topics of interest such as sports results, stocks and general news and deliver the results to their hand-held device.

Yahoo unveiled its Go For Mobile 2.0 at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The event, first held in 1967 in New York, has launched a range of products that have become “must have” items, including the videocassette recorder in 1970, compact disc player in 1981, plasma TV in 2001 and IP-TV in 2005. Not all gizmos previewed at the trade show are hits, but many are -- sales of flat-screen TVs, for instance, are expected to hit $22 billion this year.

In the first half of 2007, Yahoo says Go for Mobile 2.0 will be pre-loaded on selected new mobile devices manufactured exclusively by Motorola. Yahoo is also partnering with cell phone makers Nokia , Research In Motion and Samsung Electronics.

Yahoo plans to distribute the product through mobile operators worldwide, including Taiwan Mobile, 3 Group in the United Kingdom, Italy, Denmark, Ireland and Sweden as well as DiGi Telecommunications in Malaysia. Yahoo says the product recognizes the intent of search terms and presents relevant content rather than just a list of Web links. Results are grouped by subject, making it easier for users to dig deeper for needed information.

The product presents local maps and directories no matter where the user is located. Interactive maps and driving directions are intended to help travelers find their way and avoid traffic bottlenecks.

Yahoo Go for Mobile 2.0 is also designed to make photo swapping faster and easier and allows users to browse or search millions of images posted on Flickr, a digital photo Web site. The application also offers several email enhancements.

"Content is going portable," says Michael Goodman, program manager for digital entertainment at the Yankee Group. "If you're Yahoo, you need to hedge your bets across mobile devices. This is the evolution of Yahoo's mobile handset strategy. Conceptually, I think Yahoo is on the right track, but the devil is in the details."

Taulli says use of mobile search in the U.S. probably won’t take off until it can be handled by voice recognition technology, a task many start-ups and small companies are working on.

“I think Yahoo has an advantage here because they’re good with consumers,” he said. “Google tends to be a little more on the tekkie side. This revolution has just begun. I think it will take several years for Yahoo to get traction in the U.S., but obviously, it can’t ignore this market.”

Nokia is keeping pace on the hardware side. At the trade show, the Finnish company announced a new line of thin folding cell phones designed to compete with Motorola’s line of slim phones. Motorola is a pioneer in the sector with its line of Razr handsets.

Nokia said it plans to announce its first partnership with Skype, a maker of Internet calling software owned by eBay. In the planned deal, the Nokia Internet Tablet will be sold with Skype software that will allow users to make inexpensive or free calls from any Wi-Fi zone.

The irony of trade shows in what’s supposed to be an increasingly virtual world is obvious: Why spend the money to send people and products to a hall in Las Vegas when it could be handled via the Internet?

It may be a case of the purveyors of all things related to the Internet not practicing what they preach – or at least not yet. Trade shows still make sense because it brings together product developers with potential buyers, analysts and a hungry media eager to spread the word. So, don’t expect trade shows to go the way of the typewriter just yet.

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