Google is well known for its regular bouts of spring cleaning when it kills off a number of products in one fell swoop, but it also sometimes makes quick changes in between the bigger announcements. One of those has now hit its portfolio of SMS-based products aimed at users of lower end devices: Google has quietly closed down SMS Search.
People began to notice the service stop working on Friday, and asked about it in one of Google’s Product Forums (good thing those haven’t been closed down yet) and on Reddit. Jessica S., a Google employee, set the record straight:
Closing products always involves tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users. Streamlining our services enables us to focus on creating beautiful technology that will improve people’s lives.
For those of you who didn’t use it, SMS Search was a service Google had created that let users send search queries by text message to a short number, in this case 466453. The search results would also come back as text messages. These would not be links to further web pages, but actual information, playing on the many services that Google offers on its desktop search portal for things like currency conversions, weather and local listings. This was mainly intended for feature phones without data connections:
But the search could also be used on smartphones:
Google’s SMS services page hasn’t removed a link to SMS Search yet, it goes to a 404 page.
Trying to find a picture of how SMS Search looked, I came across (on Google) a link to its Canadian SMS Search page, which appears to still have an active link, but as Ghacks points out that won’t work because it uses the same short code number as the U.S. service did.
In some regards, you can see why Google would choose to axe SMS Search. The number of feature phone sales is on the decline worldwide as more and more people make the shift to smartphones.
In the last quarter of 2012, Gartner says the number of mobile phone sales worldwide was a 472 million units, compared to 478 million a year ago, but at the same time smartphone sales increased by 58 million to 208 million (it has yet to release its quarterly figures for Q1 2013).
It could be that Google is simply doing this to stay one step ahead of the times. Or it could be that, as with other products like Google Reader, it was not getting enough use of the service.
For now, Google’s other SMS products that let you check your calendar, update your Blogger blog, check your Gmail, and send and receive SMS text messages through Google Voice, appear to still be working; but users will inevitably start wondering if these will be next on the chopping block.
We’re reaching out to Google to ask and will update as we learn more.
IDC is the first of the big analyst companies to come out with quarterly mobile device shipment numbers that indicate Q1 as the first quarter where smartphones have outnumbered more basic feature phones in worldwide shipments: in a total market of 418.6 million devices, 216.2 (51.6%) were smartphones. But it is was a kind of tipping point of another sort, too: it is a sign of how Apple is not the juggernaut that it once was.
(BTW… for those of you keeping track, this is not the first quarter where Android has all but dominated the top-five rankings, save Apple’s presence. That happened in Q4 2012, according to IDC’s figures.)
Samsung shipped nearly 71 million smartphones in the quarter, giving it a market share of almost one-third of the whole of the smartphone sector (32.7%). Apple, meanwhile, shipped 37 million devices — just over half as many as Samsung, for a market share of 17.3%. With all others in the top-five — LG, Huawei and ZTE — still with less than 5% market share apiece, Samsung and Apple remain a strong top-two.
But looking at the pattern of growth something else comes out: Apple only grew its volumes by 6.6% over the same quarter a year ago. In fact, in that regard, that growth puts it far behind not only Samsung (at 60.7% volume growth), but also behind LG (110.2% growth); Huawei (94.1%); and ZTE (49.2%). As a point of comparison, Samsung and Apple were more nearly level a year ago, in Q1 2012, (44 million versus 35.1 million in Q1 2012), and respectively saw growth of 267% and 89% in shipment volumes — the only two that increased:
A year ago:
As we’ve pointed out before, shipments to those who sell devices are not the same thing as sales to users, but it is an important barometer for where the wider market is going. (The most recent figures from Kantar Worldpanel, which track sales, spell out how the difference between Android-based and Apple sales is not as wide as 2:1 in every market, but is in fact significantly wider in some.)
It’s notable that Nokia, BlackBerry, and HTC whose shipments were on the decline last year but still enough to keep them in the top-five, are now out of the picture altogether. It also shows that Nokia’s sub-10 million sales of smartphones, with 5.6 million Lumias, are not big enough figures to break out of the sizeable ‘others’ category.
With Apple still shipping more than three times as many devices as its next-closest competitor, LG, even if things continue as they are today, it will likely still be some time before it gets overtaken by the others in the list. Its performance also was enough to keep it in place as the world’s third-largest mobile handset maker overall, in a list otherwise dominated by companies that make both smartphones and feature phones:
IDC notes that LG, which shipped 10.3 million smartphones in the quarter, a rise of over 110% over the year before, was helped by three factors in the last quarter. The first of these was the popularity of the Nexus 4 device it created with Google; the second was the success of its lower-priced L Series (15 million sold in this category alone since launched); and the third was its LTE line. These three point to how those Android handset makers that can create strong enough and distinctive handsets that are set apart from the rest of the Android crowd can continue to pull away from the crowd.
Apple’s iPhone brand has never been seen as anything other than premium, and true to type, it is still not playing at the same level as others smartphone industry in creating new models that aim at the “cheap smartphone” market.
CEO Tim Cook did not discuss the prospect of a new, low-cost device, on Apple’s earnings call this week — the focus remains on selling older models, namely the iPhone 4, in markets like China as a route to bringing new smartphone users on to the platform. Other handset makers like Samsung, Nokia and many “others” are building out portfolios that hit not only at high-end users but those looking for entry devices priced at closer to $100 or even less. Some handset makers, specifically in emerging markets, are targeting only this market.
On the other hand Cook also left open the possibility that whatever comes next may be something different altogether: the “really great stuff” coming out in the autumn and in 2014 could be another iPhone. Equally, it could be something else altogether, and not a handset at all.
Assured Labor, a New York, Mexico City and São Paulo-based startup that helps low- and middle-income workers across Latin America find jobs through their mobile phones, just closed $5.5 million in funding led by Mexican private equity firm Capital Indigo. Other existing investors include Great Oaks Venture Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, Kima Ventures, Enzyme Venture Capital, Fabrice Grinda and Jose Marin.
The company, which came out of MIT’s Media Lab, runs two big job-hunting services called EmpleoListo in Mexico and TrabalhoJá in Brazil that now have 500,000 job seekers and 16,000 employers. They’re growing at a clip of about 1,000 employers per month. (They only just broke into the Brazilian market a year ago.)
With Assured Labor, employers looking for potential hires can put job descriptions in through the company’s website. Assured Labor will find the most qualified candidates and text message or e-mail them.
Workers register on computers either at home or through web cafes. Once they’re in the system, they’ll get text messages any time a company posts a relevant position and they can text or call back through a private number. Naturally, employers pay to find candidates.
This company isn’t really competing with higher end services like LinkedIn. “LinkedIn is going for the opposite end of the job spectrum,” said CEO David Reich.
Reich says Assured Labor is more of a social enterprise that targets the lower-earning segment of the market. If you look at the job listings on Empleolisto, they’re for positions like customer service representative or bilingual executive assistant.
Many of their clients are still on feature phones, as Latin American markets are only beginning to experience an oncoming wave of affordable Android phones.
“I wish that transition with smartphones would happen faster,” Reich said. “A lot of users would have a better experience with us through smartphones. They still have very small penetration, maybe only 10 to 15 percent in most countries in Latin America.”
Facebook today announced that AT&T and France Telecom/Orange are the first two carriers to be part of its Facebook Home partnership program to develop devices with the social network’s new integrated user experience, which will kick off with the a 4G phone, the HTC First. AT&T will be offering it as an exclusive in the U.S. at a price of $99.99 with preorders starting today. HTC First is, well, first, but there will be more. Others named in the Facebook Home Program today include Samsung, Qualcomm, Huawei and Sony.
In Europe, EE — France Telecom’s 4G JV with T-Mobile in the UK — will also be among the early partners.
It turns out that it was Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T, who was behind the plan to bring HTC into the game. At the presentation today he said that they were the ones to suggest to Mark Zuckerberg that HTC, a great partner for AT&T, should be the first device maker for an integrated Android smartphone.
“When Mark first approached us about this, what captivated me was that this would be the best Facebook experience ever,” said de la Vega. “People would be at the center, and I bought into that.”
Facebook has relied on a close relationship with carriers for years already, which is important for it in markets where it relies on people using their mobile devices rather than PCs to access the social network, as well as in mature markets where people have become avid users of Facebook on smartphones.
That has included Facebook Zero in which simple, text-based Facebook access, aimed at feature phones at emerging markets, is bundled into carriers’ pricing and priced free. That extends to the addition of promotions, such as this offer for free mobile talk time to users in India when they signed up for Facebook.
Through its acquisition of Snaptu in 2011, it moved up to improve the Facebook experience on higher-tier feature phones; here it has also partnered with carriers to promote these services, offering periods of free data usage, a model it has since expanded to promoting its messaging service also in partnership with carriers.
There have also been services, not led by Facebook, in which the company’s APIs have been used to create access to the social network’s services on handsets.
They have included France Telecom working on a Facebook-based social calling service, “Party Call,” as well as a way of embedding Facebook access using USSD technology, making Facebook available even on the most basic mobile networks.
Nimbuzz, which has become a major mobile messaging application for emerging markets like India, is making a more aggressive moves into smartphone platforms. Today it announces the release of its app for Windows Phone 8. This will take advantage of the platform’s Live Tiles and locked home screen notifications, although in fairness it’s biggest growth platform remains Android and its core base of feature phones. Existing Nimbuzz users on Windows Phone 7.5 users can simply upgrade. The Nimbuzz platform has 150 million users spread across 200 countries.
Recently Nimbuzz, which competes with Viber, Skype, WhatsApp, Saya.im and GroupMe, passed 150 million users globally, and says it is doubling its users year on year and is strongest in Asia, mainly India and Saudi Arabia. It’s investors include Mangrove and Naspers.
With the new release, Nimbuzz now supports Windows Phone 8 resizable Live Tiles which are customisable. Along with the increased native language support of the Windows Phone OS, the WP 8 version of Nimbuzz is available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Hindi and Arabic.
Vikas Saxena, Nimbuzz CEO says its important to be on Windows Phone as its target market starts to upgrade from feature phones to smart phones. It’s interesting to see Nokia also push this app, given that a lot of its existing growth has come from emerging markets.
Nimbuzz is available on iOS, Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, Windows Phone & J2ME as well as Windows and Mac desktop computers.
A spokesperson said recent competition from Facebook in the messaging and VOIP space would not affect Nimbuzz as the whole space is expanding.