Cingular + Tellme = Voice-Based Mobile Search

Speaking of mobile local search, this NY Times article (reg. req’d) reports on a deal between voice services/automated directory assistance provider Tellme Networks and Cingular Wireless to offer an expanded directory assistance (DA) service that will start to feel more like automated mobile local search than traditional DA.

From the Times piece:

The new Cingular service will permit subscribers to ask questions for a broader set of queries than traditional directory lookup. For example, it will be possible to find movie times and locations and to purchase tickets and obtain driving directions. Information can be delivered as text-to-speech or as a simple text message delivered to the cellphone.

Tellme’s voice portal (1800-555-Tell) offers a structured menu of choices (News, Travel, Stock Quotes, Sports, etc.) and works quite well. While the new Cingular service will undoubtedly be different, Tellme has proven its mettle as the automated front end on a number of directory assistance services, including AT&T wireless.

The most painful thing about mobile-local search right now is the input mechanism (and limited data). Although there are shortcuts and GPS-equipped phones help the expedite searches on selected mobile phones and applications, it’s still very frustrating to plug in queries, even on Qwerty keyboards.

The frustrating thing about DA has been its historical limitations (“what city, what listing?”), which doesn’t permit category search and is chiefly about getting users off the phone quickly in an effort to maximize per-call revenues. There are a number of so-called “enhanced DA” services in the market, mostly in wireline environments. But wireline DA is a shrinking pie as more and more people use the Internet because of its immediacy and flexibility.

There’s no word on what the new service will cost, but wireless DA typically costs users an average of $1.50 per call. (Cingular Wireless is $1.40 per call according to Jingle.) Presumably this service will be available at the same rate and represents an effort to retain callers for Cingular’s wireless DA service. If it succeeds it could also boost call volumes and revenues.

Jingle Networks offers free DA, which is ad-supported, and plans to roll out a “category search” option in Q1 of 2007. Another free DA provider, InfreeDA (1800-411-Metro) recently shut down its service because its burn rate exceeded its revenues significantly.

In Canada, Yellow Pages Group (YPG) operates a voice-enabled mobile local search service (powered by Call Genie) called Hello Yellow. The service allows for category lookups and has performed quite successfully to date according to the company. It’s ad supported and usage frequency has outstripped YPG’s “traditional” wireless service.

Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft now are monetizing mobile search with sponsored listings. But it’s not clear yet what search paradigm will be the one that drives the most usage (and the most revenue). In part it depends on the individual phone and the service. Smartphone users with high-speed data network access will be potentially inclined to use “mobile search” applications. But conventional mobile phone users may be more likely to opt for a voice-enabled product – several companies are readying voice-based search).

And then there’s “point and search.”

Whatever works best and most easily will drive the most usage. And that has yet to be seen.

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Related: Here’s the Tellme/Cingular press release.

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4 Responses to “Cingular + Tellme = Voice-Based Mobile Search”

  1. Brands, User Experience and Mobile « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] Google, Yahoo! and, to varying degrees, AOL, MSN and Ask are all working on several wireless fronts at once: mobile web, SMS and voice/DA. Meanwhile carriers are doing deals with firms like JumpTap, Tellme, Action Engine and Medio Systems to develop their own mobile search and ad offerings. (Tellme’s deal with Cingular/AT&T is strictly for automated directory assistance right now.) [...]

  2. Jingle Raises $30 Million . . . More « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] Unless they radically improve (see Cinglular-Tellme), traditional 411 services will disappear over time. But what will take their place is not yet clear. It could be a broader, ad-supported version of directory assistance. Alternatively, it could be an entirely different version of mobile-local search. [...]

  3. Jingle Networks Announces 100 Millionth Call « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] I’m waiting to see how that works. Google’s unconfirmed, automated voice-driven DA service (877-520-Find) already offers it, as to several other DA providers in the market. [...]

  4. AT&T’s New 1-800-YellowPages « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] The AT&T free DA debut follows public consideration of an ad-supported DA model by Verizon. AT&T-owed Cingular wireless offers enhanced, though not free, DA services through a partnership with TellMe. [...]

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