Spotted this morning via TechCrunch, speech and directory assistance automation provider TellMe is about to launch a beta product called TellMe by Mobile. It’s free, direct-to-consumer, voice-enabled directory assistance (DA) or “mobile local search” if you want to “sexify” the product.
It works by using voice search and permits business name or category lookups. There are also interactive maps and driving directions.
TellMe currently powers traditional DA for AT&T and Verizon’s landline 411 service. The company also has an enhanced DA product with AT&T wireless (formerly Cingular). And TellMe runs a consumer voice portal (1-800-555-Tell) that offers a range of information from news and weather to travel.
To use TellMe by Mobile, you’ll need a java-enabled phone. But once downloaded, there’s no number to call. You simply hold the “talk” button and conduct the search. The requested information then appears on your screen. While downloading a client is something of a barrier for consumers, once downloaded the service potentially “preempts” other 411 services because it’s more immediate.
As traditional DA morphs into mobile local search, voice-driven services will compete for consumer attention with keypad-based mobile search (e.g., Google). And since keying queries into a phone is so painful, these voice services are poised to capture significant usage in the near term. Most DA calling now happens via mobile phones anyway, so the consumer behavior is already well established.
The competitive landscape now includes:
Jingle Networks (1-800-Free 411) — now processing over 600,000 calls per day AT&T’s 1-800-YellowPages (in beta in only three cities) 1-877-520-Find (the unconfirmed Google DA service) 1-800-SanDiego 1-800-411Save
And there’s likely more competition coming. Already the category has had one casualty, InfreeDA, which simply ran out of cash before it could acquire enough advertisers to support the company’s cost structure. AT&T subsequently bought InfreeDA’s assets.
The world of mobile local search is more complicated than Internet-based local search, which is more complicated, in turn, than national search. It’s clear, however, that these free DA models have a chance to gain real consumer traction. Jingle has already proven it. And if these services become good enough many consumers may use them (for local information) in lieu of mobile versions of Internet based search.
Two wild cards are voice interfaces, which could make mobile search as easy to use as DA, and advances in mobile Internet browsing. If new devices such as the iPhone make browsing on a mobile device better, easier and faster eventually more people will do it.
But for now, as I’ve said before several times, Free (or ad-supported) DA is “mobile local search for the rest of us.” Here’s a related, earlier post about advertising and mobile, “Will Paid Search Conquer the Mobile Internet.”