I recently offered a graduate seminar course on Mobile Commerce at the University of Ottawa, and it was pretty surprising to see how many mobile end-users still don’t use third party applications and services that exist outside the realm of their service provider’s portfolio. This end-user behavior is highly representative of the Canadian mobile services landscape where our industry structure is highly vertical and the service structure is highly integrated. In Canada, the operators exercise a lot of control over the entire mobile value chain. Companies like Rogers, Telus, and Bell provide services including voice, messaging, internet, and email functions as prepackaged bundles. The customers have little choice in selecting the specific modules that they might be more interested in. Furthermore, the mobile portals on handhelds are usually preconfigured to link to the service provider’s solutions, and do not offer other choices – even free service choices. Many students in my class hadn’t even heard of the following google services that are offered for free (barring the operator’s data transmission charages):
Google 411 (1-800-GOOG-411) Website Link
Google’s voice local search service for local businesses uses speech recognition technology to allow users to query for and connect to businesses. Users can search for businesses by name or category (which is a definite plus in comparison with the traditional 411 service offered by operators). The service then generates a list of businesses that match the user’s query, and allows the users to select an entry from the list. Following the selection, the user can either directly get connected to the business or ask for a text message to be sent with the relevant business details. For users with internet access and google maps, the service also accepts the “map it” voice command to show a map of the business neighborhood.
So not only is the service free to use, but it has advanced features not available through the directory assistance service offered by many operators. For Canadian users, until we get something like TellMe.com, this is the next best thing – store 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) in your contact list and start using it !
Google SMS (46645) Website Link
This is Google’s fast information response service (SMS number 46645), and it lets users send quick queries to Google via SMS and get back responses. Rather than using your data quota in accessing different search engines or websites, the service allows users to quickly get back the information they’re looking for. The service supports specific types of queries such as weather reports, movies, stock quotes, directions, and local businesses by name or category. See this page for examples of queries. To get started, you can try some queries on the online emulator provided here and get familiar with the results. Again, it's not just a free service, but something that’s much easier to use in comparison to its alternatives (e.g. browsing the internet on your handheld to get the information) – store 46645 in your contact list and start using it for SMS queries.
Do you know of any other useful free mobile phone services? If so, leave your comment below, or send me a note.