Updated at 3:50 p.m. PDT with further detail and information about Blueprint programming tools for mobile devices.SAN FRANCISCO--Yahoo on Wednesday released a preview version of a free new iPhone application called OneConnect that can centralize communications and social-networking activity.
"OneConnect allows everybody to keep connected to the persons they care about. It's a socially connected address book," said said Marco Boerries, executive vice president, Yahoo Connected Life, in a speech here at the CTIA Wireless show. "The address book now comes to life."
Yahoo is racing against Google and others to bring more applications to mobile devices in an effort to tap into the growth of mobile Internet use. Previous Yahoo applications such as OneSearch and Go compete against Google applications including Gmail, Search, and Maps.
One feature of OneConnect, called Pulse, "allows you to tap into everything going on with your friends," Boerries said. It pulls a news feed from "Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Last.fm--all the leading social networks--into one aggregated view."
A related "Favorites" feature lets people track or quickly contact the handful of people in a user's inner circle.
Another feature provides a unified hub of instant messaging, SMS messages, and e-mail.
OneConnect will be released in the U.S. initially, but "toward the end of the year will branch out to the rest of the world," Boerries said. Also coming will be versions for other phones. "The other ones will follow soon shortly," including BlackBerrys, Windows Mobile, and Nokia Series 60 phones, he said--but not for the Palm OS-based version of Treo phones.
Google, meanwhile, had its own news. It announced a new version of its Mobile App for BlackBerry users. This software lets people search the Web, with a boost from search suggestions and previous search history, and get links to Google Docs stored online. The company already had an iPhone version of Google Mobile App.
Why all this attention to mobile devices? Because Internet companies are looking for growth, and the mobile phone arena is one place where that growth is spreading now that networks can transfer data as well as handle voice calls. Yahoo expects to make money through sales of advertising, not service fees, Boerries said.
And mobile ads have personalization potential missing from those on computers, he said in an interview after his speech.
"We believe that because of the inherent personal nature of the mobile device," such as location information, "we should see significantly greater CPMs or CPCs," he said, referring to the cost per thousand impressions by which display ads are sold and the cost per click by which search ads are sold.
Yahoo also announced Wednesday it's increasing the profile of its Blueprint software foundation for developing mobile phone software. Blueprint consists of a "runtime" foundation tuned for each supported mobile device and software components programmers can use to build applications that run on that foundation.
Previously, Blueprint could only be used to develop "widget" applications that would run within the Yahoo Go mobile phone software. Now, though, it can be used to develop standalone applications that anyone can develop and distribute, Boerries said. Programmers wishing to do so can set their download sites so they transparently take advantage of Yahoo's back-end service to identify what phone a user has and to supply the appropriate Blueprint runtime, he added.
Blueprint also works for developing software on an Apple iPhone--as long as you're a Yahoo programmer. "We are currently in discussions with Apple as to how we can work to make that available to other developers, but right now it's only used inside Yahoo," Boerries said.
The software is designed to ease the development difficulties of ensuring compatibility with hundreds of different devices.
"It's insane," Boerries said of the profusion of devices. "I do believe it'll be somewhat chaotic for the foreseeable future because of the size of the market. Blueprint hides that complexity."
Sun Microsystems, along with allies such as Motorola, has tried to accomplish much the same simplification through use of its Java software. Blueprint takes a different approach, though: instead of trying to provide interfaces that will make an application appear the same on every device, Blueprint tries to take advantage of what each phone can offer, so more sophisticated devices get more sophisticated options, he said.