Yahoo : Will the free phones help?

Like everyone already knows, Marissa Mayer announced free phones for Yahoos. And this is how the internal memo reads:

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer

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“We have a very exciting update to share with you today – we are announcing Yahoo! Smart Phones, Smart Fun!  As of today, Yahoo is moving off of blackberries [sic] as our corporate phones and on to smartphones in 22 countries.  A few weeks ago, we said that we would look into smartphone penetration rates globally and take those rates into account when deciding on corporate phones. Ideally, we’d like our employees to have devices similar to our users, so we can think and work as the majority of our users do. Moving forward, we’ll offer you a choice of devices as well as provide monthly plans for the data and phone.

The smartphone choices that we are including in the program are:

  • Apple iPhone 5
  • Android: Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X, HTC EVO 4G LTE
  • Windows Phone 8 : Nokia Lumia 920

We’re getting started right away and taking orders starting now.“ [link]

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Will it help?

- Most Yahoos, if not all, probably already have smartphones and are heavy users of data
- Many Yahoos surely have iPhones already, if the idea is to address iPhone users specifically
- Yahoos, overall, would currently have a more diverse range of handsets (including S40 and S60s) than those in the above list, and represent the real word better.

So – will it help?

User empathy comes from understanding the average user out there. Gen Y is different. Yahoo should have ideally been in a better place than Google – being present across many more countries, and for longer. It’s probably the geek blinkers, lack of a unified product strategy across teams and turf battles more than lack of a device or access to real users that have hurt Yahoo in the recent past.

It’ll help send a strong signal internally – and maybe even enthuse Yahoos about the direction Ms. Mayers wants the company to head strongly into. As a marketing message too it does signal that Yahoo wants to play harder in the mobile space.

That’s probably a good thing in the short run, but will need a strong follow up with real product changes. Perhaps, announcing better integrated properties on the phone might have worked better. For instance, buying out Dropbox and integrating it with Flickr, Email (especially the attachments) and maybe a even mobile avataar of briefcase could’ve signalled a strong desire to play where the next wave of users will be.

The hypothesis is that smartphone makes you smarter – eh, really?  Based on this action, Yahoo’s focus seems to be to figure out a ‘smartphone strategy’; perhaps focusing on a wider ‘mobile business’ (including ad networks, streaming content on S40s etc) would be a better alternative ? Oh – and they killed the nicely done LiveStand within 6 months of launch!

There are multiple ways to slice and dice the opportunity that even Facebook is struggling to address properly, but merely handing out the top end of cutting-edge smartphones, to a set of users who’s already likely to be using those as personal devices, doesn’t really sound like anything but a good PR exercise, or perhaps even an employee morale boosting effort.

Of course, we’re happy that Yahoos will have shiny new phones (just like their counterparts at Microsoft have got Surface and Windows 8). We only wonder if – just because of this – Yahoo content and services will actually start getting used on the larger set of real users’ phones out there.

Thoughts?

[Written by Sameer Shisodia and Ashish Sinha. Image credit: wikipedia]