United Airlines - Crawling Forward Into The Era Of Modern Mobile With A Unique Approach

Julie Ask

About four or five months ago, I was on a United flight bound to the east coast from San Francisco. For reasons I don't remember, I had booked the ticket on Orbitz (I usually book directly so my records, receipts, etc. are all in my profile). Am boarded. Am sitting in a middle seat. Sigh. "Ping" goes my phone. I receive an alert that our flight has been delayed 20 minutes. I open my bag and pull out a salad. The two gentlemen in between whom I am squeezed look at me oddly and exchange glances as they expect the doors to close and the plane to back away from the gate. Salad finished. "Ping" goes my phone again. There is a maintenance issue with the plane. The "equipment" is being changed and we are being moved one gate over. I begin packing up my things, remove my seat belt and give the guy on the aisle my look that says, "are you moving or what?" He says to me, "where are you going?" I say, "equipment + gate change." He says, "how do you know?" I say, "SMS alert from Orbitz." He says, "What is an Orbitz?" More puzzled looks are exhanged. (Do I really want to explain a text alert in the year 2010 to someone who doesn't know what Orbitz is?) Several minutes later there is an announcement from the flight attendant with the same information, and everyone gets up to move. Now my fellow passengers are more intrigued. A third party is more efficiently delivering information to United's passengers than United is to their agents or customers directly.

I don't know how many times I've seen this poster in a United Airlines jetway and wondered, "Is this recent? or 20 years old? Do a lot of doctors fly? Is that why they advertise pagers?"

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Mobile Web: Long Tail Versus Short Tail Debate

Julie Ask

Last year, every consumer brand seemed to be building an iPhone application. Towards the end of 2009, they began to say, 'We have an iPhone application. Now what?" For many, the answer seems to be "mobile Web." The open question is "how." I'll be publishing an in-depth study on how with my colleague Brian Walker, going into more depth on the implications of commerce for mobile Web builds. One of the strategic questions that must be answered first is, "do I build a mobile Web site for all devices (= long tail)?" or "do I have a more tiered approach with custom development for the handful of devices (short tail) which drive most of my traffic and a more automated approach for all the other devices (long tail)?" Good questions.

There are some good sources of information online. AdMob and Millennial Media publish monthly reports based on ad requests they see. Netbiscuits just published a white paper with a lot of good data.

First, how long is the long tail? According to the Netbiscuits white paper, it was 2,496 devices in February 2010. How short is the short tail (= 50% of the traffic)? In February 2010, only 12 devices. What is the number one device in each report? Yes, the iPhone -- or now iOS 4 platform. In terms of global traffic, Netbiscuits put Apple first with 36% of traffic while AdMob's numbers for Apple were a bit lower at 33%.

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