How Yahoo could regain its lost footing in mobile

It wasn’t long ago that Yahoo was a major player in a very promising mobile industry: It had strong carrier ties (back when that mattered), it was a pioneer in local mobile search and its Flickr offering was tremendously popular among mobile social users. But a lack of attention and innovation has wasted those early advantages in the last few years, which is why Yahoo is now an afterthought in mobile advertising, where Google, Millennial Media and Apple have risen to prominence.
Regaining that lost relevance in mobile will be crucial if the company is to regain its footing. New CEO Marissa Mayer has the experience and savvy necessary to make it happen, given her involvement at Google with Android and her latest role overseeing local and maps. I think she would be wise to focus on these vital areas to help her new company turn things around:

  • Flickr and Facebook

Perhaps nothing illustrates Yahoo’s failures in mobile as well as Flickr, a property that has stagnated while Facebook co-opted online photo-sharing and Instagram mastered photo-sharing on mobile devices. And Flickr’s Instagram’s recent $1 billion acquisition by Facebook underscores the importance of building a mobile-friendly app for sharing photos. Yahoo should upgrade its Flickr apps and mobile site to make them more attractive and easier to use for on-the-go consumers, and it should make it as easy as possible to share Flickr images through Facebook and other established social networks. (It’s not surprising that I’m not the only one clamoring for Yahoo to focus on Flickr.)
When it comes to social networks, though, Yahoo has much work to be done beyond Flickr. So it should move aggressively to leverage its newfound partnership with Facebook that stems from the recent patent settlement between the two. That relationship should enable Yahoo to broadcast its entire content library to Facebook’s user base more effectively as well as adding more social components to Yahoo offerings like fantasy sports and online gaming. And it should actively be working to extend that integration to other social networks like Google+.

  • Yahoo Axis

Yahoo recently joined the crowded field of mobile browsers with Axis, a browser for iOS devices that will be extended to support other platforms. Axis has a plugin for HTML5 browsers that enables searches and browsing sessions to be synched between smartphones and PCs, and it has enjoyed some solid reviews (such as this one from my colleague Kevin C. Tofel). As I’ve written before, mobile browsers will become increasingly important as usage of web-based apps ramped up, placing them in direct competition with operating systems such as Android and iOS. A browser gives Yahoo an opportunity to build on its earlier success with mobile portals, and it offers a great way to increase search activity and grow inventory for advertising. Yahoo is at a distinct disadvantage there because the vast majority of consumers simply use the default browser on their phones, but that’s likely to change over the next few years as usage of the mobile web ramps up. Yahoo could be very well-positioned as that transition occurs.

  • Location

Location-aware apps and services are already gaining traction among mainstream users, and that uptake will only increase as advertising plays a larger role in mobile, enabling marketers to deliver pitches based on a user’s whereabouts. One report earlier this year Two years ago, reports had Yahoo acquiring Foursquare for $100 million or so, but I don’t think an acquisition is necessary if Yahoo chooses its partners thoughtfully and develops some great products. (It could start by tying relevant discount offers based on local searches, for instance.) Mayer brings tremendous experience thanks to her tenure at Google, which should bring a big boost to Yahoo’s mapping and hyper-local advertising business. Location-based advertising is a very complex segment in its very earliest stages, and the field teems with heavy-hitters such as Google, Facebook and PayPal. If Yahoo moves quickly, though, it has a chance to become a major player in what looks to be a massive industry.

Question of the week

How do you think Yahoo can regain its footing in mobile?