AOL Launches Mobile Storefront

Bidding to become a key entry way for the purchase of mobile services and content, America Online has launched a mobile storefront that users can customize to hold features designed for their phones and other hand-held devices.

AOLMobile.com was built by AOL through a partnership with InPhonic, which handles online sales of wireless services and devices for a range of carriers, portals and other vendors.

Most of the features will be available to all Web users and the site will rely heavily on personalization, with users able to create their own “mobile dashboard” from which they can manage cell phone features and preferences, such as requesting reminders or news alerts. Users who register the make and model of their phones and their carrier can also get recommendations on features such as ringtones.

Other content on the site will include product reviews and an interactive phone-finder feature and phone offers from handset makers and carriers. Later this year, an account management feature will be added from which AOL members can pay mobile bills — using AOL Bill Pay — and get updates on mobile usage minutes. That feature will later be opened to all Web users.

“The new AOLMobile.com site is all about personalization and simplification,” said Rajive Mathur, the vice president of AOLMobile.com. “It’s also a ‘mobile home base’ where users can easily manage their wireless service accounts.”

Portals Galore

Along with the storefront feature, AOL launched a cell-phone friendly version of its AOL.com portal, where users can find much of the same content at the AOL.com portal — itself recently re-launched to capture more general Web users — with special attention to how that content is used on mobile devices.

That portal will offer links for mobile search functions, such as interactive maps and Yellow Pages, as well as news and sports feeds and access to AOL Pictures and, eventually AIM Web mail.

AOL has been aggressive in moving toward the mobile portal space. Earlier this month, it bought Wildseed, a specialty mobile company whose replaceable face plates and other accessories are popular among young users.

Some analysts say AOL is well positioned for the shift to mobile because of the strength of its communications portfolio, most notably its AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM.

“AOL will have some traction in the mobile marketplace because their tools are so popular among younger users,” independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times. “That’s the audience that is going to the fastest to adopt new and cutting edge technologies and the one that will spend the most on mobile services.”

In the Mix

The partnership with AOL is just the latest win for InPhonic, which manages wireless phone stores for several portals and handles several carriers’ online sales channel on an outsourcing basis.

In a recent interview with the E-Commerce Times, InPhonic Chief Executive Officer David Steinberg said the market for mobile services, phone plans and new phones remains strong, with the outlook bright given the impending widespread arrival of third-generation, or 3G, high-speed mobile networks that will enable delivery of more content-rich services.

“This year, we see people buying up to camera phones and we know that coming up is the entire 3G trend,” he said.

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