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Yahoo Fights Back With Mobile Portal, iPhone App

Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) today took a big step in beefing up its mobile strategy by announcing Yahoo Mobile Web -- essentially a user-customizable, ad-supported mobile portal -- along with a specialized version for the Apple iPhone.

The app and Web portal provide a centralized location for users to search and browse information as well as check e-mail and social network updates. They can be customized by adding bookmarks, RSS feeds and news from other sites.

The Mobile Web version is available at the Yahoo Mobile page. Yahoo's new iPhone app can be found at the iPhone App Store.

The official launch of Yahoo's new offerings marks the latest in Yahoo's ongoing efforts to expand its strength in wireless Internet and mobile apps, which are already established as fast-growing sectors for developers and online firms. In the past year, the pioneering Web portal and search engine has focused on efforts in third-party mobile application development and mobile search.

"Mobile is a core priority for Yahoo and over the coming months you'll see much closer integration with mobile on the PC and vice versa," Yahoo spokesman Cory Pforzheimer told InternetNews.com, adding that the concepts underlying Yahoo Mobile could be making its way to other areas of the company.

"'Metro,' the code name for the new home page we're testing, that will be taking similar things into account in terms of personalization and customization," he said.

Rivaling Google in wireless

It's no secret that it's all part of Yahoo's latest approach to catching rival Google. If it can become the default home page for mobile users, and make some money while doing so, it will be a good first step -- in fact, it may be critical to Yahoo's survival, observers said.

Avi Greengart, research director of consumer devices for Current Analysis, said the move is necessary if Yahoo wants to remain competitive.

"Yahoo's two largest rivals, Google and Microsoft, both have direct ties to cell phone operating systems, which give them greater entry into the mobile world, at least theoretically -- it's still very early in the desktop-to-mobile transition," Greengart said. "Yahoo has long offered well-designed mobile software applications, but they haven't gotten as much traction as they deserve, so iPhone apps and a redesigned mobile Web portal are necessary moves for Yahoo to move forward."

"Will that be enough to overcome Microsoft and Google's structural distribution advantages?" he added. "That's still an open question."

Behavioral targeting for mobile ads

Given Yahoo's strength in online media, it's no surprise that a key element of the new Mobile Web and iPhone offerings hinge on advertising.

At launch, Yahoo Mobile Web will feature display ads, though in time Yahoo plans to employ behavioral targeting on the portal, enabling advertisers to target Web users based on where they've been surfing across the Internet.

In that scenario, advertisers will have the opportunity to appear based on consumers' personalized updates and Web use.

"Right now, for example, if a sports-based advertiser wanted to sponsor the Yahoo sports page, they could," Pforzheimer said. "But targeted ads are definitely part of our long-term vision and strategy."

On the consumer side, the ads currently allow users to interact with rich media promos through "send to a friend," "locate a dealer" and "click-to-call" options.

"Consumers around the globe are demanding compelling mobile Internet services that offer increased personalization," David Ko, senior vice president at Yahoo Mobile, said in a statement. "To further capitalize on the market potential and continue our mobile leadership, we created Yahoo Mobile, a dynamic starting point enabling consumers to discover the world around them, stay connected through a variety of communication services, and customize content to define their Internet experience on mobile devices."