Yahoo Holds Mobile Developer Event Against Backdrop Of Uncertain Future

Company cites mobile progress while board explores “strategic options.

Right now, it has to be tough to be Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Seen above in a 2015 photo, Mayer is under tremendous pressure from institutional investors who from the start have had unreasonable expectations and probably have not given the company sufficient flexibility to transform.

It is being reported that Yahoo has “formed a committee of independent board members to explore its strategic options,” which could range from a sale of the company to specific individual assets. Some of this was discussed in the most recent Yahoo earnings call, when Mayer announced layoffs and a restructuring plan.

Yesterday, she had to deliver the opening keynote at the Yahoo Mobile Developer Conference in San Francisco. One could see her trying to manufacture enthusiasm onstage. Coming the same week as layoffs at the company, Yahoo’s uncertain situation created a strange and heavy atmosphere for the entire event.

At a press lunch with Simon Khalaf, the former Flurry CEO who now is SVP of Product Engineering and Publisher Products, the focus inevitably turned from discussion of mobile metrics and ad quality to how the layoffs and uncertainty are impacting his team and morale at the company. Khalaf handled the questions well and honestly.

Later, I had a conversation with one writer for a major news outlet who said his editors were not interested in the Yahoo “product story,” only the drama surrounding the company’s future. It’s too bad, because a good deal that was said yesterday was interesting.

In particular, a panel called “What’s Next? The Messaging Revolution,” featuring Uber and Slack, contained some fairly radical discussion about how messaging apps and artificial intelligence (think Facebook M) might dramatically change the mobile user experience. “Messaging platforms are the new browser” was one of the assertions from the panel.

There was also an interesting discussion of native advertising with some good data on ad performance. I’ll discuss that in a separate article.

In his keynote, Khalaf discussed a broad range of mobile stats, many of which are familiar and have been previously reported. For example, mobile users spend more time with mobile media than TV. He also spoke about a transition from “mobile 1.0” to “mobile 2.0.” He argued the 1.0 era was characterized by adapting web experiences and content to the small screen (think mobile banners). The next phase of mobile will feature mobile-native experiences and more mobile transactions.

Asked about whether messaging platforms might threaten the app ecosystem, Khalaf disagreed with some of what the earlier panelists said and asserted that messaging would have a role to play in selected situations but wouldn’t destroy apps.

Yahoo has been trying to become a “mobile-first” company and shared data about its mobile progress, including the previously reported stat that the company has 600 million monthly active users. However, during the press lunch, Silicon Valley veteran Khalaf said he doesn’t care about monthly users, only daily users, and that’s what he’s entirely focused on — daily mobile engagement.