Monday, September 25, 2006

DEMO Fall 2006

06/10 - So, I was granted temporary absence from the Innovation engine-room at Vodafone last week and spent 4 days in sunny San Diego for Demo Fall. In between the presentation sessions which consist of each selected company getting a 6 minute window to communicate their product benefits, I had a wander around the demo booths, checking out the full stories and hearing a bit more depth to what the companies have on offer. The overall event is very well organised with extremely slick timing, good topics and an engaging presenter and audience crowd.

There was a whiff of pre-crash exuberance in the air, noticeable by the amount of funding some presenters had already closed, ralph lauren company t-shirts and some questionable job titles.
The event clearly demonstrated to me the amount of mobile innovation that is ramping up in the valley. There is a rapidly growing wave of innovation which is initially focused on the US market, but with local validation and Series B/C rounds of funding, I expect these solutions to come this side of the pond next year. This should act as a motivator for European mobile innovation as we have a much more advanced market in terms of user adoption, awareness and device sophistication. Now is the time to get your products to market!!
Another observation was that many products are going to market directly, without the endorsement and distribution by the mobile operators/carriers. The long sales cycle, questionable marketing commitment and long NPD cycles of most operators has simply put the innovators off and made them explore new routes to market, most of which involve directly marketing the products to consumers. There was also quite a bit of predictable operator beating, which made me occasionally duck and dive to avoid being lynched!
A full list of the products launched can be seen here. Given that a number of competitor operators read this blog, I'm not going to divulge a detailed view on the very "hot" mobile products, but there was a lot of great blog coverage of the event, the best IMHO provided by Graeme Thickins @ tech-Surf-Blog

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Instant" Voice Messaging, BubbleMotion & Pinger

Bubble Motion, a provider of short voice message solutions, announced last week that it had raised US$10 million in series B funding from Sequoia Capital US and India. The company plans to use the funds to increase R&D and market and deploy their product offering more globally. Bubble Motion offers a compelling voice messaging product which is similar to a "push to talk" experience. The A party simply dials the recipients number with a couple of digits preceeding the full number, dials and records a message. The B party receives a SMS with a number to dial to pick up the message. I like the concept of a voice SMS but I think the pre-dial is a bit clunky as most of us dial direct from the address book.

Pinger, funded earlier this year by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers is currently beta testing a similar service, currently restricted to US users only. The Pinger difference is that theres no need to key in the digits that preceed the B party number - Pinger lets the A party simply speak the recipient(s) name and record the message. Message retrieval for Pinger is similar to BubbleMotion.
Both products offer the consumer a SMS type message experience but using voice. Although in the case of Pinger it sounds like the A party might have to download something (you dont need to with BubbleMotion), the B party can get the message regardless of what device they have and what network they're on.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Kiboze - IM buddylist powers group messaging

Kiboze has launched a new service that unleashes the potential of the IM buddylist. The service enables users to use their buddylists to create and manage group text circles. The user can then text these circles from their mobile and the message will be intelligently delivered to the recipient on either IM or via SMS (if the B-party isn't online). With 80% of people between the ages of 14-29 in the US owning a mobile phone and the majority of them using text messaging to communicate with peers, the opportunity is huge.
I asked founder Jay Cody a few questions...

abigidea?: Can you sum up in one paragraph what Kiboze is all about?
Jay: Kiboze extends IM with group text messaging. This integration allows us to let people connect to their friends through text messaging but using the many relationships we have already defined in our "buddylists". To date the buddylist has been held ransom by the Instant Messaging platforms. Kiboze wants to free the buddylist and make it available as a phone book for group text messaging reaching our friends no matter where they are. Kiboze users simply send one text message to Kiboze and we'll pass that message onto their friends. If those friends are in front of a computer, the message will be sent via IM, if they are out and about they'll get the message via a text message. Set the buddylist free!

abigidea?: Does Kiboze enable the reply-to-all functionality that SMS is currently missing?
Jay: Yes, anyone can use Kiboze to create and join "groups". Now all people have to do is send a single text message to Kiboze and Kiboze delivers that message to everyone in the group. This obviously saves users money and the aggravation of trying to coordinate so many people.

abigidea?: Who pays?
Jay: Kiboze is a totally free service.

abigidea?: If the user isn't Kiboze registered, then you say the message is delivered via IM. Doesn't this miss the point of it being a "mobile" service?
Jay: The point isn't about being a mobile service; Kiboze wants to be a valuable service that allows our users to reach ALL of their friends, regardless of communication channel. Kiboze will get your message to your friends whether they are in front of the computer or out and about with a mobile phone and whether they are registered at Kiboze or not. This is totally unique and of tremendous value to our users. Finally, one text to reach them all.

abigidea?: Do you plan to incorporate support for Skype?
Skype is on the roadmap with many, many other exciting enhancements to the Kiboze service.

abigidea?: what's the Beta telling you?
We are in the early phases but the excitement is definitely there. A couple things have really frustrated users before Kiboze:1) Telco's refusing to create a viable alternative for group text messaging2) "Closed" mobile services that make your re-connect with your friends all over again before you can use the service. We already manage our friends in social networks like MySpace and Facebook, IM networks like AIM, MSN, and Yahoo! as well as Email accounts and mobile phones. It's exhausting and the users are starting to revolt!. New services that are asking us to re-connect yet again are really paying the price.People love Kiboze because they can use their EXISTING contacts as defined in the buddylists and reach them from anywhere with a simple text message. That has definitely been a highlight of the beta so far.

abigidea?: What's juicy on the roadmap?
Without getting into too many details, lets just say that more and more location-based services should be available soon. It really is all about local knowledge. That knowledge might be where your friends are or what events are happening nearby. Location will continue to be a major point of focus at Kiboze.

abigidea?: What your current funding status?
We are a small but dedicated team that has successfully self-funded Kiboze to date.

abigidea?: Who's behind Kiboze?
Jay: Kiboze has a great mix of people. We share a passion for technology and specifically mobile applications but our backgrounds are quite diverse. Some of us have developed, marketed and sold advertising and editorial systems to some of the world's largest media companies like The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Some have specialized in search technologies and others in satellite communications. It's a great mix of talent that has come together to make Kiboze a totally unique and valuable service.

Kiboze currently supports AOL, MSN, Yahoo! and GTalk.

Great Truphone blog post from Martin Geddes

In this post, Martin raises some brilliant points and gives an excellent overview of Truphone. It should be evaluated in the context of the other contenders in this space.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

SDSL (Slow Digital Subscriber Line)

Here in Germany, Deutsche Telekom is getting huge flak from the local (and european) regulators over it not wanting to share access to its new VDSL network. It claims that because it has to invest billions and gazillions in the network, it should keep it all to itself so that it can differentiate in a crowded market.
I find this quite an odd debate to be having, given that if you take a look at incredible download rates I seem to be getting at the moment, it appears that they need to invest in a DSL and then ADSL network first. They claim I'm on a ADSL line, but I now have the evidence to show that its actually a 14.4k modem in the local exchange going via a secret hidden second telehone line in to my flat!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google AdWords goes mobile

RCRWireless reported yesterday that Google have quietly soft-launched the ability for AdWords customers to create a mobile campaign with functionality to develop ad and marketing capaigns, set a daily budget for ad expenditure and pay per click or per call. So we may soon start to see google ads incorporated in to our mobile-web browsing, something that AdMob have been providing with rapidly increasing success since January (they are currently offering a free $20 campaign to new customers).

See previous post on AdMob (Jan 06)
12/09 - Update - Admob raises Series A from Sequoia