Wireless Week

By Brad Smith – May 01, 2007

Those little applications used on the Internet to get personalized information are finding their way into the mobile industry.

Wireless telecommunications service providers have been talking for the last few years about the importance of personalization and now they may have found a new key to offering that experience by taking a page from the broad Internet. Widgets, those tiny applications that run on Web pages, may make it much easier to give mobile phone users the kind of information they want.

Mobile widgets and their cousin technology RSS (real simple syndication) have become a hot topic in the industry this year, perhaps stirred up when Microsoft spun off its mobile widget software into a new company called ZenZui. The software giant isn’t alone, though, with companies old and new offering some form of widgetry. Among them are Openwave Systems, Flurry, Callwave, Nokia, Opera and Mobio Networks. Some want to work with the operators, and others have an off-portal strategy.

Mobile widgets can take two forms – one commonly using Java-based widgets that exist on Web pages and the other installed on the handset itself. Both promise to let mobile subscribers pick and choose what kind of content they want delivered to their handsets. In some cases, widgets also could deliver advertising to phones.

One example is Openwave’s demonstration at CTIA Wireless 2007 of a widget that automatically delivered news of the NCAA Final Four. Peter Galvin, the company’s senior vice president of products and marketing, says operators could offer that kind of short-lived but specific widgets, as well as long-term ones.

“You could have a sponsored widget, like a Nike sports banner,” he says. “You could deliver free widgets with the advertising or you charge for it without. The operator could have a whole library of widgets.”

The reason widgets can hit a sweet spot on the phone, Galvin says, is that they make content discovery and delivery much easier for subscribers. They could be one answer to mobile search because people set up the topics they are interested in and have it delivered to their phones automatically.

The advantage that mobile widgets have over the Internet brethren, he says, is that mobile widgets can deliver content anywhere and anytime.

Openwave sees its widget solution as part of a larger end-to-end strategy that includes its content delivery technology, MediaCast, and its Adaptive Mobility personalization suite of products. Some carriers, Galvin says, are evaluating the Openwave widget engine now to see where it might fit into their personalization and development strategy.

GENERAL WIDGETRY
Like Openwave, Nokia wants to put widgets on the phones themselves. Nokia announced recently it will support widgets on its S60 smartphone platform, making it possible for Web developers to easily create widgets for Symbian phones using S60. The Finnish company has a development tool called Web Run-Time which the company says will make it easy to build widgets using such Web technologies as Ajax, JavaScript, CSS (cascading style sheets) and HTML.

Ovum analyst Tony Cripps hailed Nokia’s open-standards approach as a “big plus point” for mobile application developers. He also says the manner in which Nokia is making Web Run-Time available, by allowing S60 applications to be built without Nokia signing off on them, was the right step because it helps build momentum. Cripps also forecasts there will be more than 200 million handsets shipping in 2008 with the Symbian OS, a huge installed base available for Nokia’s widget solution.

Callwave, a California technology company, recently launched a widget that’s used on a Web page and makes it possible to send SMS messages from a PC to a mobile phone. This kind of SMS widget could have a further impact on the growth of text messaging, which the CTIA says amounted to 158 billion messages in 2006, a 95% increase.

“By making it easier to send text messages worldwide from the desktop, we believe we will dramatically increase text adoption and daily usage,” says CallWave CEO David Hofstatter. CallWave offers its widget free.

An even more aggressive approach to mobile widgets is being taken by Mobio Networks, which has made its technology generally available for download from its Website (www.getmobio.com). Mobio describes GetMobio as a mobile lifestyle portal that can give users instant access to their favorite Web content and services on their phones. Mobio has about 50 free applications and widgets available.

GetMobio was used first in India for a large cricket tournament during the winter. It was used on more than nine networks in partnership with the India Times Internet Ltd. to provide match results and highlights.

Marcia Kadanoff, marketing vice president, describes GetMobio as a platform to take RSS and other Web services, create mobile “mash-ups” and serve them to mobile devices. She says the application can be used on more than 50 different handset models and is supported the best on the AT&T Mobile and Sprint networks. She says Verizon Wireless doesn’t support it because it doesn’t allow off-deck downloads and T-Mobile USA has a data plan for downloading that is too expensive.

Among Mobio’s partners is Universal Studios, which sponsors a widget that allows users to get quick access to movies information, including reviews, photos, maps to a local theater showing a movie, and a way to purchase tickets. “With Fandango it takes 62 clicks on your phone,” Kadanoff says. “We do it in three clicks.”

Flurry also uses Web-based widgets to deliver information to phones, including e-mail and RSS feeds. The San Francisco company recently raised $3.75 million in Series A funding.

Sean Byrnes, co-founder and CEO of flurry, says the company supports about 500 different phones running Java. There are some 150,000 people using flurry’s widgets in 200 different countries. Right now the service is free just by signing up on the company’s Website, which sends an SMS that leads to the downloading of a Java application to the phone for carriers that allow that.

Flurry is looking at the possibility of using advertising as a revenue generator, perhaps pushing interstitial ads to phones while the user is waiting for an application to launch. Or it might be contextual ads sent in connection with a news article the user has asked for.

Byrnes expects the use of online widgets to push information to phones will be the strongest use of the technology for now, although widgets on the phone itself could lead to more customization. Phone widgets require a more powerful operating system which average users don’t have now, he says.

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Original article on Wireless Week site