Video Review: ROK Talk conference calling from your mobile

So I thought I’d try something new… here’s a video review. We last featured ROK Talk back in October, now a few months on and I got a beta version of ROK Talk from Ed Hodges the CEO of Howler Technologies. Ed’s company developed the technology and has a joint venture with ROK Corporation who markets the product – thus the “ROK” in ROK talk. See the review for more…


February 14, 2008 at 12:56 am

Interview: Sal Dhanani of TeleNav on value-added GPS mapping

telenav.pngSeveral mobile GPS products can show you where you’re going, but TeleNav tries to offer even more than the standard mapping information purchased from NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas. For example, their service includes fuel prices, restaurant reviews and traffic alerts. TeleNav GPS Navigator is available in more than 20 countries, with approximately 350 employees and partnerships with 13 carriers worldwide, including most of the major carriers in North America. We talked with Sal Dhanani, TeleNav’s co-founder and senior director of marketing.

How does TeleNav GPS Navigator work?

Dhanani: TeleNav GPS Navigator is a subscription-based application which can be downloaded to more than 200 different types of mobile phones and devices. The service provides turn-by-turn voice and on-screen driving directions with 3D moving maps (just like an in-car navigation system or standalone personal navigation device). Addresses can be inputted into the phone via the keypad or using voice recognition. Alternatively, a customer can preplan trips online via MyTeleNav ( If a driver makes a wrong turn, they are automatically rerouted. TeleNav GPS Navigator also includes features like traffic alerts with one-click rerouting, updated gas price listings, more than 10 million business listings, location sharing and restaurant reviews.

How do your fees and services compare with your competitors?
Dhanani: Most carriers offer mobile phone navigation for approximately $10.00/month for unlimited use, regardless of provider. This has become industry standard. Some of our carrier partners also provide alternate options such as a pay-per-day or pay-per-use plan, or they bundle it into various data plans.

You were the first to launch a GPS solution on the mobile phone in North America. What can TeleNav do that other mobile GPS services don’t?
Dhanani: First, we have deployed TeleNav GPS Navigator on all available mobile platforms (Java, BREW, RIM, etc.) and on more than 200 mobile phone models. Most of our competitors’ solutions are limited to certain platforms and a limited number of handsets.

Are your features any different from other products?
Dhanani: Additionally, we have many features which our competitors do not offer. For example, our latest version of TeleNav GPS Navigator includes 3D moving maps, traffic alerts and one-click rerouting, gas price listings, restaurant reviews, location sharing, voice-recognition address entry, more than 10 million business listings, preplanning online and pedestrian mode. The voice commands were recorded by a real human (instead of text to speech) and the commands will include the street name so you know where to turn… What makes it unique is how we incorporate and display the data.

What do you think of Telmap, Ask Mobile GPS and amAze?
Dhanani: I’d like to answer this question by sharing what I think are the most important things to consider when reviewing any mobile GPS navigation service: features, usability, and availability. First, a customer should consider what the service includes – is it only basic navigation or are there other features available? In addition, are the features relevant? Will you actually use them? Secondly, usability is an important factor. For example, if the navigation is hard to follow or if entering addresses or locations is cumbersome, this can have a big impact on your overall satisfaction with the service. Finally, some navigation services are only available on a very limited number of devices so if a customer decides to purchase a new phone or switch carriers, they may not be able to take their navigation service with them.

February 5, 2008 at 12:31 am 1 comment

Interview: what is the greatest challenge in mobile today?

challenge.jpgIn our continuing series of talks with mobile industry experts, we asked several of them to discuss some of the leading challenges and opportunities in mobile communication:

Ross Rubin, Director of Industry Analysis, The NPD Group:
On the handset side, we continue to face the challenge of balancing so many features against a portable device with good ergonomics and battery life. On the network side, we are still building out 3G infrastructure and not yet delivering it at an affordable price point. And on the content side, we continue to search for ways to deliver compelling mobile services across a wide array of devices using diverse development standards.

Ben Keighran, founder & CEO of mobile social messenger Bluepulse:
Mobile phones are like snow flakes. They all look the same but are completely different. Developing consumer products for mobile phones is extremely challenging.

Jyri Engeström, co-founder of mobile microblogger Jaiku:
To work for consumers, mobile ads should be much more relevant: things that are current right now in your social and geographic neighborhood. There’s still a lot of room for innovation there, and also risks… We believe in the long run, our most compelling business model is to provide a free basic service that is supported by advertising, and offer additional features for an optional subscription fee. We currently display ads on the Web site but not on the mobile.

Dave Singer, vice-president and US general manager at Telmap:
Mobile customers are being bombarded with so many different options for devices, applications, ringtones, etc. As an industry we need to keep thing very simple for our customers and make it very easy for them to purchase and use our application.

January 27, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Interview: Francis MacDougall of GestureTek on motion-controlled mobile devices

gesturetek.jpgNo, that’s not a Nintendo Wii game on your mobile phone, though it looks like it. According to many people who’ve tried both, GestureTek may be better. The company’s EyeMobile Engine uses the existing camera on a cell phone, plus their own software, to deliver video-gesture-control-controlled applications using what GestureTek calls “Shake, Rock, and Roll”. It’s already become popular among Japanese customers of DoCoMo, who find this a fun and convenient alternative to traditional non-intuitive interfaces such as keys and buttons. But GestureTek Mobile’s usefulness goes beyond games. Their EyeMobile interface is also valuable in mapping and image/music navigation. We asked Francis MacDougall, co-founder and chief technology officer of GestureTek, to tell us more.

How does EyeMobile work?
MacDougall: The Shake application is controlled by how vigorously the user shakes the device. This action is used for shuffling MP3 playlists, throwing dice, etc. The RocknRoll extension presents the opportunity to control applications based upon rock, roll, or a combination of the two. With Rock, you can use the flick of a wrist to answer a call or simulate a throw. Use Roll to turn the pages of a document or for steering and navigation. Combine Rock and Roll to simulate mouse or joystick control.

What were the greatest challenges with developing your product?
MacDougall: The greatest challenges were ensuring we had a solution that was flexible enough to work on any platform and interface with a variety of mobile applications (not just games). We also needed reliability and precision in our solution. It’s important that our technology works and works well. Finally, we needed to be flexible in how we made the product available to handset manufacturers and game developers. Different players want to deliver the product, market the product, pay for the product, and make money on the product, in different ways. It was important that we take their needs into consideration, and this continues to be a priority for us.

Do you feel comfortable with your mobile business model?
MacDougall: Our business model differs depending on the platform. For instance, on the BREW platform, GestureTek is paid for each game that is downloaded (this is of course through BREW’s plug-in model). On the other hand, DoCoMo pays GestureTek on a per handset basis. We do not see any threats with our different business models and in fact find security with the variety of models we employ.

What distinguishes GestureTek from your mobile competitors?
MacDougall: GestureTek’s main competition is accelerometers, which are costly and require integration into mobile hardware during the design period. GestureTek’s EyeMobile Engine uses the existing camera phone and is a pure software solution. GestureTek also offers an optimized solution for the widest variety of platforms. The company has over 20 years of experience and is available to over 50 million handsets

Can EyeMobile can do things that accelerometers can’t?
MacDougall: The accelerometer must be set to measure either small movement or large movement, but not both. On the other hand, GestureTek’s EyeMobile Engine has advantages in that it can offer both maxi and mini control, plus more versatility and functionality in gesture-control. Some of the most popular applications available through NTT DoCoMo, for example, are those in which people get a mobile gaming experience that’s closer to the real thing by making hand gestures at their phone. For example, people can swing their phones like they’re rolling a bowling ball in the Bowling Game, or dance around the ring taking punches at their opponent in the Boxing Game. Accelerometers can’t do that.

January 22, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Interview: Will the mobile Web take over?

www.jpgWill the mobile Web will overshadow the traditional Web? Will DSL or cable modems be replaced by high-speed wireless Internet? If so, when? We posed those questions to Song Huang, Chief Evangelist at mobile file access provider SoonR and to Kai Yu, president of mobile messenger developer BeeJive.

Yu: No, I don’t think it’s a matter of one overshadowing the other, but they are complimentary. Cost-wise, it’s hard for mobile broadband to beat existing hard lines like DSL and cable. I don’t think the distinction is going to come down to what pipe one uses to access the Web – many high-end phones offer WIFI support, which ultimately accesses the Web through a hard line – but more from what the form factor of the device is. I do think you’ll see more web sites tailored for the mobile device, driven by usability.

Huang: The surprising thing is that dependence on the desktop or laptop PCs will not diminish. Unless the physical make up of humans change, there are just limitations to a mobile device that can’t be overcome. It’s the same reason that it’s nicer to watch a movie at a theater or big screen than on an iPod. Sure you can watch the movie, but the impact of the epic war scene (a la Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Hero) is very different. I think we will all continue to gather digital assets and that a way to unify and access them all regardless of device or location will be of utmost importance.

So you don’t see the old devices being replaced by the new ones.
Huang: They are different mediums, each with their advantages. Recall in the old days the movie studios were all paranoid that the video tape would make people stop watching TV or going to the movies? In reality it grew the market and created new opportunities. The mobile web will have the same effect. We have seen this played out over and over again. Today it’s going on in the music industry. The Web and the mobile Web are delivery mechanisms. People will use what is most appropriate for the situation that they are in.

When will high speed wireless Internet become more appropriate in more situations?
Huang: If high speed wireless Internet reaches the same value equation as DSL or cable, then it will start to replace the older system. Today, the price and speed difference doesn’t make that possible. I recall a mobile trade show where they assumed that everyone would have a mobile phone. Then it turns out that the sessions were being held in a ballroom that happened to be three floors underground. No one could get any signal at all in the ballroom. All the vendor demos were broken. What we wouldn’t have given for a regular [wired] LAN…

January 17, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Interview: Matt Turetzky of RealNetworks on mobile game styles and interfaces

realnetworks.jpgLast month we talked with Matt Turetzky, RealNetworks‘ vice-president responsible for mobile games. His division offers games on more than 800 handsets, in more than 30 countries, on more than 70 carriers and on every major mobile platform. We asked him about his company’s business focus, and what he sees in the future for mobile gaming.

You specialize in casual games – simpler arcade-style products – instead of massive combat fantasies. What are the most common misconceptions about your games?
Turetzky: People often think that casual games are just for women. While women do represent a slight majority of our mobile customers, we find that men enjoy the challenge of our casual titles as well.

How do gamers benefit from your EMERGE technology?
Turetzky: EMERGE enables Real to efficiently produce games for more than 800 handsets. We pride ourselves on being first to market on new handsets. When someone buys the latest handset, it’s important to them that they have a wide range of choices for content. With certain more limited circulation handsets, like the Blackjack, HTC 8525 or the brand new LG VX10000, many publishers are hesitant to develop games because of uncertain payback and we find ourselves in a very strong position. The carriers come to us and ask for our help in getting games onto these devices.

What kind of relationship do you have with mobile operators? Do you offer services that don’t depend on them?
Turetzky: The carriers like us because we bring well-known IP [intellectual property], fun games and the best handset support. In various markets, we offer a number of direct-to-consumer services, selling both a la carte titles and subscriptions. We don’t promote these heavily, as the current consumer is much more focused on the carriers for content.

Do you see any threats to your mobile business model?
Turetzky: As with most publishers, the majority of our sales come through the carriers. As carriers shift resources around their organizations, there may be less time available to deal with all the publishers out there. In the U.S., we are a top 10 publisher, so we don’t feel much of a threat, but there are always other publishers breathing down our necks.

Do you foresee any promising new mobile gaming interfaces?
Turetzky: I’m a big fan of touch screens. It’s an incredibly intuitive interface and is a natural way to control the leading casual game types, like match-3s, click management and hidden objects. There’s a lot of buzz around accelerometers because of the WiiMote but I don’t see how that lends itself well to a mobile handset. When you’re swinging the phone around, you can’t see the screen. I don’t see someone bowling and golfing by themselves at the bus stop. Actually, sometimes I do but those people usually don’t have mobile phones.

January 16, 2008 at 12:30 am

Opinion: Today’s most promising mobile apps


Several veterans of the mobile industry shared their assessments of the most promising mobile applications today, and listed some of their favorites.

Ross Rubin, Director of Industry Analysis, The NPD Group:
Some of the most promising applications are ones that provide information within a useful context; location-based services have come a long way in the past year. Song identification applications also put knowledge where you want it (hearing a song in a restaurant, for example). There’s a lot of promise in leveraging the wisdom of crowds for real-time information — everything from highway traffic insight to recommendations on what to do in a new city to instant, community-driven versions of Yahoo! Answers.

Brian J. Friedman, executive vice-president of mobile translator Enterpret:
Mobile applications are really starting to come of age and there are many productivity and lifestyle applications that show promise. Mobile TV is a good time shifting application, there are many middleware applications that provide mobile access to enterprise data and of course tools like the Enterpreter that combine productivity with lifestyle usage.

Song Huang, Chief Evangelist at mobile file access provider SoonR:
Personally I like location based services. Phones already have the GPS capability built in; we need to surface that in our applications. I don’t think proximity-based social networking apps are the answer, but enhanced functionality for travelers. Also mobile payment systems are very promising.

Kai Yu, president of mobile messenger developer BeeJive:
The best mobile apps are those that really fit the mobile device, and provide some utility that desktop apps wouldn’t be able to provide. Google Maps and TeleNav are both excellent applications, and really useful. Obviously it’s much more useful to be able to view location, navigation, or traffic information when you’re actually out and about, lost or stuck in traffic.

Steve Hartford of mobile file-sharing company Avvenu:
Beyond Avvenu Music and Access ‘n Share, I love Google Maps and Yahoo! Go.

Dave Singer, vice-president and US general manager at Telmap:
Wow, the possibilities for location-based mobile navigation seem endless right now. I have been in the mobile industry since 1989 when I was with McCaw and I equate mobile navigation to the early days of voice mail and more recently, cameras within devices. Within the next 24 months, every phone will be capable of providing mobile navigation… As for my personal favorite, I like them all but really the best for our entire industry is still yet to come.

Matt Turetzky, vice-president of non-PC platforms for RealNetworks‘ game division
[As far as games go], I can’t put down Collapse! Chaos on my touch screen 8925. I also love Seven Wonders.

Kai Yu, president of BeeJive:
Mobile Safari on the iPhone is really a groundbreaking product, more because of its usability innovations than any technical breakthroughs. Opera Mobile and the Series 60 browser actually supported Ajax earlier. Opera Mini is also very good for regular Java phones. We’d like to think our application is promising as well.

Francis MacDougall, co-founder and CTO of GestureTek:
The most promising mobile applications today are interactive games (such as bowling, tennis and boxing) as well as the GPS map implementation on DoCoMo phones. My personal favorite is the bowling game. As well, many popular game titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Katamari, have been transported from the console to the mobile phone because they play well on that sort of interface.

November 28, 2007 at 9:42 pm

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