mobispirit is open for business

What is

  • A unique marketplace for mobile service creation
  • Choose and personalize applications that you need and build your own mobile publishing platform
  • Create mobile services such as mobile web sites, SMS services or mobile video service
  • No software to install
  • Rely on a robust and secure infrastructure

This is what the homepage of Mobispirit says. I registered for free and took advantage of the free trial. The site offers a number of services all centered around SMS and a little bit of mobile web (or WAP, if you like it better). A number of services are available from Mobispirit and you can decide which ones you want to activate (and pay for). The available services are Newsletter, SMS Push, Web Triggers, SMS Triggers and Video Galleries.

This is exactly what you’d expect from it, allows you to send an SMS message to a list of recipients. Recipients are managed on the server side, you can insert names and numbers manually or import from a text file (basically a CSV file). It is also possible to edit addresses and numbers using the web interface, very simple. I tried to create a couple of recipients and sent out a newsletter, I received the SMS within a few seconds. Special characters such as accented letters (à, è, ì, etc) were displayed properly on my phone. It might seem something stupid, but if you have worked with SMS you’ll know that everyone has lost a few hours or days trying to make them work properly.
When sending a newsletter you can pick the recipients manually or build distribution lists (much more comfortable if you do it regularly, of course).

SMS Push
This service lets you specify a text (shorter than a standard SMS), and a URL and deliver a wappush message to a list of recipients. Simple and effective.

Web Triggers
Web Triggers is very interesting, you get an HTML code snippet that you can paste into any of your web sites and users will be able to provide their phone number and receive a wappush message. Very useful if you have a website and want to invite users to easily reach your mobile site. Wappush messages are also often used as bookmarks so sending it easily is certainly a nice thing to have. The service also lets you customize text messages so you can personalize and localize them. Multiple languages are not supported, so if you want to do it, you will have to create more web triggers. Could have been better.
I hadn’t seen this as part of a public service before.

SMS Triggers
This is what you might have seen on magazines, allows a user to define a set of id’s and customers sending an SMS to a short number will trigger an event.
All content providers know this VERY well.

Video Galleries
This is probably the only part that is also about mobile web sites. You can create a list of video contents that users can browse and download.
There is certainly a lot of work in the background as you can upload a video in a wide range of formats and the server will take care of converting and rescaling the video. Understanding the right codec, size and bitrate for each mobile device is something that takes a lot of time when you start doing videos for the first time, so it’s great they are actually taking all the hard work for you. When new devices are released, Mobispirit should follow quickly, so even maintenance is taken off your shoulders.
When building a video gallery, Mobispirit will also build the catalog for you. A full service could include sending wappush messages to your video gallery, or using a web trigger to go download videos.
According to Mobispirit, the generated site gets a 5 (best rate) on, dotMobi’s checking and rating service.

Video Gallery and most of all video conversion is the only thing I can really say is innovative. The web trigger is something I hadn’t seen before, but it’s not rocket science.
It is clear that the service is actually built on top of the experience that the company has developed in many years working in the mobile space.
It is good, anyway, that you can have a single place with all these services. It is certainly inviting for a company that wants to do some integrated services.

Reading from the service description in the homepage, I would have expected much more WAP development in the sense of a simple CMS service that would allow me to build WAP pages. It is not clear if the service is meant for companies that will have their own WAP site (and so use the SMS push) or if they should use the generated sites for Video Galleries. Most of the services are meant to be connected to something that the user should build on his own, while the Video Gallery does everything. Since WAP has a high learning curve, providing more services around it would certainly add value to the Mobispirit service.
Since they built the page creator for videos, why not do it for images and ringtones?
Where is the streaming service?

The overall rating is good, anyway, I’d give it a 7 out of 10 because the site is simple to use and the SMS messages were delivered within seconds. Phone numbers should be entered in international format and will be delivered worldwide and this is certainly a good thing.
The documentation pages need some more work, I think, as I had to try a couple of things before I could understand how they’d work while I could not understand if from the documentation.
Mobile payments certainly lack. I know it’s not easy to put them in place, but even if they were limited to some countries, it would be good to have a process to open paid services similar to Bango or as a premium SMS.
It is good to have all these services available in a single place and if Mobispirit keeps adding them in the next months and years, it can become a point of reference.

Music on your phone

M:Metrics has just made a new press release with some juicy data about mobile phones and the use of these devices as music players: MOBILE MUSIC USAGE IS CLIMBING, BUT NOT ALL MUSICPHONES ARE CREATED EQUAL.

I’m particularly happy about this press release because while I’m not an expert analyst, I was actually involved in the creation of this press release. My contribution was needed because of the issue of identifying the devices that should actually be part of this analysis. We hear every day about music phones, feature phones, smart phones, etc, but what are they? Which are the detailed features or characteristics that make up a music phone?

Internally we discussed a lot about this and everyone provided his own view. The devices taken into account in this analysis are the result of our internal discussion.

Sometimes it is really hard to build a list of devices defining a set of rules. When you first define these rules you will end up including some device that you did not want or miss one that you wanted to be part of the list. An example is the Motorola V3, it can play MP3’s, it can be connected to the PC and you can sideload songs from your computer and you have a tiny music player, but does this make it a music phone? In my opinion it does not. The music player is slow and ugly. You can’t build playlists, you can move to the next or previous song, but you have to go back to the main list. It has a lot of memory, but doesn’t really compare to the 2-4GB of an iPod Nano, it’s nearer to the first versions of the iPod shuffle.
Compared to the Sony Ericsson W810i, the V3 is nothing when you compare music-features.

So what is the difference? When does a mobile phone (that was born as an apparatus to make and receive calls while on the move) turn into a device to also play music? Is it the little walkman button that make it an iPod competitor?
Should we talk about Music-optimized? Music-optimized it means that it had all those features that you would expect from an MP3 player, the appropriate keys to start and stop music, to skip to the next song and then all the interface and features to build a playlist, to see the available songs in an easy and quick manner.

It is all very interesting, because of course the fragmentation that exists in the mobile space makes it really hard to define a single rule that will match all these requirements. Is the iPhone part of this family? It doesn’t really have a key that you can press to start music. Is a blackberry a music-optimized device simply because I could use the rocker to move to the next songs with an appropriate software installed?

Very interesting discussion and collecting very different points of you. If you have your own opinion of what a music-phone and a music-optimized phone is, please let me know.

Tools that improve productivity

There are many ways to organize your work and depending on what you do and how you feel more comfortable, you might be happy with a Moleskine or you might need something different.

I don’t really have many appointments and my calendar generally lists 3-4 things in a full week. On the other side my daily work is mostly driven by some tasks that I have to regularly work on and, most of all, e-mail (we could call it an event-driven work).

E-mail is really my number one companion and often I send out an e-mail instead of calling. In my mind most people live in front of their computer and will most likely read the e-mail within 10-15 minutes. Sometimes I realize that this is not the reality for many people, but actually for most of the people I work with, this is true.
Today, if you are often away from a computer, you can read your e-mail from your mobile phone or via a Blackberry so you are not really off-line.

In my case, I spend most of the time at my desk. Aside from e-mail I also use other software to communicate such as Skype (do you have an idea of how much money we save when calling overseas?) and AdiumX to cover all the IM networks such as Y! Messenger, MSN Messenger, ICQ, AIM and GTalk.
These clients are very useful and allow me to keep in touch with a lot of people, I can immediately get in touch with colleagues and other developers around the world. It’s really unbeatable.
When I’m traveling it’s good to keep in touch with my girlfriend of course.

Speaking of how I organize my work, I have never been good at keeping a well defined list of things to do, a precise schedule and everything well organized. I tend to have on the back of my mind a list of things I know I need to do and then, according to the e-mails and requests that I receive I “automatically assign” a higher or lower priority to new tasks and add them to my list. In order to get all the notifications immediately I use tools such as Growl or MailTags.
I simply love and am addicted to Growl. I know it’s a Mac-only software, but you should really want it for other systems too. In two words every time there’s an event you will see a message on the screen for a few seconds. You can configure growl as you like and there are many parameters and skins, I actually go for a very basic configuration and have bubbles appearing on the top right of my screen. I receive alerts of messages from AdiumX, Skype, new e-mails and so on.
Any time anything happens I will see a little alert that will also vanish in a few seconds so won’t bother for too long. I have gotten so used to it that I read the notices and don’t even remember I did, it’s like a subliminal message.

Recently, during the 3GSM World Congress, I saw a very nice user interface for Symbian devices and I think that in some way it goes the same way as Growl. It’s been developed as a pilot by Favourite Systems AS and it’s called FLUID. The new UI overrides the normal stand-by screen of your phone and changes it into an empty space where bubbles pop-up when new events happen. If you receive a new SMS a bubble will appear. If you receive 5 SMS messages, the bubble will grow and take more screen space that you should more likely notice it. If you have an appointment or a new e-mail, more bubbles will pop-up. Much like the Apple Dashboard and Konfabulator (now known as Yahoo! Widgets) you may also pick some applications and have a little bubble just for that. Bubbles will not cover each other, but move around as new bubbles appear. You may also move them around manually and zoom in to read the full text.

So, my question is, do these tools really improve my productivity? How much are they improving it and how much are they effectively taking my attention away from my main task?
Applications like AdiumX and Skype are great and let me keep in touch with a lot of people from around the world, but it is probably obvious to anyone that this often mixes up with chatting with friends or being pinged about topics or tasks that you would actually postpone or consider at a later time.
The same happens with the Blackberry (or Crackbeery) as I know people that involuntarily keep their eye on the BB and wait to see the little LED change color to immediately read the new message. How much of their attention and concentration is this taking away?
I am a Growl-addict, but would I work better without it? What would I miss?

iPhone “unique” motion sensor

There have been many posts about the iPhone announced by Apple. Some are saying that it’s the beginning of a revolution, some are saying that it is very stylish, but will not resist falling on the floor or getting hit. Some others are saying that Jobs is a great entertainer and made the iPhone look like something new while it is not.

My own opinion, being one of the few millions that saw the presentation, but never had a chance to hold the phone and use it for real, is that it will actually be a device for a niche market. It will most likely fall in the same space as PDA‘s and smartphones and not be really a mass-market device.
That’s also how the iPod was born. A device for music enthusiasts. The mass-market was reached with a lot of good commercial, good design and a bit of luck. It became mass-market when everyone thought it was cool to have it no matter how big and heavy it was compared to the tiny flash-based devices.
The iPhone will be the same in the beginning, with the exception that Apple is in a very good position right now. The future will tell us if it can be a real revolution.

It is obvious that the 2 year contract with Cingular, the delayed distribution for Europe and the high price will actually keep it away from the hands of many of us.

But going back to what is nearer to my experience (which is not marketing or sales), while cleaning up my inbox I noticed a newsletter from Nokia promoting the newly released SDK to access the motion sensor API’s of the 5500 Sport.
It doesn’t look so much different from Apple’s system with the advantage of being on the market today and with an SDK ready to use. Visit the Forum Nokia to know more, there’s a page for it, of course: Nokia 5500 Sport.

More WURFL jobs

I have written in the past about a job posting in which WURFL was a reason of preference (you can read about it in WURFL means real money).

Now James Pearce, the new CTO of mTLD, has posted a message on the developers’ site blog. .mobi is seeking developers that know WURFL, that have experience with adaptation, mobile sites and have done something outstanding.

If you think you fit or are interested in working with .mobi, you should check out this post, Technical genius sought.

Getting ready for Boston

Today is a busy day, I am getting ready for my trip to Boston. I’ll be there for a full week and I need to prepare my computer, all my gadgets I can’t live without, backup data and most of all, get ready for the super-cold temperatures of Massachusetts.

Italy and mostly Europe in general has been quite warmn this year, considering that we are in January, but it seems like Boston will not be warmer than last year, when the day we arrived there was a snowstorm! Luckily just a few hours after we had landed, but the day after the airport was closed and remained so for 2 or 3 days.

Traveling around the world

Lately I haven’t been traveling a lot, my last trip has been in September to the beautiful Gijon in Spain (I just realized I never posted anything about it, strange!) and then a 1-day trip to London to meet my colleagues of the European offices of M:Metrics.

The next months, instead, includes 2 trips, one to Boston for the W3C Multi-Group Meeting and one to Barcelona for the 3GSM World Congress.

I am really excited about these trips. If you are in the W3C and would like to meet, please let me know.

While during the trip to Boston I will mostly be in some W3C meeting, during the 3GSM World Congress I will have much more time to meet people. Last time I went was still in Cannes, I think it was 2002, I have never joined again. I am really looking forward for the new location, bigger space and maybe some new projects.

If you are going to any of these meetings, please let me know and we’ll try to arrange something.

What if Google entered the Music downloads biz?

I found a very interesting article on Blog Maverick. The blog, in case you did not know, is maintained by Mark Cuban, the owner of the basketball team and a number of companies related to internet (read more on Wikipedia at the link above).

The post is entitled Googlenomics , Itunes and Zune and describes a few reasons why Google might enter the Music downloads business, how much it would cost and what it could bring to them.

It makes some sense, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, or at least not as it is described. I can hardly believe that the music labels would be happy to give away the music for free. The first billion songs for free is A LOT and would cost them A LOT (Mark says about 575M USD). That would mean a really low price per song and the music labels are already fighting with Apple to raise the 99c per song.

While Google and Apple are friends, I doubt the service would be compatible with the iPod and Google and Microsoft are not so much friends, so I hardly think it’ll be compatible with Zune. What’s left? Something that maybe is not in Mark Cuban’s article, you home-media-center. An all-in-one tiny computer (as big as your VCR) that connects to internet, lets you watch TV shows, listen to music and read news online. Wouldn’t that make more sense for Google?

WURFL means real money

WURFL is an open-source project and it has been running for about 5 years now. Initially it was a common effort of a few developers around Europe willing to share some information and save some money from buying every phone on the market.

Later it turned into a very valuable information source for anyone in the mobile space from anywhere in the world.

Today is the de-facto standard for anyone that wants to build a mobile solution in-house.

How much does WURFL cost? It is still entirely free. The main XML includes devices for 1999 to 2006 (and 2007 soon!). The free libraries range from PHP to Java, Ruby, python, .NET, etc. Basically any well known programming and scripting language.

What do you need to start? An idea and One or more programmers to turn your idea into something real using the tools that WURFL provides.

It looks like there’s someone with an idea and looking for an experienced programmer: J. Edgar and associates, a recruitment company. I just found a post about a job opportunity in which WURFL is a requirement!
The yearly payment is not bad at all, 90.000+ dollars. It is not clear to me if it’s US dollars or Canadian. Anyway it seems like WURFL programmers are very well considered.