In the developed world, mobile phone ownership is nearing saturation point. In some technology-obsessed countries (like Singapore), it is not uncommon for people to own more than one mobile phone. You need only watch a teenager punch out an SMS to comprehend how pervasive and indispensable the technology has become. The mobile revolution has generated ample commercial opportunities for creative Australian technology companies developing mobile. Here are seven leaders in the space. By Liz Haynes and Catherine Kerstjens.
TXT ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL
Have you ever sent a text message but felt that 🙂 or 🙁 somehow just didn’t express what you really meant?
Enter the team at IamEmo, with their emotion graphics for mobile phones. The Sydney-based company, incorporated in 2003, has been making waves in the mobile industry with an innovative colourful animated chameleon named Emo, who expresses mood in mobile messages. The graphics are downloaded to a mobile phone from your telco’s WAP portal, the internet or come preloaded on your handset. They are then sent as a Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) to inject more personality into a standard black-andwhite text message. Whether you’re feeling excited, romantic, anxious, sad, cheeky, happy or bored, there is an Emo character to match.
"Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it. With Emo, users can create emotionally rich messages that immediately engage the recipient," says IamEmo CEO, Kevin Brough, who has more than 17 years of experience in the wireless industry.
The Emo idea emerged from an in-house business innovation competition at New Zealand forest products company Carter Holt Harvey (now an equity partner in IamEmo). Originally conceptualised as an email tool, Emo quickly morphed into the mobile sphere, where it has taken hold. In the relatively small Portuguese market where Emo was launched with a local telco, there were more than 220,000 downloads in the first three weeks following the launch.
The company has formed partnerships to bring Emo to MMS-compatible handsets across Australia and around the world, hooking up deals and distributors in Portugal, Ireland the UK, US and the Asia Pacific. Nokia recently selected Emo to be pre-loaded onto its 3220 model handset globally, and the chameleon animations will be preloaded into three Optus models in Australia by 2006. The company has also partnered with Telstra to provide Emo animations aligned to the media giant’s sponsorships and marketing efforts, such as Australian Idol.
Emo is entering the mobile market at a good time. A recent survey conducted by the Mobile Industry Development Group showed that more than 20 percent of Australians use MMS to communicate with close friends. The survey further revealed that ‘MMS is used most frequently to communicate with close friends, suggesting that it is seen as a way to ‘personalise’ messages’.
Brough comments that Emo is at the forefront of wireless technology in giving people a richer experience of mobile technology. In the near future, he believes we’ll see greater market penetration of MMS-capable handsets; and in time, 3G handsets and networks will proliferate. This will allow for more sophisticated animations, sounds and video – an arena the IamEmo team is already exploring.
There are currently more than 65 Emo animations available, with new Emo animations being released globally each month coming soon to a phone near you.
FINGER ON THE PULSE
That pinnacle of human evolution, the thumb, has found a new role in recent years as the primary digit for operating a mobile phone. As such it has given its name to five-year-old company 5th Finger, an outfit taking the mobile marketing world by storm.
Concentrating on ‘mobile relationship building’, 5th Finger has developed solutions to help channel partners like mobile carriers and providers, advertising agencies, media companies and corporates to connect with phone users – an attractive proposition in a market like Australia where 17.4 million of us carry a mobile.*
The company’s main development is air-cast Self-Serve, an online tool for media, entertainment companies and corporates to set up and manage their own mobile marketing campaigns and services. The package currently sends and receives more than two million messages each month for 5th Finger’s clients. It also scooped the Best Business Application at the 2005 Mobile Marketing and Advertising Awards.
5th Finger Director, Warren Billington, explains that air-cast gives marketers control. "Air-cast Self-Serve allows marketers and producers to deliver and manage one-to-one and one-to-many interactions like SMS, WAP, voice or emails, promotional competitions, electronic random draws, polling, voting, CRM, ring tones, wallpapers and logos, or even providing the call centre with an internet operations interface."
The product means that campaign results and customer databases can be monitored online in real-time. air-cast can be fully integrated with external feeds or hosted applications, and synchronised with live interaction channels, including television events.
In practice, air-cast appeals to a huge range of companies. Case studies include research company CFS Australia (surveys and immediate client follow-up), Black & White Cabs (SMS taxi ordering) and Telstra-subsidiary KAZ/KBS (superannuation fund performance results), as well as 5th Finger’s traditional corporate clients in the FMCG sector.
5th Finger has run more than 5,000 mobile campaigns, won more than a dozen national and global awards and interacted with more than 5.5 million Australians. The company recently celebrated its 100 millionth transaction. With figures like that, it’s unsurprising that 5th Finger’s financial performance has been strong – annual revenue growth has exceeded 400 percent over the last three years.
*Source: a recent survey by the Mobile Industry Development Group
Earlier this year, manufacturing business-owner Paul Mizzi was having trouble effectively managing his sales team. When external consultants couldn’t come up with a solution, Mizzi decided to design his own with the help of Nick Hutchins, manager of software development firm Digital Tree. The result? RepSmart – mobile phone software to track reps and their sales.
"Operating an external sales force is an integral part of how many companies generate their sales revenues. But it’s also one of the largest contributors to operating costs," says Mizzi.
RepSmart is a breakthrough for smaller businesses as it frees them from paper-based reporting methods. They can access a sophisticated wireless sales management solution for very little cost – companies can be up and running for as little as $65 per month.
Using RepSmart, sales personnel place orders from the field, their managers analyse the costs associated with each customer visit, the orders generated from each sales call and the overall profit generated by each customer. Orders can be placed online, reducing the order cycle and the need for paper-based reporting methods, as well as improving customer service levels. And because RepSmart can work with any accounting package, there’s no need to re-enter order information.
"Our research has shown that RepSmart will save an average of three to four hours a week for each salesperson," says Mizzi. "This saving means the rep can visit more customers and generate more sales. Management can gather sales data and report information in real time, from anywhere in the world."
The technology behind RepSmart is General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), a mobile datanetwork that accesses internet based services within GSM mobile coverage areas. GPRS is an ‘always on’ service, so sales personnel don’t need to dial up. The only prerequisite is a GPRS-enabled mobile handset or PDA.
RepSmart has caught the eye of a number of major telcos, who have shown interest in offering the product to their business customers. The company is currently negotiating with one of Australia’s largest mobile phone re-sellers, and plans to expand overseas to the US and Asia Pacific and possibly the Middle East.
Viva La Mobile is hailing the start of a gaming revolution and its strategic alliances have it poised for a global assault. Taking mobile games beyond the dull realm of simple graphics and individual play, Viva La Mobile is leading the mobile gaming boom with multiplayer games to rival internet gaming environments.
"The global mobile entertainment market is enormous and the number of 3G carriers and subscribers is set to explode, putting Viva La Mobile in an ideal situation as a market leader," says David Kainer, co-founder and director of Viva La Mobile.
Recently admitted to the Australian Technology Showcase and awarded the 3rd prize at the 2004 Australian IT Innovation competition, Viva La Mobile has hit the ground running since launching the very first 3G multiplayer game in Australia – Badlands – in August 2004.
Founded by Kainer and fellow director Gabi Harkham three years ago, Viva La Mobile had humble beginnings – starting life, as many start-up businesses do, in a garage. But now, with an office in Tokyo and its RedStar multiplayer platform and games available via networks in Europe and Hong Kong, Viva La Mobile remains true to its origins and plans to keep development in Australia.
"There is a big advantage to being based in Australia, because we have a large number of networks, ranging from 2.5G to 3G to iMode," says Harkham. "A US company wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done. It’s exciting for an Australian company to be able to compete at an international level."
Not one to rest on its laurels, Viva La Mobile’s ever-growing list of gaming titles offers a level of challenge and competition not seen on many handsets.
From the hugely popular ‘Cubed’, where you take on opponents in a frantic puzzle-style battle of three rounds, to the most advance real-time multiplayer soccer yet seen on mobile phones, Viva La Mobile is putting its competitors around the world on notice – and players have responded with calloused thumbs up.
ON THE SCENT
Sniffing out a deal? eHound has the answer for retailers and consumers alike, providing shoppers with a new service to locate nearby outlets via SMS, while at the same time affording marketing professionals the opportunity to track consumer needs and desires.
eHound has created a web-based platform that allows their clients (retailers and brands) to upload store location information and deliver it to consumers via their mobile phones, based on a simple SMS postcode query.
"Our strategy has been to develop an ‘open source’ platform for wireless location services. With member organisations maintaining their own data, we have created the lowest-cost model for the emerging wireless search market," says eHound founder Ashley Porter.
With a major client in Woolworths’ national liquor retailer, Beer Wine Spirits (BWS), eHound is now delivering location-specific information to thousands of consumers every month via their mobile phones.
The inclusion of an SMS number in marketing communications allows consumers to submit their postcode and within seconds receive a reply message that will detail their closest outlet, its opening hours and phone number. All at the industry standard of fifty-five cents.
In addition, clients such as BWS are able to monitor the volume and timing of wireless search activity in order to measure the effectiveness of individual campaigns and identify areas where consumer demand is not being met. This could result in the prioritising of new store development in areas not currently being serviced.
Porter likens the promise of what wireless location services will offer the retail sector to the partnership that already exists between the internet and the travel industry.
"In the last ten years the Internet has unlocked enormous value in the travel industry, by using technology to connect consumers to services," says Porter.
"Wireless location services offer to do the same for the retail sector, helping consumers search for goods and services in a mobile environment based on multiple criteria."
Presently, eHound’s is restricted to location specific information, but they are now moving into the area of price and eventually product availability in response to the growing needs of consumer-initiated searches.
As the saying goes, ‘every dog has its day’, and it’s clear that eHound is moving to the front of the pack, unleashing the promise of the mobile age.
MOBILE PEN PALS
fingerprinting technology is already available to companies or individuals who want to track the progress of an email. E-newsletter providers or viral advertisers can see how many times an email is sent and re-sent, or monitor which links or click-throughs are popular. Amethon Solutions is taking this technology one step further, launching a world first – fingerprint technology for mobile phones.
"Put simply, the technology tracks across the network," says James Cleary, Amethon Solutions Fingerprinting product manager. "A user who has created some interesting – such as a funny picture or video clip – can register it by sending it to an operator, where it can be tagged and tracked. The user then sends the off to their friends, who can forward it on just like a normal message. The operator can then count the number of times the is forwarded between more and more subscribers."
Plainly, this technology will have significant appeal to marketers; by helping mobile producers better understand the behaviour of users.
"We see enormous potential in helping operators to understand the behaviour of peer-to-peer traffic. Operators can assess what kind of is popular within certain customer groups and develop strategies to accelerate uptake of new multimedia services, or initiate for a particular target market," says Cleary.
According to Amethon Solutions’ CEO Martin Strommer, the fingerprinting technology changes the value chain for mobile by introducing incentives and rewards for original . It’s about encouraging peer-to-peer (P2P) .
"P2P is not well understood, even though we estimate that it generates up to 90 percent of operator traffic, but currently there is no way of analysing it and determining how much revenue the commercial P2P components generate" says Strommer.
Amethon Solutions fingerprinting technology was recently named winner of the prestigious Ericsson Frontier competition.
AN N-SAYNE-LY GOOD IDEA
Comics have been around for decades and despite the digital age they’re popularity is showing no sign of waning. For proof of the medium’s resilience, look no further than Dr N Sayne – a comic for the mobile generation.
In a fusion of art and technology, the 24-part limited edition comic strip is an Australian first – and possibly a world first – because it was designed specifically for mobile phone distribution, rather than being adapted from print.
The comic is a collaboration of writer Joe Velikovsky, artist Deane Taylor (the artistic director on Tim Burton’s classic The Nightmare before Christmas and long-time MAD Magazine artist) and mobile services enabler m.Net Corporation on the publication and distribution side.
The SA-based team was brought together when Velikovsky pitched the idea for a competition. Although the concept didn’t win, mNet was intrigued and decided to develop it further.
Barbara Gare, mNet’s Innovation Program Manager, is enthusiastic about the comic. "The Dr N. Sayne project brings together art, science and genuine technological innovation. Releasing a Gothic-noir horror-comedy mobile phone comic strip really is a signifi cant point in the history of subversive entertainment!" she says.
It’s also a significant new direction for mNet, a company that works on a range of cutting-edge mobile applications and , from home security and patient data management in hospitals, to video ring tones, games, wallpapers and screen savers.
Gare believes the market is just beginning to understand that people interact with mobiles in a different way to other media. "Mobiles are more personal, more pervasive and more easily tailored to individual experience than publishing, radio, television, film or even the internet."
She points to the quick transition from simple personalisation of wallpapers and ring tones in mobiles, to using them for entertainment, staying informed and connecting to a community. Dr N Sayne, as a new form of entertainment, is at the forefrontof that trend.
The edgy four-frame comic is billed by its creators as "at once naive and cynical, clever and silly, endearing and discomfiting and above all unique." Download it to your mobile from the hot innovators feature at www.mobster.com.au and judge for yourself.