Mobile World Congress 2013

So, this is going to be an interesting one.  While it's back in it's home of the last decade, Barcelona, they've moved to a new location, so the first day is going to be even more confusing than usual.

But what to expect?

Well, in some respects, from a purely mobile perspective, CES this year was, to put it bluntly, a bit poor.  Very few interesting devices on display and no real phone announcements.  The consensus was that the phone companies with the exception of Apple were keeping their powder dry.  Apple being a special case who don't bother to do things with the rest of the industry.

The definite feeling I'm getting from the preparation work we've been doing is that the industry has really evolved in the decade I've been attending.  For my early Mobile World Congress events (back when it had just become 3GSM) the focus was very much on the handsets - form factor, color screens, cameras and the like and data speed.  This year, I think I can comfortably say is all about the apps.

From our perspective we'll be showing 3 new things to the public and over the course of the next few days, we'll be posting more details.

Just contact me if you want to meet up next week and see you all in Barcelona!

API Market is getting big

You don't have to take our word for it, how about this article:

Basically, there's a lot of movement in the space that we're focusing on.  Hopefully we'll be able to give you more insight into that next week, with the launch of Viafo Labs, our services arm, and videos showing how effective our Gateway is at enabling social networking services in your apps.

Developer Product Launched!

Well, let's be clear, the Alpha interface for developers building HTML5 apps got launched at the WIP Connector "Muther" event last weekend at the Computer History Museum.

You can try it out at our developer site:

The UI isn't quite ready yet and we've some features to add.  But our reference apps, like "Kittens!" will get you on the way.

The winner of our $500 prize for the best app using Viafo's Gateway, Wombat Mobile's DVD Collector, was quite clear that this was the easiest way to add social and location features to an app that they had come across.  It took about an hour to integrate and get Facebook working and then Twitter just worked to!

That's what we planned from the start, and it's awesome to see it working like that.

Is your app relevant?

We've been saying for a long time that Interactive Features are what make apps relevant.  But you don't need to take our word for it.  Dick Costolo said the same thing at Mobile World Congress in his Keynote, and comScore said as much last year.

We're in the process of working on and then releasing a survey we've conducted of the leading brand apps and how they use interactive media, which has led to a lot of thought here at Viafo about how brands and consumer facing applications are making use of Social, Location and other web services.  Naturally, our goal with this is to get people using our Gateway to make it easier to manage and control these services, but without giving our conclusions away, I did want to outline some things that we believe everybody should have in their mind as they're getting apps created for them.

1. Social Networking is core to most people's use of the web.  comScore found last year that Social Networking on Mobile was the fastest growing use of mobile applications.  So why is it that many, many apps aren't taking advantage of something core to most peoples' lives?

  •  It's not about sharing that they have an app - who cares?
  • It IS about sharing that something in the app interests them - a feature of a car, a new dress, a type of bag - make it easy for users to share that across multiple networks, sure, make sure that it is tagged as coming from YOUR app, but people want to read about interesting things
  • You're spending a small fortune on your social presence?  You've got people full time on Twitter and Facebook managing your tags, @messages and wall - are you sharing these into your mobile app?  If not, why not?
  • If a user posts from your app, do you know about it right away?  If not, why not?

2. Location

  • Location is much, much more than "Where's my nearest…"
  • Are you using location to deliver coupons and offers?
  • Are you letting users Check-In to their favorite check-in service from inside the app?
  • Are you letting users share their thoughts on where they are and what they're doing?

3. Uploading

  • Can users easily share images of your product?  Are you running contests for them?

4. Protecting your brand

  • Are you letting people share from inside your app and sending that straight to the web?
  • Do youhave any control over what people are saying and how?  If not why not?

Obviously, this is a slightly loaded set of questions because they're all core to what Viafo's Gateway does.  But if you sit back and think about it, are you really taking full advantage of the power of social and location services?

While our goal is to get the Gateway in use with as many people as possible, we're also happy to help people understand the impact on their retail and brand experience.  So do feel free to drop me a line:


Coming soon to Nokia

It's been a busy month here, after our win at the Amazon Funding Universe event, we were asked to pitch at the Open Angel Forum event here in Seattle.  It was another great evening, and watch this space for news about it.  Sadly the Poker Game was more than a little rich for this start up...

We've also closed some new customers.  The most public we can discuss is with our good friends at Nokia where we're working on creating a travel app for them based on our partner, TripIt's services, and also we'll be delivering our News Application, ViaNewz, to the OVI store for QT enabled devices.

We're also working hard on our own partner program to enable 3rd parties to use our backend server system for their own apps.  More on that later!


Yesterday we headed down the hill to the new Amazon complex in South Lake Union here in currently sunny Seattle and took part in the Crowd Pitch run by Funded Universe.  It was our first pitch with our refined pitch which is that we make mobile solutions easy.

To cut to the chase, we won.  It came as something of a surprise to us but a big thanks to all the people out there who voted for Viafo, and also to the judges, Andy Sack of Founders Co-Op, Tim Porter of Madronna, Jeff Barr of Amazon and Bob Crimmins of i-Med Exchange.  We've already had some contacts from potential investors and it's certainly fired up the team here.

Thank you all again and a final thank you to the guys from Funding Universe for putting it all together.

Viafo at Samsung Innovator

There's a nice piece on us over at the Samsung Innovator site.  It's been quite a ride working to get apps into the store for the launch of the Bada OS, and it's been a fun one.  We're getting amazing downloads from very little marketing and I'd suggest that anybody planning an app strategy would be mistaken to rule out the Bada OS, even if it hasn't arrived in the USA yet.

Here's the article.

The Challenge of Retail

As I mentioned a few months ago, the problem of building interesting Retail Solutions isn't going away, in fact, if this article from Advertising Age is to be believed, it's becoming a serious issue for all marketing departments.

This is great news from our perspective as more and more potential clients realize that mobile isn't just about getting content out on the device, but figuring out what you do with it when it gets there.  We've been putting a lot of thought into this over the last few months and we're close to releasing a Case Study on our findings, where we'll consider how any modern retail strategy needs to have a Tripod of supporting online services.

The three legs of the tripod are:

  • Conventional Web
  • Social Networking Tracking
  • Mobile Delivery

The issue isn't having all 3 of these, I think that most retailers now have that, or are aiming to.  But how you connect them.  Users with web access want what they look at to seamless sync with their phones, you want users to interact with Social Networks from your web and mobile properties and be able to easily track what they're doing and you want your apps to maximize your penetration into geographies and markets, and, ideally have a location component.

At the moment, only Viafo have a simple solution for this, in my next post I'll aim to talk about that more too.

Does it have the GBs and the Wifis?

There's an amusing video doing the rounds on YouTube.  It has a fictional user going into a fictional phone store to buy an iPhone 4, the store, having none, suggests a HTC EVO, there ensues much hilarity with the iPhone user wanting to have nothing but an iPhone, even if, as the store person suggests, the HTC can grant you every wish you'll ever have including an iPhone 4?

We come across this a lot and part of that is a dirty secret of ours, which is, at the moment, we still haven't finished our iPhone port.  There's a reason for that, we're doing better business on other, non-iPhone platforms, and there are elements of the iPhone App Store process that concern me.  For a start, I'm not convinced that I could get the pentagram and goat's blood out of the office floor while we get our test certificates for development devices.

iPhone is a fantastically successful consumer device, but just as Oranges are not the only fruit, Apples are not the only smartphone and as I've said before, consumer electronic trends can be very fickle.

We're just delivering our first work on the new Samsung Bada platform.  It's not been terribly widely publicized, especially in the US, but Bada is the core operating system that Samsung have developed to replace their Real Time Operating System Smartphones.  The Wave, the first Bada device, is a slick handset, nice form factor, 8MB camera, SD card slot music, a nice OLED display which also runs applications which you can buy on the phone.

They went on sale in June in the UK on Vodafone, and Italy on TIM - since then they've sold over 1 Million units.

Yes, that's right, in their first month they sold a million units in two markets.  Ultimately Samsung state they want half their phone shipments to be Bada phones - that's something in the region of 80M units a year, or twice the number of iPhones and iPod Touch units sold SO FAR.

They're also cheap.  In the UK, the Wave is free on a contract.

So who is going to get these phones?  Well, teenagers, less phone savvy people who don't want to spring $200 for a new phone and so on.  But they're almost certainly going to be buying and using apps, especially Brand Related ones.  So my question always becomes, after I've been asked about the iPhone, who are you actually targeting with your application?  Because if you're building one because you think you need one, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

At the TechCafe2.0 lunch yesterday, the Ben Huh made a great point about not really caring about their market size, because it was so enormous it really didn't make a lot of sense to measure it in a dollars or users way.  I'd make the same argument about the Mobile Market - how big is it?

Well, there's now 5 billion mobile phone users in the world, and thanks to stuff like Bada, in a few years, it'll be the main way that most of them access the internet, especially outside of the US and Western Europe.  So, if you want to think about what the market for your mobile service should be - look at the web, think about web enabled TVs, add in those 5 billion mobile users and think to yourself - why am I so focused on a few million users of the iPhone?

Normal Service Will Resume...

The World Cup only happens every 4 years, but it can be quite disruptive.  So while we're not completely offline for the next few weeks, I'll certainly be doing limited updates while England is still in the competition.

Unfortunately, that isn't necessarily very long.

Mobile, Retail and Brand Presence

We had a meeting with a potential customer today where the topic was a retail application.

We certainly see that there are great retail uses for Viafo's technology in that sector but a lot of interesting questions came up as part of the discussion.

The core of the discussion was what are the uses for mobile apps for retail brands?

It was particularly interesting to have the discussion with somebody who has been given responsibility for mobile, but fully admitted to never having downloaded an application, not used Twitter, never heard of Foursquare and only occasionally had a look at Facebook.

When you're in the heart of the mobile and web business you tend to get an extremely blinkered view of the technologies in play.  We see this more often in discussions with customers about the iPhone - I'll blog on that another time.

So the interesting thing to come out of this discussion is what do you offer to somebody who at a fundamental level is having to design a service for people unlike themselves?

Now, I don't see this as too much of a challenge, even accepting that the concept of brand mobilization is quite new, there are several pretty universal marketing issues you should be addressing without even dealing with the thorny issue of whether or not you want your mobile app to be used for purchase.

Tackling that for a moment: do you want people to be able to buy with your mobile app?  I'd suggest it depends on your business - the data is sparse at the moment but I'm guessing we'll see a split around impulse and small purchases (movie tickets, drinks, vouchers) versus large items (clothing, cars, electronics) - that might be my age showing but I can't see myself spending any real time on the phone buying some shoes - to be fair, I don't do all that much on the PC either.

Anyway, that's also another entire post.

Where I really see mobile and retail coming into their own is in driving traffic and mind-share - not just to your bricks and mortar store but to the web side too.

So, what does that mean in practice?

Firstly, integrated Social Networking - and this isn’t just about having Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare hooks into your mobile app, but also having those cross-linked into your web and general social networking strategy.  If you're a retailer this means having a global AND local strategy - who Tweets for your brand?  Do you stores have individual or managed online identities?  How do you control your brand in there?  It's a powerful thing to have "From the XXX App" on Twitter, less so if it's somebody mouthing off.

Secondly, manage your Social Networking - true story - I recently had an issue with Qwest over our Internet Connection.  The helpdesk had been a time wasting joke.  I tweeted about my experience and had an @message from a Qwest Rep who fixed the problem - THAT is brand management.  If you want help with that, we can hook you up.

Thirdly, location, location, location - manage and make use of search - build location services into apps.  Drive physical traffic.  Make use of Foursquare - I don't myself but millions do and if you're offering freebies to the Mayor of somewhere, it's worthwhile being ready for that.

Fourth: Brochureware - see how far this is down the list?  It's actually not the thing that makes things sticky - it's a by product of doing the rest of the app right.  Make sure that these are cross-linked back to your website and to your prospects web accounts.  Let them share information.  They find a Widget they like online at work - make sure they can have that image on their phone when they use the app to find the store.

That way they can use their Foursquare "Mayor" discount and Tweet about how you rock.

Obviously, I'm blowing our horn, because this is the area that we designed Viafo to operate in.  However, regardless of who or how you do it, an integrated mobile, web, store strategy is a must for retail and brands - regardless of who you get to do the work.

More Changes Coming - BADA!

We'll be making a more formal announcement about our work for our new customer, Samsung, later in June when we've delivered the solutions they taking from us.  We're very excited to be working on the BADA platform.  Our first impressions are extremely good, great screen, good camera, amazing performance.  We're providing ViaNewz, ViaSearchz and a new Travel Application which we'll also be announcing.

We're also working on getting the website finished properly, which some of you might say is about time too...  but we keep having customer projects which get in the way.

News! Or Should I Say NEWZ!

Well, in addition to landing an exciting new customer - I can't say who yet but it's a big one.  We're ready to go public on the Newz Reader and the Local Search App.  Both will be available for Windows Mobile 5.x/6.x and soon other platforms.

For now this is a free Beta so you can download and use the interface.  There's some features coming, including OPML import.  But you can use the interface to manage RSS feeds, Podcasts and Twitter with direct interaction between the web interface and the client.

We're also launching our Search app - a simple to use local search app.  Simply set your favorite searches up on the web and everytime you sync the client you are given the 4 or 8 closest hits to your location.

We're working on the iPhone, Android and Widget releases right now.



Please give 'em a whirl.

Watch this Space: #ctia

As I've mentioned I'm off to CTIA tomorrow morning at a suitably unpleasant hour.  Also, for my standards, my schedule is relatively light, which means that I have some space left for meetings in the mornings and early(ish) afternoon - if anybody wants to meet.

We hope to make some great announcements next week but it's still 50/50 at the moment.  We hope to be able to discuss an exciting new customer AND new platform deal, and also to formally launch our News and Search appz in public beta.  

However, we're still working on the last minute bits of the code before we go live.  Fingers crossed though!

CTIA will, however, mark the end of the Q1 silly season, which means we might be able to settle down and focus on some other aspects of the business as we enter Q2.  Again, that will mean a slew of new announcements as we head into June.  

What is it with mobile/tech and Q1?

There's a lot of activity in Q1 for the mobile industry, in fact, had I had the money and the inclination, I could probably have been on the road every week for the last 12 without a break.  Even if I'd limited myself to the headline events, there's: CES, Mobile World Congress, SXSW, Mix and CTIA - that's ignoring CeBIT and a bunch of other minor shows and events I was invited to.

For a startup this is a tricky juggling act. Especially after many years of travelling on somebody else's budget.  Finding money for yourself is somewhat scary when you look at 2 Vegas Tradeshows and a European one in the same quarter.

We've managed it, and we're hoping to make some great announcements around then too, so keep an eye on the site/blog.  We're working on our key product launches and a new demo system which should show our technology off extremely well.

Getting There - Web Side...

I mentioned a while ago that writing copy for what we do was like looking at the screen until your eyes bleed.  Hopefully my eyes will be starting heal up now as we're getting close to completing a lot of our V1/Beta messages.

I've had the complaint a few times now that people get what we do when they see if but struggle from the website.  We're planning to add some informational videos shortly with working demos of our technology.  But in the meantime we've been busy putting together a better series of explanations for the technology and just how it helps put solutions out there.

We'll probably write up a short case study of our 72 hour app development cycle for the Mix10 Application too.  

Anyway, we still are preparing for CTIA so must be going.

We have an Appz for that...

It's been an interesting weekend as we fiddled with the Mix10 Appz and had a think about what it is we had done with it.  We've had some positive feedback from a couple of trial users who liked the general approach and were extremely impressed with the speed at which we'd put the complete application together.

The question they asked, and I suppose one we need to think about is what we do with that? 

Our business goals are clear, we still intend to license the technology to third parties and provide hosted solutions for some of our services.  However, the tactical appz like the MWC App and the Mix App have given us a boost in the web traffic, if nothing else.  To whit, as of this morning the Viafo website has had as much traffic as our previous record breaking month...

With this in mind I think we'll do a CTIA app - it's in keeping with ViaEventz anyway.  But what else should we do?  The World Cup (Soccer, you know the one that practically everybody in the world plays) is coming up in June - should we build an app for that and have it on our main platforms, which should, by then, include WinMo, Bada, iPhone and Android?  Or does that become a low revenue time sink for us?

To be honest, I don't know at the moment.  I'll let you know when we make the decision.



In a little over a week it'll be time for one of the big events of the North American Telecoms calendar, the early CTIA event.

We're thinking of doing another App "for that" - at least for WinMo - we'll be aiming to have our iPhone demo to show then, but it's touch and go at the moment.

At the very least we're intending to launch our first 2 apps, ViaNewz and ViaSearchz, and also probably, announce our second significant customer deal and the target platform.

As always, if you want to meet, let me know.

Looking at the screen until your eyes bleed...

I'm paraphrasing Douglas Adams with this blog title, but it's roughly what he said about the process of writing.  He wasn't, by all accounts, a natural author.  He liked deadlines though, apparently he liked the wooshing noise they made as they went past.

Today I feel I am channeling my inner Douglas.  I've been working on getting a lot of our messaging sorted and I've been getting a lot of help on this, hat tip to the fantastic team at The Lucid Way, but at the end of the day, a lot of this ends up on my desk and I've got to work through it.

PowerPoint and MarComs don't come particularly naturally to me.  It's trite to use the phrase "I'm a people person" but the reality is, I much prefer telling our story than I do trying to write it down.  Especially if we get to have that conversation over a coffee or, ideally, a more adult beverage...  however, the reality is, the stuff needs to get down on paper/PPT and we need to get it out there.  So, here I sit writing a Blog Post rather than staring at the monitor until my eyeballs do, indeed, start bleeding.

It's not enough that I've 3-4 hot prospects waiting to see the stuff, it's not enough that we're getting real traction and have, albeit a small number, of people trying to give us cash - it's still hard to nail everything down into an easy form...

So, this last week I've also been indulging in any other number of necessary, horrible, but in my eyes preferable CEO type activities.  I've had a bunch of new conversations, I've set up countless interesting meetings, we've sorted out the next quarter of dev activities, I've sorted out the insane admin over-head that WA impose on small business, I've ALMOST tidied the office...  and still... sitting there, like the overdue library book, are the 3 presentations I owe people...


I'd better get back to them.  I see a glass of wine in my future...